Restoring the Soul with Michael John Cusick

Episode 275 - Brian Boecker, "Navigating the Valley: How Lament and Grief Lead Us to Encounter God's Presence"

August 18, 2023 Brian Boecker Season 12 Episode 275
Restoring the Soul with Michael John Cusick
Episode 275 - Brian Boecker, "Navigating the Valley: How Lament and Grief Lead Us to Encounter God's Presence"
Show Notes Transcript

"But here's the beautiful part - God honors our honesty and vulnerability. Lament and grief are invitations to draw closer to Him." - Michael John Cusick

Welcome back to another episode of "Restoring the Soul with Michael John Cusick". In today's episode, titled "Navigating the Valley: How Lament and Grief Lead Us to Encounter God's Presence," Michael and Brian Boecker delve into the profound topic of grief and lament. 

They begin by examining Psalm 88, an intense Psalm that expresses the psalmist's anguish and feelings of abandonment by God. God honors our honesty and vulnerability, even in moments of anger and confusion toward Him. They also discuss the invitation to grieve and engage in lament as a means of intimacy and trust with God. Pulling from various sources, including Walter Brugeman's books on the Psalms and lament, we learn that lament is a form of worship, allowing us to bring our hearts before God. 

Join us as we welcome and engage with our suffering, embracing the paradox of suffering and resurrection and seeking to be hospitable to our pain. Prepare for a thought-provoking and soul-stirring conversation that will challenge and encourage you on your faith journey.


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MICHAEL CUSICK:

Welcome to another episode of restoring the soul. I'm Michael John Cusack. And today I'm talking with my restoring the soul colleague, Brian Becker. Hey, Brian. Hey, Michael, you and I have been talking a little bit over the last several months and more recently about the topic of grief, and lament, which is a pretty broad topic. And you had shared prior to us sitting down to have this conversation and hitting record, that you feel as if you're a newbie to this topic, and I appreciate that. But I also want to say that I am too. And you know, I don't know which one of us has logged more time reading scripture books about grief and lament. But this is at the outset something that whether we've lost a loved one, whether we are going through a season of a job loss, that grief and lament is part of the human experience. And it's not just related to death. And it's not always just related to loss. But it can be related to anticipation or longing. And so I just want to frame this conversation around the need for grief filament and wherever this conversation goes around the words of Jesus, Matthew, chapter five, verse four, in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus says, Bless it, are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. And at the outset very strange words, from Jesus, who he says that, when you're blessed is actually when you more Yeah, so let's start. Let's start there. How is that true?

Brian Boecker:

Yeah, well, I think two things that, you know, I've found myself saying over and over, and again, I quote you frequently on this, because I remember, is probably about a year ago, maybe a little bit longer, you made the comment, right, the Beatitudes are not so much something you do, but there are places that you meet God, that has been such a gift that that word has been such a gift. And I say it frequently because it reminds me right like mornings, not just something to be gotten through. Just as poverty is not something just to be overcome. But it's it's in those places of my poor Ness or in my grief, or mourning that I actually experienced the witness of God. And again, I don't know that I understand that philosophically when I go down that road, but it feels really true. And what I've noticed from people that I feel like have suffered a lot of loss and inter that grief is they're people that have met with God, they've seen the face of God, I think of job zone words, right when he says, I'd heard about you. But now I know you. And I think there's something deeper about both being with God and knowing God deeper, because we've chosen to enter into mourning, and turning into the lament and the loss, and the grief that we have.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

While those are rich words that weren't blessed, I've heard interpreted from somebody who was both a Hebrew and Greek scholar, that one of the richest definitions of Blessed is in an enviable position. So what you just said is that morning puts us in a position of posture, where we can only experience something there that we would otherwise envy. And that's the counter intuitiveness of it, right? It's,

