The Struggle IS Real.

summer-2011-175
{Guest post by Sarah Yanagi. Original post appeared at bit.ly/thestruggleisreal.}

To put the content of this blog post, and how incredibly important I think it is for today’s culture, into greater context, I feel it necessary to tell you this:

What you are currently reading is my fifth or sixth attempt to craft/convey these ideas.

The most significant pursuit of my life is figuring out how to put action to faith. I come from a Church culture that, to be very honest, is EXCEEDINGLY good at talking. Prior to my divorce-and subsequent leave from vocational ministry, I put a lot of blood and tears into attempts to convey this idea: talking isn’t worth much.

Because I have to write to process through things, I wrote this several years ago, in a season of deep frustration over all of the ‘talking’ that surrounded me:

“And the

Cruelest torture

Is that words are Nothing.

And words are Everything.”

What you say to your grieving loved ones IS very important (and especially valuable if delivered with thoughtful timing, using great discernment). But what you DO is worth FAR more, especially in the lives of people who are struggling.

In 2010, I entered a season of intense grief: my divorce. Everything I had planned for my life to be was now a vapor; now just an dream that eluded me. In the wake of the separation, many people wanted to get together with me; most of them had very good intentions…some of them just wanted the scoop (given the public nature of my marriage). But I can tell you with an ardent conviction (and I wish that a stronger word than ‘conviction’ came to mind) that the people who were the greatest conductors of healing; who elucidated Hope in my heart, were the ones who sat Shiva with me.

(A little background on the Jewish custom of Shiva, from our trusty friend, wikipedia) 😛

Shiva is a week-long mourning period in Judaism. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement. Once engaged in conversation by the mourners, it is appropriate for visitors to talk about the deceased, sharing stories of his or her life. Some mourners use the shiva as a distraction from their loss, other mourners prefer to openly experience their grief together with friends and family.

In Shiva, fellow grievers let the bereaved person lead. If they want to talk, then they talk..If they want to sit in silence, then they sit in silence…but WHATEVER they do, they do it TOGETHER. They do not face the deepest, most intense sadness of their life ALONE.

I, like many folks I know, spend a good deal of time trying to articulate my concern with the way that technology is robbing us of richness and depth in our relationships. Where I believe that the church should be stepping in with methods that encourage vulnerability and richness and depth in relationships, often times events and programs and general busy-ness and a lot of talking are a substitute for them. I don’t say this to point fingers or in bitterness or anger at all; more as a request for a change of priorities. Of course, church-culture is not the ONLY culprit that is perpetrating the problem of loneliness and shallow relationships: I think as a culture, in general, we are headed in a direction that isolates those among us who are grieving. People whose struggles ARE real.

The good news is that without one single doubt, there is a solution to this cultural plight.

It’s you.

As I say that, I am pointing four fingers back at myself. I’m the solution; you’re the solution. We can spend time praying and asking for opportunities to illuminate Hope to those in our respective spheres of influence (a fancy way of saying ‘our friends and families’). Can we pray that God will refine our approach with people? That He with impart creativity when it counts; slow us down when thoughtfulness is necessary? My prayer lately; the deepest desire of my heart, is that I will take opportunities that arise and be a good steward of my relationships…that I will learn to strike the delicate balance between deep empathy and piercing honesty…that I will learn what it truly means to speak the truth in love. Beyond that, I hope to learn the sacrifice of sitting Shiva with the ones I love when they grieve, resisting the urge to throw tired cliches (no matter HOW true) at them, or to judge when I may not understand. Grief, more often than not, takes time and requires thoughtful discernment.

Though it’s been messy, and there was absolutely no road-map through my grief, I am more hopeful in life (and more equipped for whatever may be ahead) than I have ever been. My friends have been instrumental in this. Here is how my friends contributed: they brought me movies, and pizza, and wine. They went to concerts and on great adventures with me…they took me to breakfast, listened to my stories and made me laugh…they held me while I cried. Sprinkled throughout were many conversations; important conversations containing seeds of great truth and real hope…action and empathy watered those seeds. They prayed for me, I’m sure of it; but usually in secret, where God heard their prayers and delivered strength to me. Most often, the strength of their prayers was delivered in the form of their kindness and unconditional, loving actions and support.

Your words are important. Of course they are…but take your words first to prayer, and then ask for strength in your hands; in your arms; in your commitment and resolve. Our decision to act in the lives of our friends and loved ones is one of the most important one we ever make.

A note from Ness: Sarah is one of the most kindred spirits I’ve ever known. I’ve looked up to her for years, and have always been awestruck by the way she speaks so eloquently about the things that are on my heart — the things I struggle to articulate myself. You can find more of Sarah’s writing on her blog, The Saturated Life.

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