Friday, March 27, 2020

Our Viral Grief

Often, people think of grief only in terms of loss through death, but we grieve—often very deeply—other types of loss. In the face of pandemic, we have much to grieve from stay-at-home orders and social distancing. We grieve missed hugs, financial losses, and the loss of physical community for worship, work, and school. We grieve lost vacations, sporting events, graduations, weddings, and funerals. 

We want to do the right thing—flatten the curve for everyone—but the losses hurt. How can we process all this hurt and deal with this new, viral grief?

Recognize your feelings. Grief can stir up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings that need to be acknowledged. Feelings are neither good nor bad…they just are. We can’t control what we feel, but we can control how we respond. The first step in responding well to our feelings is to recognize them. 

Accept your feelings. For instance, Christians sometimes think it’s a sin to be angry at God and therefore have a hard time accepting that feeling. The good news is that God’s not afraid of our anger. God’s love in infinite. God can handle our anger and every other feeling our grief might conjure up.  

Express your feelings. Cry. Punch a pillow. Keep a journal. Pray.

Trust that feelings are unique to each of us. People might have the same source of grief but very different feelings about it. Trust that everyone’s doing their best with their feelings…even you! Treat others’ feelings the way you want them to treat yours, even if you might not understand them.

Share your feelings with someone you trust. Often, the most healing part of working through grief is putting the words out there; feelings often lose power in the open air. Talk with someone who listens without judgment, without trying to “fix” the feelings, and without telling you what you “should” do. (And remember to be a good listener when others share their feelings with you!)

C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” Indeed, we now see in our response to this pandemic just how closely related fear and grief are. God is with us as we wash our hands and struggle with this new—and temporary—normal. God is with us through this uncertainty, fear, and grief. God gave us feelings; let us work through them together. 

This is a slightly edited article I wrote for our church newsletter, and it comes out of my experience as a Stephen Minister and Leader. If you want more information, please email me through the blog. Blessings and peace to everyone. ~Susan

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Lenten Fast

I found this on Facebook and simply must share. It captures how I feel about Lent and how we might respond to Lent not by taking away something but by adding holy practices to our lives and thus giving more time to God.

If you are a Christian, what are your thoughts on and practices for Lent? If you're not a Christian, do you have any questions about Lent (the time leading up to Easter)? 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Good Words to Ponder #2


What strikes me most about these good words to ponder? How few people we can talk to for this purpose. First, the person must be trustworthy and not a gossip. Second, he or she has to know how to listen simply, without judging or troubleshooting to fix the problem or turning the talk back to themselves.

Who listens simply for you when you need it? Do you listen simply for others when they need it? How could you be a better listener?

Words to ponder.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Wisdom: Mudita

This post is the first in an ongoing series of nuggets of knowledge and wisdom I mine in books. These little nuggets will focus on kindness, peace, joy, mercy, love, compassion, mindfulness, and personal growth. No doubt this wisdom from books will be quite eclectic (as is my reading list!), but each post will, I hope, give you food for thought...and perhaps ideas for your own reading list.  

About five years ago, I read The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was fascinated by the depth and breadth of the openness this man promotes both through his actions and his words.


We need more of that.

So when I saw The Book of Joy at my local Barnes & Noble, with its face-to-face picture of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I bought it and immediately dove in to page after page of wisdom and inspiration from two big hearts and open minds. The book documents a week-long meeting of these two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and faith leaders as they discuss the subject of joy in a harsh and difficult world.

As you can see, I had to start marking passages to go back to, to reflect on, to remember, but now, a year later, I'm simply re-reading the whole thing.

The nugget of inspiration I want to explore from The Book of Joy today is the word mudita. Buddhists define mudita as the joy that comes from someone else's joy. It's the opposite of schadenfreude, which is German for the pleasure that comes from someone else's suffering.

Reading the definition of mudita in The Book of Joy made me think of Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts(Don't you love it when books cross-pollinate in your mind?) Back in 2011, I came across Voskamp's book about gratitude and immediately began my own gratitude journal. I read blogs and other books on gratitude, wrote numerous posts about gratitude, and cultivated gratitude as a habit of mind.

This intentional study stuck and is one of the most transformative habits I've ever instilled in myself.

Mudita gave a name to a powerful side-effect of practicing gratitude. I would frequently find myself, in the midst of stress or worry or conflict, smiling. At first, I was a bit confused that my joy couldn't be suppressed by whatever was bothering me, but I quickly realized that practicing gratitude had rewired my thoughts.

Often, when negative thoughts about my own situation seemed to grow big, random thoughts of gratitude welled up and pushed the negative thoughts into a more realistic perspective...and these moments of gratitude in my own pain were almost always thoughts of someone else's blessing.

Mudita. Mudita for my friend whose leadership has turned around a faltering adult literacy program and has caused ripples of joy for so many people. Mudita for a first-time grandmother who is beaming with joy. Mudita for a friend with a new job. Mudita for my son and my niece who got into their first choices for college. Mudita for another niece who is getting married. Mudita for travel photos of other people's fabulous vacations on Facebook.

You can find mudita everywhere.

But you have to be open to it, cultivate it, let it well up inside of you, and overflow in celebration with another human being. 

The result: joy.