Brian Boecker:

it feels very counterintuitive to me. And again, I would say a lot of my life, and we were talking before this, right, I feel like a real newbie when it comes to understanding grief and loss. You know, personally, like I see the richness of it. But I think a lot of my life tenor has been about survival, about getting through, you know, making sure nothing too bad happens. And I think it's like holding my breath through something rather than this anticipation of, even though this is really hard. There's something good here that this is meant to be gone into eyes wide open, taking deep breaths, expecting to meet God in this place, even though it's probably an unexpected place that I've been in. And so I think for me, that's a real big shift that's going on is that like that freedom, to not fear or not just hold my breath and get through something, but to anticipate meeting him in this place,

MICHAEL CUSICK:

and meeting God in those places that we would otherwise try to avoid or to just get through and survive as much as possible. It means that we've got to somehow be present to

Unknown:

us. So to choose to lament,

MICHAEL CUSICK:

or to grieve or to sorrow is in one sense to make a choice not to numb ourselves, not to preoccupy ourselves with busyness not to distract ourselves. And that's a really hard thing to do today.

Brian Boecker:

For sure, I think of book read recently prophetic lament. But I'm gonna probably butcher the pronunciation of his name, but similar in Korean American church planter, but he launched launched his inner city, church plant, preaching on the book of limitations, and people thought he was crazy producer, but he said, right, this is something these people are familiar with suffering and lament. And he would say, of Western culture, and particularly Western Christianity has been driven by triumphalism and exceptionalism. Like it's about getting over having the victory or getting through, right, or I'm above that, right. Like, there's so many things that sometimes I think our flavor of Christianity can shape that, like, somehow it's about getting through rather than getting into it right in again, the passage of Jesus with Mary, I just think always strikes me right that in the loss of Lazarus, Jesus comes to her in her tears and and are weeping and he chooses to weep with her. Again, we don't know does does he know he's gonna raise Lazarus from the dead? I would assume yes. But even so he chooses to be very present with her in that suffering. Right. And she chose to be present with him bringing everything that's in her to him, right. Her anger, her complaint, just her sense of deep sadness and sorrow. And I just think that's the freedom that the book of Psalms gives us is this freedom to just be present with what you're feeling. And I've heard it said, Write grief work is just being present to what you're feeling, and not trying to shape it into something that it's not, but just to be present with what you're feeling. I think the book of Psalms gives us such a good picture of that. I think the book by Dan allander, the cry of the soul is an excellent book to just delve into the, the dark emotions that we feel and how those are present in the book of Psalms. And so, I just think, again, Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar, he says this about the Psalms, right? There's psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation Psalms reorientation, in Psalms of disorientation, I believe, he says, makes up like 40%, of the psalms in it. So it's like something like 40% of our experience is meant to be in this place of disorientation and to be present with our feelings and experiences of that. And to expect to bring that to God in the form of lament to bring that to him in the form of complaint that bring that in the form of, here's my words, and the aches and the cries of my heart. Again, that feels really foreign to me, like, I don't know that I'm allowed to do that or say that. But yet the Psalms give us such a picture. You read Psalm 88. It's like, there's not a lot that's positive in that song. Do you? I mean, it's like, where are you? And what are you doing here? And I think it's like God says, this is worship. For you to bring your heart to me this unadorned, like, you're just bringing the realness you're being present with me. And you honor me when you do that, thank you for bringing that to me. And I just think that's the, the gift of the book of Psalms is that it gives us that freedom to pour out our hearts and to be present and to be fully present with what we're experiencing and feeling in his presence, and to receive his tender compassionate love that he is with us in those things.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

