Sitting in silence. Waiting. Listening. Breathing. A discipline that I have often enjoyed, being a slight introvert. I've often spent quiet moments sitting in a chair or walking in the woods. It typically fills me up and re-energizes me.
For the Spiritual Formation class that I'm taking, we have been asked to practice silence as a spiritual discipline. When I first began back in November I looked forward to this time. It often has helped me to refocus and de-stress. However this time I began to notice how much noise I had let into my life. No music, no videos, no conversations. Just me and silence. As I continued this practice and removed the first layer of noise, I then noticed the second layer of distractions and thoughts. There was a lot of clutter in my mind. I just didn't notice because it was covered in noise. But these distractions of all the house work, bills, studies, schedules, care for the girls, sump pump, other issues with the house... were now uncovered. I then took some space to write them out and make a plan in my calendar to address some of them. So I continued with silence.
The third layer then emerged - loneliness and sadness. Oh this is not what I expected friends. I thought I was moving forward and beginning to get beyond some of these emotions. But I was only distracting myself from this journey of grief. These are real human emotions and appropriate for what I've been through. Losing a loved one hurts deeply. My wife was my soul-mate. We were "one flesh." Part of her lives in me and part of me died with her. I feel the void in my heart and miss her. But silence provided the atmosphere for me to remove those other layers so I could address loneliness and sadness. If I don't address them, they would emerge in a more fierce way in the future. They would seek to hi-jack my mind, will and emotions and lead me to a bitter end. We need to move through these emotions like a surfer on waves. Ride the waves and paddle forward.
I wish I could say that I'm past these emotions, but I'm not yet. However, each day as they occur we are given a choice. Do I choose to self-medicate and fill the void with a distraction or a means of trying to control it? Or do I acknowledge it's there, present it to God in prayer and do what's next? We so easily fall into the trap of temptations that try to fill the void apart from God. The remedy I've found so far is God's grace and mercy. God gives grace for today. It's underserved and it's a gift.
As I try to manage my own grief, there are several other people going through losses and potential losses around me. And Koby Bryant's death brought back my sadness and loneliness too. Silence has helped reveal these things to me, but it's not the total picture of what is needed. Yes, I need time alone in silence to re-center myself on Christ. But I've also become aware within this loneliness the need for community. At points I've prayed for and hoped that a community would spontaneously come offer support and encouragement. But silence. So I reached out but circumstances and schedules just didn't line up with others. It's as if in all my praying and God's seeming silence, God then pipes up and says, "Todd, I'm with you. All you need is me. But now go and be that community for others who are lonely and sad." Part of the answer for my loneliness, is to extend myself to others who are lonely. God provides as we serve others.
Now this may not be the case for everyone. But I think if we are in fellowship with God (1 John 1), we will be able to bring the light of His fellowship to others, even when we don't have the strength, because He is our strength.
Silence has drudged up the mire and muck that was within me. It brought forward the layers of noise, distractions and emotions that grief brought into my soul. But it also brought to light the sin in my heart. In those times of being alone we can hear God's whispers, "I'm here. Wait for me." But besides our own sinful desire, Satan or one of his minions also whispers to us,
"God's really not being fair, is He! He took your wife, your ministry and now you are all alone and no one cares. He is so unjust. Why bother anymore? Look how everyone else is so blessed. You've been faithful, but you have lost so much. You are sad and rightly so. You are lonely. Well if God isn't going to help you, go take matters into your own hands. Get what you need! Do it now!"
God's words are few. Satan's words many and will eventually lead to more pain, sadness and harm if listened to. I've talked with a lot of widows/widowers over the last couple years. A few have made the choice to marry just a few months after the death of their loved one. I can't judge if that was God's will or not. But I do know they have not fully processed their grief and will not make decisions without clouded judgement. A couple people have even said that they'd rather be single again because their new marriage is very difficult or even not healthy. We should heed their words and take our time in grieving. Silence is one of those disciplines that can be helpful in revealing what lies beneath the surface in our interior, our soul.
Confession is another discipline that has mostly been forgotten in mainstream Christianity. It's basically presenting to God in prayer, our needs, weaknesses and sin. It's a crying out to the Lord who is able to bring what we really need. The Apostle John states in a letter:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
Turning toward Jesus and confessing our struggle, our weakness, our control and our sins brings forgiveness and purity. The problem is that our will often doesn't want to let go of the control. Yet submission to Jesus has proven to bring freedom! Why do we wrestle and struggle and fight and resist this simple offer? Our old nature is ruled by our sinful nature, but once we began as a believer in Jesus, the new man begins to resist the sinful nature. The sinful nature lives by the law of sin and death. The Spirit of Christ offers grace and life. Romans 7 and Galatians 5 explain this more in detail, as well as other parts of the Letters from Paul (Epistles).
