Friday, July 6, 2018

Grieve First

The Scriptures, which are our guide in so much of how we live, are our guide here, too, as we attempt to discover a more holy and holistic way to deal with pain and trauma and tragedy and grief in our lives. The men and women of the Bible, God's people, are a people who have handled their pain remarkably and paved the way for those of us who follow.

One of the things you'll never see in the Scriptures when it comes to pain, when it comes to fallenness, when it comes to living a very human existence in God's created world, is the kind of psychological depths of entitlement that come so naturally to us. Nor will you see any calls to "get over it" or "get on with it." God's people have always created beautiful spaces out of broken ones and given their hearts the tenderness necessary to deal with this life. 

The Psalms are a good reflection of this, of course, but so are some of the Old Testament histories. It is in the histories that we see how Israel handled her grief, in particular, and this is a valuable lesson for the rest of us.

We could look at any number of stories that remember how Israel handled the death of her leaders, how she mourned publicly and collectively for days when someone integral to the community died...or even when a close friend or family member died. Think about the sheer number of days that Israel stopped on the border of the Promised Land just to grieve after Moses died, even though milk and honey were finally just a breath away. 

But perhaps no story sets an example quite like the one in 1 Samuel 30, which rests at the intersection of pain, trauma, grief, and vengeance. 

David has been hiding out in the land of the Philistines and has made quite a name for himself there in his self-imposed exile while Saul continues to reign in Israel. He goes out to battle with the foreign forces, but there are some who question his loyalty to this people, so he is sent home with the men who follow him. But when he gets back to Ziklag, where he's been living with his men, they discover that while they were gone, the Amalekites had invaded the city, destroyed it, and carried off all the spoils - including the women - while the city burned. 

Our natural reaction might be to chase after the Amalekites, to catch up with them in the desert and slaughter them all. Then, we'd take back our women and children and all of the property that they'd carried off, we'd return to our city, and we'd rebuild it. Not only would we rebuild it; we would fortify it. We would spend the rest of our lives making sure that we were not vulnerable again to such an attack, and we'd even have raid drills to make sure we knew what to do in case anyone tried. We'd rehearse the trauma, rebuild our walls, and reassert our authority. And, eventually, we might come to sit in the ashes for a little bit and shed maybe a couple of tears over the irreplaceable things. But only after the "important" stuff is taken care of. Only after we've put the pieces back together.

Not David. Not his men. Not the people of God. Look at what happens:

So David and his men came to the city, and, behold.... Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no power to weep.

While the fire was fresh and the ashes still smoldering, while the footsteps of their captive families were still close enough they could almost hear them, while the Amalekites made their get-away and got further and further from Ziklag, David and his men stopped to grieve. They grieved first, even while their souls were still aching for, and even believing in, reconciliation. Restoration.

They were angry. They felt betrayed. They were devastated. Their very souls were wracked by the trauma of it all. And their first reaction, their first response, was to just let it hurt for a little bit. Until there was nothing else they could do with their pain, until there were no more tears left in their eyes. 

They cried themselves out. And only after that did they start to talk about what to do about it. 

This is an incredible story, a beautiful story, and a powerful example. And what makes it most beautiful is, perhaps, how they did it together. They wept together, they grieved together, they processed the traumatic together and made it okay to weep. It was not one man that wept; it was David and his men that wept. Something about being able to do this in community is both wonderful and necessary; it's vital. 

Then, when the weeping stopped, when they were all cried out, when their hearts came to rest flayed open on the ashes of what was once their life, when they were ready to move once more, they started with prayer and asked God what He would have them do. 

And He blessed them.

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