So Brian, I want to read Psalm 88, or at least parts of it because so often on the podcast, I'll make reference to a verse and sometimes I don't even have the exact first and I say, Well, it's kind of near this or that. They actually want to stop and look at this because you're right, this is this is an intense song, and I want you to just comment on it. Some ADA it's a song and a song for the Sons of Korah for the Director of Music, oh Lord, the God who saves me day and night I cry out before you made my prayer come before you turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble, and my life draws near the grave. I'm counted among those who go down to the pit. I'm like a man without strength, I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave who you remember no more, were cut off from your care. Listen to this, verse six, you have put me in the lowest pen, in the darkest depths, your wrath lies heavily upon me, you have overwhelmed me with all of your waves. Now, I don't know if that's actually true or false that it's God who did that. But the fact of the matter is that this is scripture. And God honors the Psalm has experienced that right? Any any honors him coming out, and basically attacking God in this way. And I think that the way that you're talking about this invitation, to grieve, to engage in lament in such an active way, that this topic that I want people to hear, is not so much about, here's three steps for how to grieve and lament, but how God, in his own book gives these examples of people engaging with him in a way that seems at first so utterly unacceptable. But that brings the kind of intimacy and trust that that allows us to surrender to the loving, caring aspect of God. Let me just go another couple of verses. You've taken me from my closest friends, and you've made them repulsive to me. I'm confined and can't escape. My eyes are dim with grief, I call to a Lord every day, I spread out my hands to you, do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave? Your faithfulness and destruction? In other words, like, where are you? And how come you aren't doing anything in this life? It's not all about the future life. So I guess here's my question to you. And what is it that we're supposed to grieve and lament is most people hear the word grief. And it's like, I went to a funeral. And I'm grieving. But you're suggesting, and I believe the scriptures build this case, that if we're awake, if our eyes are open, that we can grieve almost every moment, and we can LaMantia.

Brian Boecker:

Again, I feel like the list could be endless, right? The loss of a job, the loss of your career, the loss of a ministry, right, that the changing the transition from one thing to another, right? There's so many things that people that make really good transitions, but those transition means there's going to be some loss. Right? Like, again, I think there I just think of the number of times there's sat with people that just go in, it's just like, I don't understand what this is. And I don't know what God's up to, like, why is he allowing this in your life. And again, I know you can probably relate to this sitting with people that feels like one thing after another, that just keeps coming in. It's like, I don't get what you're doing with these people. I know that feeling in my life. I know. There's things in my life that just go This isn't how I expected life to be. Right? And this isn't what I had in mind that this was what it was going to be like. And I think there's places where I cry out and this welling up that comes up from men, man again, it's colorful language, if you want to call it that, but it feels like somehow these words emanate out of me and I bring them to God. It is the oddest thing that when I bring that out, there's something of this calm that comes over me that I feel like I'm, I'm heard I'm listened to. He's with me. His his wraparound presence, I think is the way the message kind of talks about it, but his wraparound presence is felt and I'm just like, Wait, that's what happens when when I say all of that to you. And so I just think there's so many things. This growing sense is there's so much more suffering that I'm awakening to the older I get. And that's, I think my eyes is it opens up to who the Lord is. I think there's also an opening up to the suffering that is around us, in us, you know, near us. I think of Paul's words recently, right? Like, all day long we carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies. And kind of we have this presence of the resurrection that's also with us in this this interesting dilemma that we hold to things very dear. There's deep suffering, the death of Jesus, the suffering the the cost the man of sorrows, who's acquainted with grief right, but also this resurrection attentive very much with us. and present with us and for us. And I just think there's something about that, that we're meant to hold together. And if we, if we miss one of those pieces, right, we're not going to hold well, the presence of Christ in us and through us, as we sit or with people, other people in that process as well.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Yeah, that's so well said, we've talked so much on this podcast about holding things intention side by side, and how in our autonomy in in our self sufficiency, we tend to I know, I personally tend to go into a black and white all or nothing mode, that it's all good, that it's all bad, that God is just all about the sorrow in the pain in the death of Jesus, or it's all about the resurrection, you know, and it's hard to hold those both intention, I want to come back to something you said, because you talked about the relational aspect of lament, and how it actually leads to a sense of hope. And I think about the four S's that are a big part of our work here. The essence that Dan Siegel originally talked about, that Kurt Thompson has written about, that we are created, from infancy through life, from womb to tomb, where we have a need to be seen, to be soothed to be safe. And if those happen in a sufficient way that we will develop a secure attachment. And so we bring those needs into the world. And it says, If, unless we lament, we can't be seen in our limit. Unless we grieve and lament, we can't experience the soothing there. Unless we cry out how unsafe we feel in our bodies in the world in this moment in history, or with the loss of a loved one or job or whatever it might be, that we can't feel that safety. So it's almost as if we have to name the opposite of what we're looking for. And as we're talking, I'm just aware that we're talking about grieve, and lament as verbs. It's something that we have to do, but they're also nouns. And so, the, the noun lament is a Hebrew form of prayer, we have the book of limitations. And you talked about the Psalms and you know, if anybody wants to learn about the Psalms and lament, I would definitely direct them to Walter Bergman's two very accessible introductory books. One, I think the smaller one is called the message of the songs where he unpacks that orientation. Yeah, maybe I saw an