As I have taken this journey through silence, I've been having to face my grief and the things that come with it. How long would I have buried sadness and loneliness without confronting them? Many people live their entire lives never recognizing the healing and hope that is available in Jesus. The healing is offered through Jesus alone. It cost him his life to purchase it for us. And His invitation is packaged in silence and a whisper. The alternative is to continue to self medicate ourselves with "everything under the sun," noise, media, music, work, projects, people, busyness, drugs, alcohol, you name it.
So how about giving it a try? Sit in silence and let God peal back the layers. It may take time but you will find healing and freedom! Jesus says:
"Come to me..." you who are lonely. You who are sad and depressed. Learn My ways. Give to Me your burdens, your weaknesses, your struggles, your sin. I offer you rest for your weary souls.
It's the year 2020 and I see many posts of people's reviews for the last year or even the last decade. It's healthy to pause and review one's life at certain times. New Year's is a natural time to do just that. So here is a quick decade in review from my story.
2010 - I was laid off from youth ministry and after a period of not working, I transitioned to serve as a chapter planter with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
2011 - Our first daughter Kysa was born! Laina and I learned to slow down, enjoy each moment and rest. It was certainly a life transition where we couldn't pace our life as we once did.
2012 - I continued to serve with IVCF and went to my first Urbana. I was exhausted and skipped a main session. As I laid on the bed and prayed God spoke to me in my thoughts, "Ask Laina her dreams." Laina's dreams were to have another baby and move by her parents. A week after asking Laina her dreams, we found out she was pregnant and we planned to move to Wisconsin.
2013 - Our second daughter, Matea was born! But two months later Laina had a suspicious lump. We investigated.
2014 - We found out Laina had breast cancer. Six months of treatment and we got the all clear. We had planned on moving to be near Laina's parents. We delayed due to the cancer. It was a very difficult season in ministry as well.
2015 - We moved to Wisconsin to be near Laina's parents. I continued with IVCF.
2016 - We discovered cancer metastasized in Laina's brain, lungs and liver. I was in shock and struggled with anxiety and depression.
2017 - We continued to fight the cancer with various treatments. I resigned from IVCF. I started to substitute teach as I was able.
2018 - Laina fought hard, and taught us all how to live each day with joy and to cherish each moment. I learned to submit to the Lord and accepted his calling for Laina. My anxiety and depression went away. Laina passed on to be with the Lord, September 6. I started a Spiritual Formation Cohort with Moody Bible Institute. I continued as a substitute teacher. And learned the joys and challenges of being a single parent.
2019 - I took a Masters class on the Synoptic Gospels from Trinity International University. I started year 2 for the Spiritual Formation cohort and Spiritual Direction certificate. I continue to substitute and started to teach Environmental Education.
2020 - God willing, I will complete the Spiritual Formation/Direction certificate and continue on with my Master's of Arts in Theological Studies. It's been my dream to take seminary classes most of my life. I'm taking life moment by moment and step by step. God is with us on this journey.
In the Spiritual Formation cohort we are practicing the discipline of "Silence." I've appreciated this discipline most of my life as I've been a quiet person. Yet, what I discovered is that since Laina passed, I've been filling my mind/soul with noise. Always listening to something or watching YouTube or looking at Facebook, reading and taking on house tasks. As I try to pull away from all of the "distractions," I discovered a void, a deep sadness. I've been suppressing this part of my grieving and trying to move forward. But only in silence do we face what is buried deep inside our souls. We may seem fine if we suppress it or bury it with distractions, but it needs to be acknowledged and brought to the Lord or it will emerge in more harmful and unexpected ways. I know there are many others going through their own trials. I hope we can learn from each other as we journey through suffering and grief.
Submission to the Lord is the first step to freedom from anxiety and depression. Then desiring to draw near to the Lord and seeking Him in his word, prayer and community we can hear His words to us. "If the Son sets us free, we are free indeed." John 8:36. His Presence bring Freedom and peace. Silence has drawn out what remained unseen. Now I need the faith and courage to face the grief. It's healthy to do so. It's not healthy to suppress it. This brings us to some forks in the road. Moment by moment, day by day, will I choose distractions or choose to let the Lord lead me through this grief? Some days I do well, others I am totally distracted. But the Lord is a gentle shepherd and leads his sheep with care. He even puts us on His shoulders and carries us at times. And already I am seeing God's hand over these terrible times of suffering and loss. Other's are going through trials and some have even asked, "How do you do it? How do you get through letting go? How do you get through grief?"
There is much to say, but at times like these it would be more than any person could bear to listen to it all. But the simple answer is this: Submit to Jesus and keep your eyes on Him!
Whatever lies ahead for 2020 - Submit to Jesus and keep your eyes on Him!
With sincere love toward you in Christ Jesus,
A blessed New Year from our family to yours!
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...