The Greatest Grief

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Heart Butte, MT

A year ago, my family gathered for a quiet graveside service to remember the life of my grandpa. The wind was strong, the harmonicas were beautiful, the memories were precious, and the time together was all of that and then some. It was too early for flowers to poke up in the earth, too cold for buds to pop out on the wet trees, too soon for life to completely cover emptiness.

We grieved together, prayed together, and continued to live life together. In some ways, grief was a kind friend in pointing our eyes to Christ, the one who smashed death when he died on the cross. The one life that mattered most died like all of us will someday. But the one grave that mattered most of all turned up empty three days later. This one empty tomb gives hope that all graves will burst open with shouts of praise to the death-conquering One.

In all of life, we grieve. We grieve for losses large and small—relationships, jobs, health, a life we never had, and thousands of other things that break our hearts. We mourn over loss of physical life. We cry when dust returns to dust, when death drops our beloved friends and family members into the open hands of the Savior who died for them and us. We grieve as people who loved well and lost hard. We lament the loss of life cut off too soon. Simply put, we cry a lot and often in the course of a simple life.

But as much as life breaks us when death snatches our believing friends away, there is a greater grief than this.

In the course of the past couple weeks, two people who made an impact on my life died. Both people hardened by the pain of life and steeped in bitterness and seclusion. Broken people who desperately needed Jesus. God knows their final moments, but from all appearances, both of them died without believing, trusting in, and clinging to Jesus.

And that is the greatest grief. These are deaths to grieve deeply over. These are deaths that break our hearts in hard ways. But these are also deaths that should drive us into the arms of Jesus, with hearts overflowing in gratitude that he loved us first, commanded our spiritually dead corpses to breathe, and saved us from living a life and dying a death without him.

Because I cannot imagine a life without Jesus, it is a great pain to think of people having lived their entire lives cut off from the one who is what life is all about. It moves me to tears to think about people spending every waking moment and every sleeping breath not realizing that they are missing out on something immensely precious. And it should break our hearts that people we know and people we don’t are living and dying without a love so strong, so rich, so beautiful.

We grieve often and we grieve a lot. And well we should. Along with Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, we should be outraged at death. We should let death upset us. We should be indignant that the sickness of sin sucks the God-given breath of life right out of our friends and acquaintances.

And we should be brokenhearted that there is an answer to death but so many souls die without knowing that this answer has a name—Jesus.

This is the greatest grief.

Burnout: Emergency Brakes Required

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I never thought I’d be here, and yet, here I am. Just one pull of the emergency breaks between a screeching stop in front of the edge of the cliff and a full-on, head-first fall over the same mountain. Sadly, I began to write about this topic in January (just never posted it), but have continued operating the car of my life at far too high of speeds. I have zipped through all sorts of yellow lights, seen some unusual warning signals on the dashboard, and heard shuddering alarms. Yet, I have pushed on and through.

Since last summer, I have been steadily creeping up to this place. But I didn’t round this final curve until December. And now, it’s just a few pebbles between earth and sky.

Burnout is not something I ever expected would happen to me. Or if it did, it would be glorious like the missionary quote about the candle burning completely out.

But rarely is there anything remotely beautiful and amazing about burning out or running on empty. In fact, I am willing to say that God doesn’t want your burned-out life. He doesn’t want you giving him fumes and fragments. He doesn’t need that from you. But even less than the pieces of your exhausted life, He has no need for the disposition that goes along with burnout.

So, what exactly is burnout (in case you haven’t experienced it yet)?

Burnout can present in any career or position. It is usually seen in people who are high-achievers and can’t or won’t admit they can’t do it all. In many ways, it can be likened to Compassion Fatigue—the name given to burnout seen in the medical/helping professions. Burnout is the pouring out of yourself into something until your dipper comes up empty from the well. It is usually the result of consuming yourself with something, at the expense of other aspects of your life.

Burnout is psychological in nature and refers to long-term exhaustion and a dramatic disinterest in the work that was once enjoyable. Sounds rather unemotional and detached, doesn’t it?

A good article on the signs and symptoms of burnout can be found here.

Burnout isn’t supposed to happen to young, single girls. That’s what I’d been telling myself, but it’s not true anymore. I recognize all the symptoms in myself and know it’s the end unless I go with God and make some radical adjustments.

Desperately, I want to love life and the people in it. Again. More. Better.

My heart is broken at what feels like weakness, failure, and incredible brokenness on my behalf. I am also deeply sorry I didn’t listen to God, to the warnings of people in my life, and the symptoms presenting in my physical body.

But it can’t be ignored and shoved away any longer. I feel the pains of what it is doing to me, and I am scared.

To all the people I love—I am sorry. I am sorry I wasn’t enough in myself. I’m sorry I can’t say “yes” to everything anymore. I am sorry for how this is going to affect some of you.

Jesus, I am sorry I didn’t listen to you sooner. I am sorry I took advantage of your protection and faithfulness and used these two things as an excuse to keep going. I am sorry.

To my dear people—I love you. Incredibly. More than you’ll probably ever know. Enough to say enough. I want to live but I am terribly afraid of what may happen if I don’t stop this car.

Elisabeth, Keren, and Deborah—thank you for loving me enough to tell me to be careful and make changes. Ker—thank you for telling me the story that has rattled my soul and really woke me up to this pending reality. You all are precious to my heart and oh, how I love you.

Stephen—I don’t know what ultimately took you away, but a great part of me says it had to do with being stretched far too thin.

To the other people in my life who mean the world to me—if you are reading this, I hope you know who you are. I love you from the deepest places of my heart.

I have some changes that have to happen. Right now. I want and need to be able to feel the beauty of life and Jesus again. And I love both far too much to continue on this path.

I trust my Father’s heart and know that none of this has surprised him. He loves me with a love that continues to take my breath away.

Dear ones, we have a Savior that doesn’t walk past our boats in a storm. Nor, does he just still the storm and keep on going. No! This God gets into our boats with us and stills our storms. This Jesus takes our hands, holds our hearts, and gives us himself. Let him hold you in his strong arms. Let him tell you to stop. And listen to him and love and respect him enough to do it.

Rest in his arms. Trust that he will be enough. Always enough.

Oh, my soul, how incredibly much he loves you!