Brian Boecker:

Irish praying the Psalms is the one that I'm most familiar with him.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Yes, it's praying the Psalms and message of the Psalms and praying the Psalms is the is the shorter, he's your one. And I like shorter and easier. I want to for our listeners, and let's just unpack this a little bit in the 10 minutes or so that we have remaining. What if we take this idea that we all longed to be seen, to be soothed to feel to be safe and secure, we'd love for that on the horizontal level with others. But it's the absence of those things that actually causes us grief. It's the absence of those things, which leads us to cry out and anguish, but that God has given us this noun, lament, that we can have a prayer and engage with God in this form of lawmen where we actually pour out our pain. And in the prayer, we actually made a note to myself here, that we can pour out our pain, our sorrow or confusion, or disorientation, our anger, our longing, and only by bringing that into a trusting relationship with our Heavenly Father, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, can we be embraced and as you said, God's wraparound presence then brings us soothing and safety and security. And what we're seeing for is not that I've got my act all together, and I've somehow read enough Psalms to transcend my pain, but we're seeing in the midst of it, and therefore, grief and lament is not well, here's this thing my therapist told me to do so I can get over my depression, but it's a posture and a way of being to engage with God with our truest self. Yeah.

Brian Boecker:

Yeah, I think those are really good words. Like, again, I think I love your, your sense of like, right, I'm crying out because I feel unseen. Right? But I'm asking to be seen maybe, in some way, shape, or form or haven't felt soothed or the person that did soothe me is no longer here and I'm, I'm asking for that soothing, but as thinking of you know, Kurt Thompson's words that he says frequently and it feels like every time I hear Him say something akin to this, there's always close to tears in his eyes in Every time it impacts me, but he says, Every child is born into this world looking for somebody looking for them. And I just think that sense of Jesus is seeking and saving that which is lost and, and maybe it's my lament and my crying out that opens me to the fact that he's seeking me. And then I'm open to that possibility of him finding me. Right? Like, because he's always looking for me, he's always looking for those parts of me that are lost. He's always looking for that part that needs soothing, right? Because he wants to do that. But I think maybe it's in the act of lament, I opened myself up to the possibility that he's there and that he wants to speak to me and allow him to enter into those places that maybe I've kept shut down or away from him.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Yeah, back to the point about the book on prophetic lament. No wonder people that have known suffering and oppression would find it really compelling and life giving to be invited into lament, as opposed to to be invited into some kind of triumphalist faith, or church which is focused on some big mission, to try to save the world and or overcome that place that they're in. That there's a whole there's a holiness in the moment of suffering and the vulnerability of that suffering that we're called into. And what if it takes faith to stay in the suffering as opposed to a faith to overcome the suffering and to bring us out of it, and back to your point that it's in the suffering that we meet God?

