How to grieve the death of a vision…Part 2

In my last post I began telling the story of the rise, the fall, the rise, and the fall of a vision that God gave to Sandi and me when we were still high school sweethearts (to serve him as a couple and lead others to do the same).  This picture is from that era.  In it we are 17 and 15 years old.  (We plunked down $20 to have this old fashioned picture taken at Cedar Point in Ohio.  It hangs today in our living room as a testimony to God’s faithfulness and our stubborn love for one other these past 30 years.)

As I was saying, we went for a long walk the other night and God opened my eyes to a few things that helped shift me out of angry despair into patient hope.

The decision to take this emergency walk (code for “time to argue away from the kids”) came upon the heels of Sandi reading a 4 page letter from me that spelled out my struggle with this most recent setback.  (If you feel totally lost right now – be sure to read part 1…)

Sandi was angry and hurt by some of the things I had written, and she had every right to be.  I was brutally honest about my frustration, my heart break, and my deep disappointment (maybe too brutal in places).  Here is how I ended that letter:

God has given us a vision, and it goes back to our high school days.  When we moved to South Carolina I embraced a specific version of this vision – meaning that I began filling in the blanks of the “how” and the “when”.  How was this going to come about?  Our employment with 3DM and my relationship with the Missionary Church would give us the training, experience, and network to begin coaching and training leadership couples as our full time calling.  When would this take place?  Within 2 – 3 years.

I could see that vision so clearly – it was in brilliant HD and coming more to life each day.

And then, our jobs with 3DM ended and it was stabbed in the heart.  Two weeks ago you took a full time job, and it died.

Am I able to believe in this vision again?  Am I able to mourn the loss and reimagine – through the eyes of faith – God resurrecting this vision and fulfilling it in another way and at another time? 

That was an intense and lively conversation!  Through it, God brought 3 things into focus for me:
  1. It’s OK to grieve losses.  In fact, it’s essential.
  2. God’s vision requires God’s methods.
  3. God’s vision requires God’s timing.
The insight God has given me about grieving is that I need to find constructive ways to vent my grief, anger, and disappointment.  My inspiration here is David.  God never seems to weary of his complaints, struggles, or highs and lows.  

Take Psalm 13:1 – 2 as a good example:

How long, Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Like David, I best express difficult and complex emotion through writing – and that’s a good thing.  But here is the new learning: I don’t need to share all of that with Sandi 5 minutes after I write it down.  In fact, it may be better if I bring some of this venting to a trusted male friend who will help me process and reshape it before inflicting it upon my wife.  The letter I wrote her the other day came 10 days after the initial journal entry, and went through several revisions.  It still made for a difficult conversation, but I did avoid blowing up the entire thing by dumping unfiltered emotion on her.  And that, my friend, we call progress.

The other insight about grief?  I tend to grieve losses much later than Sandi does.  She feels the loss immediately and begins the process right away.  I, on the other hand, get assertive early on to deal with the threat.  After doing whatever I can to mitigate the loss, I then experience a delayed grief.  Sometimes my grief comes so long after the actual loss that I fail to connect the dots initially.  This dynamic is both good and bad for us.  It is good because we are not both grieving at the same time.  It is bad because sometimes I lack empathy for Sandi’s grief, and then she has to go through it all over again with me later.  

The other “aha” moment was this: God is not like me.  (Big surprise, right?)  All of us who have spent much time in Scripture are familiar with the basic idea that God’s ways are different, higher, and better than our ways.  In fact, the Bible says that like the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways.

We get this intellectually.

However, like Abraham and Sarah, we struggle to submit ourselves to God’s methods and timing.  Instead of waiting patiently 25 years for God to give them a son of their own (Isaac), they take matters into their own hands and attempt to bring about God’s promise through their best efforts and planning.  This never works.  God’s will can only unfold in God’s way and on God’s timetable.  

It occurred to me recently that the vision I had for us moving to South Carolina was one possible version of the vision God had given us 30 years ago.  Just like the vision I had as a church planter was one possible version.  In both instances, I started filling in the “how” and the “when” variables with my own predictions and expectations.  Over time I became emotionally attached to these versions of the vision, and when they did not play out the way I anticipated, I felt totally abandoned by God.

The key?  Somehow we need to remain open to God’s methods and timing, even when it seems so obvious to us what the BEST ways and whens actually are.  This requires a daily submission to God – a daily surrender to both his goodness and greatness.  Each day we die to our agenda and expectations, and give ourselves (including our visions) over to the Lord.  This is part of what Jesus meant when he said we are to take up our cross daily and follow him.  

So, how do you grieve the death of a vision?

  1. Give yourself permission to grieve whenever and however you need to grieve.  It’s OK, God can handle it.  (And, find mature and safe people to grieve with you – be careful not to make your grief a burden too heavy for others to carry.)
  2. In one hand, hold tightly to the vision God has given you (double checking for alignment with his word and godly counsel), but in the other hand, hold loosely the hows and the whens.
  3. Remind yourself often that the cornerstone of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If God was able to raise Christ from the dead, he is certainly able to resurrect the vision he gave you.

2 Responses to How to grieve the death of a vision…Part 2

  1. Tom, I like seeing how this has unfolded for you. Looks like maturity and growth in the making. As I was reading about the 2 versions of God's vision the word "risk" came to mind. I have noticed that as I become older I have become more risk averse. I think this is just because I have risked a lot in my life and failed at a lot. I know how painful failure can be emotionally and sometimes physically.

    But the thing about risk is that when we risk and experience failure it gives God more of a chance to work in us because we are less self-dependent. That is to say that God makes just as much out of our failures (sometimes more) as out of our successes. It strikes me that the grieving you are talking about is a gift God gives us to reassemble our life's story to be more in line with God's preferred version of our life story. (Repentance) It sounds like you are making the most of God's gift of grief.

  2. Steve, those are insightful and encouraging words. Thank you, brother! I agree, it is one thing to risk it all at 27, and entirely different thing to take risks at 47. The years bring additional responsibility, college expenses, health concerns, aging and dying parents, and some scar tissue. Grief feels like weakness to me for some reason – and that is one thing God is leading me to repent of during this season…

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