Posts Tagged ‘A Severe Mercy’

Crying “Uncle”

August 31st, 2010

How many times in my moments, hours, days, months of sorrow have I cried out to the Lord for mercy? Like a boy wrestling with his much stronger brother, I plead “Uncle.” I can’t take it any more. The pain is too strong. I have not the power to keep fighting. Mercy, I beg.

Could it be in those days that He refused my request in order to answer my prayer?

“Mercy,” I pray.

And in His mercy, He ignores my “Uncle.”

I can’t take it anymore.

In His mercy, He keeps giving it–until I learn to cast my cares on Him.

The pain is too strong.

In His mercy, He lets the pain remain so that my faith can be refined.

I have not the power to keep fighting.

In His mercy, He keeps the fight going until at last I put down my arms.

In His severe mercy, He refuses to change my circumstances–lest in my changed circumstances, my heart should be unchanged.

A Severe Mercy–to give me not what I want, but what I need.

“It was death–Davy’s death–that was the severe mercy. There is no doubt at all that Lewis is saying precisely that. That death, so full of suffering for us both, suffering that still overwhelmed my life, was yet a severe mercy. A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.”

~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

The Way of Grief

August 25th, 2010

He’d just lost his wife, the woman he’d loved for years, the one he’d shared everything with. He described the early stages of his grief this way:

“How could things go on when the world had come to an end? How could things–how could I–go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide? Everything–every object–was pervaded by the void. I could teach my classes smilingly, even to calmly reading a poem about loss…But that first day of teaching after the St. Stephen’s night, when I left the class to go home, I saw the MG, small and somehow forlorn, invaded by that void, and I was barely able to get off campus before the tears came….There were, though, thousands of other things and memories, each of which must be seen once in that piercingly bleak emptiness.”
~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

I read the words and identify with them. I know that void, the blankness of imagining life without, the reality that life will be–now is–without. I walked to classes, turned in assignments, taught my students, carried on with life. To the outside observer, I was fine. People commented on “how well I was taking it.”

I wasn’t taking it well at all. I continued in the routines of day to day life, but every step was now pervaded by the void.

Then as now, I shook myself and said I couldn’t be experiencing what I was. To say that my experience was anything like Vanauken’s is to make light of the depth of his grief. It’s like the pet owner who compares the adoption of his pet to the difficult process his neighbor is going through to adopt a child.

Yes, I had reason to sorrow. But grief? Grief like this?

A woman I know lost her husband of more than a quarter century at about the same time as I experienced my loss. She had reason to grieve. I–I was overreacting, clearly.

I was shamed when I wrote of the difficulties of day to day living–of living through my pain. She commented, identified, encouraged me to trust God amidst it all. How could she be identifying with my grief? She had reason to grieve–much more reason than I. I should be comforting her, not she comforting me.

Yet however small my loss may have been compared to the losses of others, I was grieving in the same way.

The same void. The same questions. The same need to trust God just to make it through the next moment. The same little things that set off fountains of tears. The same pain that can’t be put into words.

Long months have passed, months where it took all my energy to merely cling to Christ. Months where I’ve barely been able to see through the tears, through the void. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds every now and again. I begin to think that my grieving days may be numbered.

Then I read of grief like Vanauken’s and the grief rushes back into my soul. My heart aches as I read of the intimacy he shared with his wife, the years they spent together, the years he lost. My heart aches to think of the memories I don’t have, the time I didn’t share, the stories I can’t tell.

I am crying again, grieving again, feeling my loss with such intensity.

And again, I think, what right have I to grieve? My loss is so very small–Vanauken’s loss, Annette’s loss so great. How can I dare to grieve over so little, so long?

I don’t know, except to say that grief does not know the measures of reason.

“How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide?”

I don’t know, except to say that this is the way of grief.

If you love…

August 18th, 2010

“How did one find joy? In books it seemed to be found in love–a great love….So, if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books again, great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain–if, indeed, they went together. If there were a choice–and he suspected there was–a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths.
~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Love is intrinsically dangerous. It is a giving away of one’s heart that opens one up to the ecstasies of love’s return and the torments of love’s rejection. Some might carefully wall off their hearts, seal them against love, in order to preserve the cautious middle way with neither heights nor depths.

I choose to love.

“The best way to confront the traditional view of the impassibility of God, however, is to ask ‘what meaning there can be in a love which is not costly to the lover.’ If love is self-giving, then it is inevitably vulnerable to pain, since it exposes itself to the possibility of rejection and insult.
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

But love is not merely the initial giving away of one’s self, the captivation with another, the heady emotion of shared joy. Love is the continued giving, even when joy seems unlikely, even impossible.

Love looks like the cross.

Love is giving of oneself when it provides no rapture, only pain. Love is choosing the pain; if by the pain, the beloved’s joy can somehow be increased.

I have been offered a choice.

If you love… you rejoice when the beloved rejoices, even if his rejoicing is your sorrow.

If you love… you pray for the beloved’s peace, even if his peace means your turmoil.

If you love… you must be willing to die.

This is not romantic, butterflies-in-the-stomach, shivers-up-and-down-my-spine love. This is cross-love, God’s love. And I pray one day, I should truly learn to love this way.

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