Brian Boecker:

Well, again, when you look at people that are in chronic long term pain or chronic long term health issues, right, and the lament and the suffering that is there, again, when I'm me with those people, I just again, I feel like I don't know that I know God the way they do, but there's that entering into that. boastful mantra is like I would never choose this for me, but God, somehow you have me here and that, again, I think of prophetical med quote from that book, right? He says, There is no Shalom apart from lament in wow, I just think that's a really, those words have felt true, right? Like I can try and create peace by surviving or getting through or avoiding it. But it's not really true peace. It feels like there's a greater sense of, as I enter into lament, it feels like there's this Shalom that's really like it can hold all of me it can hold all of my story it can hold whatever comes my way.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Yeah, that's it. That's the the Shalom, shalom holds everything else, as opposed to you get rid of the everything else. And then you have Shalom. And that's the key, the secret to the Beatitude, that we're blessed that we're in this enviable position. Peterson even translated the word blessed as lucky in the Beatitudes. And not lucky in the sense of I went to Las Vegas and played the dice. And I randomly but lucky in the sense of something favorable and good has come to me. But that that can only happen, as everything else is included in it. I want to go ahead and try remember the word you said that I've quoted this in the past. But when I was writing about the Beatitudes, I think the line was, and I'm trying to recall this because I think this will be helpful to some people. The line was that the Beatitudes are not instructions on how to live, but descriptions of how things actually are and directions to where God can always be found.

Brian Boecker:

Yes, that's a really good word.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

And I was raised in discipled, as a believer of that, the Beatitudes are instructions on how to live. But I want to run as far and fast as I could from poor spirit, and from mourning, and from meekness and from hunger and thirst. And from turning the other cheek. And all of those things. Those don't sound very noble, it's easier to it's easier to focus on managing my sins than on somehow making myself vulnerable or any entering into that vulnerability.

Brian Boecker:

Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I feel like when I meet people that have lived that out, have in a sense, entered into the Beatitudes and received in that place or are met God in those places. It feels like Man, this is holy ground like this person feels like they know God and they've experienced God in ways that are really meaningful, like, their gift to be around.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Yeah, yeah. We have not planned this. So sometimes good things happen when you call an audible or do something very extemporaneously. So I want to explain what I want to do and feel free to say no, I think I We're out of time can't do it. I had the privilege of reading and endorsing Kurt Thompson's forthcoming book that comes out next month. And it's called the deepest place. And it's a book about suffering and meeting God and suffering. And he brings together a lot of different sources, scriptural exegesis, heart of a pastor. And of course, he, he integrates ideas from interpersonal neurobiology. And he uses this phrase that just stopped me in my tracks about how Jesus invites us to be hospitable to our suffering. And so we know what it's like to be hospitable to friends that are coming into town, or to, you know, someone who says, can I have $5 for gas, you know, in the parking lot? Or somebody who asks for a loan, or somebody who says, Can I have a meal, to be hospitable is to is to care deeply and to engage with and to really to welcome. And so can we take a minute at the end of this and to be hospitable and to model without any forethought or planning just in the moment to model kind of back and forth welcoming the suffering in the world today in the suffering that we may be carrying, or the suffering of the people that were with? And I'll start, and then we can just go back and forth? So something you are open to doing, sir? Okay. So what I what I believe is the welcoming posture is that of if people could see me on the screen, I've got my hands open. And I'm just sitting in a chair leaning back a little bit, and my hands are open and on my lap. And so lament, if the lament, in the Hebrew tradition is a prayer, expressing sorrow, pain, confusion, anger loss, I'm just going to speak out to God with my hands open, what is real, and what is true today, in in this moment, and for the listeners, again, this is unplanned. And part of this is going to be what's real in Michael in the moment. But it might also be what's real in the lives of loved ones in the world, in the news, etc. So I'm just going to take a deep breath. And I'm like, pause for a moment. And then I'll start and I might say, a couple, and then you can just say it back. Oh, Lord, how long? How long? Until this world is at peace, and living in your Shalom? Oh, Lord, how long? Until your children find Shalom in the midst of the brokenness?

