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Grief AND thankfulness: What I learned from writing this series

Lynne Baab • Thursday February 13 2020

Grief AND thankfulness: What I learned from writing this series

My husband Dave and I were talking about this series of blog posts, and he said, “You know, every single day there are things I grieve and things I’m thankful for. . . . Every day.” I agreed with him, and then I began wondering, why does this feel so revolutionary?

This series of posts has revealed my deep-seated adoption of a set of values – from my parents and from the wider culture – that have been destructive to me. My thinking has been skewed my whole life. I truly believed my parents’ approach to life: if you do things right, everything will work out well.

My dad used the word “incompetent” as a noun, and he talked about most politicians as “incompetents.” Everything would be much better in the world if “those incompetents would only do it this way. . . .” My mother was more interested in the social realm, and she taught me all sorts of social skills, and communicated many social values, that she believed would make life go well.

My grandfathers died when I was 7 and 15, so we experienced a bit of sadness. We moved almost every year because of my dad’s military career, and I was allowed to feel sad about that. But other than those hard things, every other hard thing, my parents seemed to believe, was caused by someone’s wrong choice which could be fixed. There was no room for sadness. All discussion and action should focus on figuring out the right behavior so everything would be okay.

As a teenager, I read Seventeen magazine religiously, poring over the very thin and beautiful models. If only I could look like them, I believed, then I would be happy. Sure, I grew up and left my parents’ home and stopped reading Seventeen. I attempted to figure out new values to live by. But that can-do, problem-solving spirit that my parents emphasized continued to shape me. And I continued to see countless advertisements that advocated beauty and material possessions as the solution to any kind of personal pain.

In addition, the American culture has an obsession with optimism, which has only gotten worse over my lifespan. Be positive, work through the pain, keep going, don’t think about negative things, don’t feel sad emotions.

On some level, for most of my adult life, I have believed there are easy answers to most problems, and that when things aren’t going right in my life, it must be my fault. I should fix something, buy something, or have a better attitude. This is a heavy burden to bear. How much better to rest in the God who grieves with us when things don’t go well for such a variety of reasons beyond our control.

As I have written about grief, I have come face to face with how little power each of us has to change people and situations beyond ourselves – and hey, even changing ourselves isn’t easy a lot of the time. Real life situations are often so complicated that solutions aren’t clear-cut. And even when solutions seem obvious, opposing interests – both in the outside world and within our own minds and bodies – complicate the implementation of change. I grieve at the intractable problems that damage human beings and the earth in so many ways.

The world is a scary place. Maybe my parents’ myth of control was a way of comforting themselves in complex and worrisome situations. Maybe the Depression and World War 2 shaped them so profoundly that their strategies were necessary for coping. I want to feel grace toward them, while choosing a different path.

I want to be a person who can feel sadness without blaming myself for doing something wrong. And I want to accept God’s forgiveness when I have done something wrong. I want to be a person who is thankful for God’s abundant gifts, while also feeling the lacks and pain in my life and other people’s lives. I want to grieve honestly in the presence of Jesus and receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

I want to trust in the God who made me, saved me, loves me, and provides for me. I want to trust that Jesus is beside me, in good times and hard times. And I want to feel God’s joy with me as I rejoice in the gifts of life.

To all of you who gave me feedback on this series, thank you. It’s been a joy to write it and a joy to hear its impact on you, my valued readers.

Next week: an important 2020 anniversary, the beginning of Prohibition in the United States in 1920 and what we can learn from it. Illustration by Dave Baab: me at three and a half. I welcome new subscribers. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below.

This is the 15th and last post in a series on grief AND thankfulness. The first posts is here, and the other posts follow sequentially afterward.

My book on this topic – Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Lifenow available as an audiobook as well as paperback and kindle.

Two options for Lenten devotionals (Lent begins February 26 this year):

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