Grace, space and community – How to move towards God in the midst of pain

I’ve never dealt well with difficult news. Lately, I’m processing a potential new diagnosis for my son. Four years ago, he was diagnosed with ADHD. That’s been its own journey, but new doctors and experiences have led us to question if he is on the autism spectrum. We’re currently in the thick of the diagnosis process. As per usual, my brain has launched into overdrive, pulsing what if..what if..what if. I picture the worst possible outcome. I talk to people (by people, I mean, like EVERYBODY) about it, perform a zillion internet searches, trying desperately to anticipate exactly how this will turn out. I’ve experienced this cycle multiple times between my two kiddos with special needs.

It’s not so pretty. I’m aware, I have control issues.

So I was kinda struck by Ezra’s reaction to some hard news, in Ezra 9. Y’all, I so relate to Ezra here. He’s just been given a phenomenal opportunity, organized a major journey, gathered people from all over and traveled a far distance. He was ready to get started on the fantastic opportunity of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem, with the blessing and financing from the pagan king. But, as soon as he got there, he was struck with bad news that affected a lot of people. His people.

And what did he do? When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and robe, pulled out some of the hair from my head and beard, and sat down devastated. Everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me . . . while I sat devastated until the evening offering. At the evening offering . . . I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to Yaweh my God. (v3-5).

Ezra first allowed himself a reaction. Now, tunic tearing and hair ripping aren’t really the thing done these days, but nevertheless, maybe we need to allow ourselves the grace to respond emotionally to a hard circumstance. Sometimes I am guilty of ignoring negative emotions or pretending that I don’t have pain. Maybe if we don’t talk about it at all, it’ll go away. Grief is real. Its okay to let yourself experience some sadness, some anger, some regret. Acknowledge them and name them.

Now what? After Ezra allowed himself space to feel, then, he sat down. He stopped everything. He didn’t try to move to the next thing on his to-do list. He didn’t yell at people. He didn’t seek solace in wine, food, or sleep. He stopped in his tracks.

Here’s another part that I love. While Ezra is sitting there, not knowing what to do, the people that also love the Lord came and sat with him. They didn’t form a comittee, they didn’t lecture, they didn’t come with research articles. They just came to sit. To offer the simple gift of nearness. And, also noteworthy, Ezra didn’t push them away.

What would it look like if I gave myself the grace of an emotional response? Not to fly off the handle, not to REACT, not to withdraw, but to follow this internal pain to a place outside myself?

What would it look like if I gave myself the space to hear from God? If I followed His leading to a place of stillness and calm, of comfort and healing, of an open heart that is reaching out for God?

And more, what it would look like if we as a church gathered in sweet community around those who’ve been blindsided by their circumstances? To simply be near, to be present, to be available? And, what if those who are hurting welcomed their presence, instead of withdrawing?

Ezra didn’t need to stay here forever. God is our refuge and strength, refuge for the pain but strength for future battles. Ezra took action – He dropped to his knees and prayed. His physical submission a sign of trust that God would meet him there.

I’m pretty good at allowing myself an honest emotional response. Feeling all the things isn’t what I personally struggle with, although I know many who do. But God invites me to stop, to take those emotions to Him – to a place of submissive expectation. It doesn’t always look like big retreats from the world. Lately, its been a whisper, “Stop, rest here.” A gentle reminder to stop multitasking, stop trying to be constantly productive, stop striving and simply be in His presence, to make space to hear from Him.

I also am learning to allow others to help. As I practice naming and praying my emotions, I draw on the strength of others that God placed in my path. My husband, my counselor, my prayer circle. I don’t push them away just because I have hard things to talk about or deal with.

Friend, where are you in this journey today? Do you need to learn that its okay to have emotions, to understand that feelings are a gift from God?

Do you need to practice allowing those emotions to lead you to the throne of grace? Do you need learn the practice of being still in His presence?

Or do you need to practice community and hospitality, gathering near those who are hurting? How can you weave the gifts God gave you into a gift of grace to someone else? Or maybe you need to learn to let others in, to experience the simple gift of nearness and community?

Father, thank you for this journey of life you have put me on. Thank you for Your word which offers so much for us, if we just take the time to savor and digest it. Help us learn to express and process our emotions in a manner pleasing to you. Teach us to carve out space meant only for you. Give us eyes and compassion to gather around those who are hurting and make us receptive to those who wish to help us when we need healing ourselves.

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