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On New Year’s Eve 2015, our family had gathered with friends for our traditional celebration, but I had decided to shake things up a tiny bit. Yes, we would eat goodies and play games and laugh at our crazy kids as usual, but I had found a list of thoughtful questions for us to ponder. One of them stopped me in my tracks, because, without hesitation, my husband and I gave the identical answer — in unison: With what word would you describe 2015?
“Disappointment,” we both said, and now, having read Broken Hallelujahs by Beth Slevcove, I can’t help but wish that the book had been written a year sooner, for Beth looks squarely at the truth that for most of our lives, we are living on “Holy Saturday,” waiting for a resurrection and walking in a hope that feels, at times, beyond hope. Her journey began with multiple stories playing out in her life at the same time: her brother’s diagnosis with brain cancer; his decline and eventual death; an on-going struggle with infertility; the realization that rheumatoid arthritis would limit her activity level and cause chronic pain; and a crashing economy that took her family business into bankruptcy.
Beth’s poignant memoir of grief and waiting moves beside a parallel narrative of spiritual formation. “God, are you kidding?” became Beth’s prayer and anthem of loss, sung as she groped toward enough light to stay on the way of faith. I especially appreciated her admission that her practical theology had centered around a cause-and-effect-vending-machine God. Disappointment and unmet expectations led, eventually, to a howling lament that opened her ears to the sound of her losses, and, like the psalmists who poured out their sad hearts before God, she found that the “answer” to her cry was not an answer at all but a Person. In learning how to pray out of that place of depletion, Beth realized that prayer postures can be a wordless connection, an expression in themselves of “openness, vulnerability, acceptance . . . submission, humility, and repentance.”
At the end of each chapter, Beth challenges her readers to dig deeper in a “here’s what worked for me” tone through exercises that require three healing behaviors:
- Listening to your body, to your desires and emotions, to your places of poverty and neglect.
- Engaging through projects that foster creativity, movement of the body, prayer practices, self-examination, and through questions that reflect on past behaviors and habits.
- Connecting with God through heightened awareness of His love and His trustworthiness; entering into intensely personal communication with God without fear.
There is a tendency in Christian circles to soldier through grief and to minimize wounds and feelings of loss. An example close at hand comes with my New Year’s Eve story, for right away I was tempted to reassure you that my family is blessed beyond measure and that our tiny disappointments of 2015 were minor compared with those of others we know (and maybe yours). We minimize our feelings “as if each of us is only allotted a small amount of grief and we had better put it to good use on something really important.” Allowing ourselves to feel authentically opens our hearts to “see the beauty, feel the joy, hear the laughter, and be touched by God’s innumerable graces that course through our veins and sneak into our circumstances.”
The truth of Broken Hallelujahs is that we are constantly being called upon to hold simultaneously two irreconcilable conditions in our mind and heart: the way things should be and the way things are on this fallen planet. Transformation and wholeness will come, but NOT through giving up on the beauty and order that we long for, NOR by stuffing our disappointment.
As a spiritual director, Beth Slevcove is uniquely positioned to share not only her own experience of healing out of grief, but also her observations of others’ creative engagement with loss, their process of making room for hope. For instance, at the first hint of loss, my mind wants to start launching questions toward the heavens, and this is fine — except that I tend to ask unhelpful “why’s.” Acknowledging the loss while affirming the presence of God (with me in the vacuum) leads to more helpful “what” questions (“What can I do in this unwanted situation?”); “where” questions (“God, where are you in this?”); and “how” questions (“How are you inviting me to be in this?”). This kind of fact-finding demonstrates that I am paying attention to what God wants to do with a situation that feels like chaos to me. Can I trust God’s motives?
Our hearts long for a depth of spiritual discernment that will enable us to hear the voice of God and follow with certainty. We dread the hurt and disappointment at the end of rabbit trails that we thought were “The Way Home.” Our broken hallelujahs, sung by and with the suffering during these days of shadows and longing, will find their way to a full-throated “grief-enriched” hallelujah — not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”