Friday, November 26, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss - Part Four - It Pays to Celebrate

"Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8: 10

A new friend of mine recently quit smoking cigarettes.  It has not been easy.  In fact, it has been very, very difficult.  Nevertheless she is succeeding in her inspired effort to remain free of the cigarette habit.  As a part of her recovery, she has joined Nicotine Anonymous - a 12 Step program for recovering smokers.  In N.A., a "chip" is presented as the member hits milestones in their recovery so they can mark and celebrate each one. There is, for example a "30 Day Chip" and so on.  

The other day, my friend was showing some of us a necklace she had made out of the chips she has earned so far.  In this way, she was literally wearing the signs of her victory over cigarettes.  The necklace was clever and attractive.  She told us that some of the people who had taken notice of her necklace had been drawn to it as an accessory.  They did not know what the chips represented.  But she understands the meaning of each chip quite thoroughly.  Show knows that, together, they signify victories God has helped her achieve.  She knows that it really does pay to celebrate.

Celebrating one's victories is an important part of rebuilding after loss. It is not only appropriate to do so, it actually important. That's because celebrations have a way of consolidating gains, building faith and adding value to the sometimes considerable efforts we put into our return from destruction.

Nehemiah understood the value of celebration.  He called the people to embrace joy: "Do not grieve," he told them, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength".  Let me pause to point out that grief is an appropriate response to loss and allowing ones self to grieve well is key to the healing and restoration process. Nevertheless, there is a time (Nehemiah reminds us) when we must stop grieving loss and begin celebrating gains.  It is important to do so, he declares to the people, because the Lord's joy brings further strength -- strength that will be needed as we seek to take our rebuilding process to the next level.

There are many ways to celebrate our restoration milestones. Some deserve to be public and noisy while other are better conducted in a private and intimate manner.  As we approach Thanksgiving, it is an ideal time to pause and consider what it is that God has done or is doing to help you rebuild after loss.  As you take note of these things, you might want to signify or symbolize certain milestones in ways that are meaningful to you. As you do, you will no doubt find that it gives you life, increases your joy and strengthens your grip on future progress.  

"How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the Lord" 
(Psalm 116:12, 13).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss, Part Two - Assessment

"I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on" (Nehemiah 2: 12) NIV

The Wisdom of Assessment

A fellow pastor I know enjoys rock climbing with his son.  After getting valuable experience, they decided to tackle a particularly difficult climb -- their biggest challenge yet.  They decided to obtain an expert guide to assist them.  

Before they actually attempted the climb, the guide took them to a nearby vantage point so they could assess their challenge one piece at a time before engaging it. "The first segment of the climb will be hard", the expert told them as he drew their attention to the lower parts of the mountain.  "But we'll rest there and get ready for the next part", he added as he identified a small resting place.

The guide then pointed out the next segment of the climb. It would be much more difficult.  He went through it with them bit-by-bit until they all understood the strategy they would use to complete it.  Another resting point was identified. 
The third segment was very, very hard.  My friend later reported that he was pretty sure he would not be able to complete it.  Their guide assured them that they were up to the task but it would take everything they had.  Once again, they reviewed each part of that final climb in detail before they struck out to begin.

Taking Time to Assess

In our hurry to escape the pain, anxiety, or discouragement that follows grief, loss and major reversals; we may be tempted to skip the assessment phase of the rebuilding process. This can actually delay our progress.  Both Nehemiah and the rock climbing expert model the importance of first making a good assessment of the challenges we are facing before diving in.

A good assessment is holistic and includes the spiritual, emotional, physical and relational aspects of rebuilding after loss.  We need to look carefully at what it will take to restore our sense of spiritual balance.  Nothing is more fundamental to a good recovery than a clear sense of the presence of God and His promises to us in Christ.

A thorough assessment of our emotions is also in order. Are we emotionally over or under reacting?  Are we managing stress, anxiety and grief reasonably well?

Physically, we need to pay attention to our sleeping and eating habits.  If these have changed much in either direction (noticeably more eating or sleeping or noticeably less), we would do well to take note.  We will need our best physical resources to manage the overall task ahead.

Finally, we must properly assess our relationships.  Who do we have who can be present to our process with us in a helpful way? Who do we need to add to that list?

Once we have undergone a good assessment of the rebuilding process, the overall advances will be much greater than if we rush to rebuild too quickly.  
  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  
"Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17, 18)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rebuilding After Loss, Part One

Nehemiah, one of the Hebrews who had been living in exile in Babylon finally got news from home.  But it wasn't good:

"Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire".

Nehemiah was heartbroken: "When I heard these things, I wept..."(Neh.1:3,4).

Loss.  Reversal.  Bereavement.  These experiences have the power to stun us - to "knock the wind" out of us - and to even shut us completely down with sorrow.  Many of the people living in our own times are experiencing reversal and loss due to our country's economy as well as other factors. For many, these are trying times, indeed.

Do you know someone who is seeking to rebuild after grief or loss?  Perhaps you have friends, family members and neighbors who have lost jobs.  So many Americans have lost homes and other prized possessions as the financial pressures have taken their toll. And there are other kinds of losses, too. These include the loss of one's dignity, ability to trust, and sense of personal identity or safety. Perhaps you are going through such a time.

Life sometimes includes "mega-losses" such as when people lose important friends, a spouse, or a child.  Enduring such reversals puts us on the receiving end of some of life's heaviest possible blows. And so, all of this begs the question: can people successfully recover from such devastating circumstances? I believe the answer is "yes".  But restoration is not a quick or easy process.

Rebuilding Again - Beginning in Prayer

After expressing his initial sorrow and grief, Nehemiah began to engage the Lord in prayer. Prayer is certainly "Job One" in the rebuilding process for we cannot come back from powerful losses well without the wisdom, comfort, grace and empowering presence of God.

Nehemiah's prayer life remained rich throughout the daunting project of restoration he led the people to begin.  Along the way he faced stiff resistance from enemies, the need to keep a large team of workers motivated and other logistical and personal challenges.

Wise Nehemiah knew that this re-building would require more than what human hands and resources could provide.  Again and again, he called on God for help.  As he did, he shared each challenge and victory with the Lord as if He was right beside him in the process (He was!).

Just as prayer played a major role in Nehemiah's rebuilding effort, so must it play a key role in your own loss recovery story.  Many testify that prayers of many kinds - from gutsy, intensive prayers of praise and petition to deeply reflective prayers of Christ-centered meditation - have been their lifeline while in restoration and rebuilding mode.

Then I (Nehemiah) said: "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before You day and night for your servants, the people of Israel ..." (Neh. 1:5, 6a)