Questions for Thought
What do you think of the idea of mudita? Have you experienced mudita recently? If so, please share your experience in the comments. How might you cultivate mudita in yourself and encourage it in others?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Good Words to Ponder #1


It's easy to be seduced into being someone other than yourself. Family, friends, bosses, teachers...all the people we encounter may want you to be someone that's convenient for them, and some of them, with either good or bad intent, may be very good at manipulating you into being that person.

This week, ponder how you are you. What can only you do? Are you doing it? Why or why not? Pick one thing you love about you and let it flow!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Responding to the Crazy

Oh, my.

In the past year, we've seen and heard so much crazy that I've pretty much shut down writing and retreated to the creative world of Simplicity. How does one respond to a nation seemingly overrun with debauchery, discord, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, hatred, anger, fear, gossip, lies, posturing, back-stabbing, oppression, discrimination, harassment, arrogance?


I'm not sure what to do, but I've become increasingly convinced that silence isn't the answer, which is why I'm writing again.

On this morning celebrating the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a friend living in Virginia received a KKK propaganda packet at the end of her driveway. So did all her neighbors. Hate is trying to spread.

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." 

That long list of misery in my second paragraph follows pretty closely Paul's list of fruits of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians. When people behave in these ways, they feed others this terrible fruit that poisons and pollutes and tears down relationships, families, communities, cities, states, nations.

We can't destroy those terrible things by adding more terrible things to the world.

Dr. King was ever so right about that.

When we respond to the crazy fruits of the flesh, we need to respond with fruits of the spirit. We need to grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When others eat of this fruit, they are nourished and built up and grow good fruit of their own to feed others. The good fruit spreads.

I have admired these fruits in the words of an immigration lawyer being interviewed on NPR.

I have admired these fruits in the voices of my bishop and pastor in the United Methodist Church.

I have admired these fruits in the hard work and leadership savvy of my friend who has miraculously revitalized our county's adult literacy program.

I have admired these fruits in the actions of my friend the CASA volunteer.

I have admired these fruits in the steady stand of peaceful counter-protesters at white-supremacist rallies.

I have admired these fruits at every Stephen Ministry meeting I attend.

These fruits are EVERYWHERE. Don't let the media fool you into believing that only fruits of the flesh are out there. Good is being done all over the place. Look for it. Listen for it. Encourage it. Be a part of it.

Dr. King asked a very important question: What are you doing for others?

This is the answer to the crazy. We don't grow the fruit to eat it ourselves but to feed others. Are you giving good fruit to those around you? Are you actively promoting kindness, gentleness, peace, goodness, love, faithfulness, and joy in all places in your life (personal, professional, public, and private)? Are you exercising patience and self-control when others around you aren't?

Or are you sitting back crossing your fingers, hoping these good things win against the hate and bigotry and belittling and division and arrogance and anger and other assorted ugliness?

Or, worse, are you trying to fight the hate with hate...and adding to the crazy?

Use your gifts, whatever they may be, to grow good fruit for others. Ask yourself how you can actively protect and help those who have less, those from other countries, those suffering addictions, those whose identities and orientations may not be the same as yours...anyone who needs a hand.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Respond to the crazy by growing love, speaking love, doing love as only you can.

I'm going to write love. 

What are you going to do?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cultivate Curiosity

Yesterday, I sat and read at the cafe at Kroger while Jack and his therapist shopped. A smiling lady walked by and asked, "Is it a good book?" 

"Well, I just started it." 

"What is it?" 

I closed the book and showed her the front cover. "Alan Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art And Science of Relating and Communicating."

The lady's smile became fixed. She said nothing (not one word!), turned, and walked away.

I hadn't learned much by page 8 of the book. Oh, the irony!

Now, I don't want to draw too much meaning from this amusing little exchange. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I do. I'm an English major. It's what we do. 

So let's start with unmet expectations. My sister suggested this woman might have expected me to be reading "Hot, Savage Love." While we will never know what she expected, it seems fairly obvious this woman thought I'd be reading something she would read or at least something she could relate to. Why else interrupt my reading with her question in the first place?

When confronted with a cumbersomely long title about the art and science of relating, however, she was stumped she couldn't even muster a polite "how interesting" or "I hope you enjoy it." 

Her expectations ran head-first into a brick wall with my reading choice, and she walked away stunned and unable to speak.


In the early pages of the book, Alda explained that the success of the television show Scientific American Frontiers came, at least in part, from his willingness do two things simultaneously: to embrace his ignorance of science and to communicate burning curiosity to the scientists he interviewed. Frontiers ran for 11 years and covered an enormous range of scientific topics. These two things--Alda's ignorance and curiosity--brought out the scientists' own enthusiasm for their subject and brought greater clarity to their answers. 

Ignorance and curiosity. 

We all have the first characteristic in abundance, but rarely do we want it to show. Yet the only way to overcome ignorance is to be curious. Curiosity takes energy and effort, openness and vulnerability. Yet great things happen when we can admit our ignorance and seek answers.

I don't know if it's our our current cultural climate of anti-intellectual bullying and divisiveness or simple human nature that's killing curiosity and causing us to walk away from that which we don't understand, but it makes me sad. 

The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. 

These words can lead us to despair and give up, or they can inspire us to fresh curiosity. They led me to pick up Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Twenty-two pages in, I'm glad I did. 

Where are you cultivating curiosity in your life? Where are you walking away from something you don't understand? How might you (and others!) benefit from your letting your ignorance show?