Brian Boecker:

Yes, Father, we just give word to the loss, the suffering the pain, Lord, the injustice, the oppression, there are many experience and just think of very real people that are experiencing the ravages of war. Lord, that have lost friends and co workers in the midst of war and battle. But Lord, we think of just the oppression of, of people, and not just events of oppression, but long standing oppression of people, and are we just feel that way, that legacy Wait, that many have carried of, of for their people. And, Lord, we we grieve for that, and we limit for that.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

Loving God, I think of immigration issues today. And I admit that I'm confused. And I don't know what to do. There's a part of me that wants to go to the border, and climb over the wall and carry people here. And there's a part of me that's aware of the other side of the argument. And I realize it's not an argument, but there are people and I feel helpless. And God i i just acknowledged that I'm confused about our political system, which I believe is the best in the world. And yet it's so broken. And I acknowledge I admit that I don't know what to do about it or how to participate it and I feel helpless and powerless. And Lord, when I think of the men and women and children that walk from faraway countries through entire countries to get to the border of America, or from Russia into Ukraine, or from Ukraine into other places in Europe and Asia and or Around the world, people that are without a home without a refuge without a safe place without a warm bed at night. God, this breaks my heart. And I acknowledge that. I don't like to think about these things. Because it makes me think of my own helplessness, and powerlessness in my own life. And then it makes me want to cling to power, and cling to privilege and cling to possessions and things that make me so comfortable. And so God, I am not calling for anyone to sell everything they have and go live among the poor, but I pray that you give me the willingness to let go of everything that I cling to.

Brian Boecker:

Father, I agree with Michael and I just feel that fragile illness of my own heart that feels like I don't know what to do with the pain and the suffering. That's in this world. At times, Lord, I think of the people that have been abused, sexually abused, physically emotionally abused. Not just again events, but long standing abuse and the suffering and pain there and Florida crowd to you, would you? Would you enter in Would you stop that? Would you come against that, Lord, it feels at times so overwhelming, I know, for them. But it also feels overwhelming to know why or how or what you're doing in the midst of this. And so I pray or do you would rouse yourself you would come against the evil that's in those places. And you would bring your goodness and you would meet those people and you would bring healing and hope like only can. Lord I agree with my colored it just feels like this world is so full of at times of darkness to know what to do with it without just checking out and getting by and surviving. And and forgetting about and not being roused to both tenderness. As well as just a heart of lament for the needs of your people in this world.

MICHAEL CUSICK:

And loving God, it does feel at times like the darkness is winning. Your word says that your light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. But it does feel so often, especially because you're restoring the soul, we're often so close to the darkness as we walk with people, I ask God that you would teach me to, to bring the heartache, the outrage, the powerlessness, the helplessness to you, God right now, I have several loved ones and friends, probably a dozen people that are battling cancer, or some form of serious disease. And I admit that I become numb to the way that disease and evil has ravaged our human bodies, and ravaged our well being. And so God I don't, I don't know what this means. But I feel like you want to wake me up to the reality of that. And then to bring that to you so that my heart can be at once awake to it. And also held by your comfort and your presence. So God for Brian and I, and there really isn't a way to master this or become ultimately mature in this. But for Brian and I, and for every listener on this podcast, teach us to hold all things in our hands and heart, to hold the good and the bad to hold our failure in our success, our glory in our ruin, the brokenness and the wholeness, the disorientation with all the ways that you're reorienting us and opening our eyes and bringing your kingdom. So God we pray that Your kingdom would come and that your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven, in the midst of a world that is very unlike your heaven and your heart. And so dear listeners the kingdom of God is wherever the rule and the reign of God is happening. The kingdom of God is where heaven is happening here. And so as God's Kingdom dwells in you, as Jesus told us, wherever you go, there's the kingdom. And wherever your pain is, wherever your struggle is, wherever the darkness is, wherever your failure is, wherever it is, that you need to express sorrow, confusion, pain, lament, that is where God is. Where can you flee from his presence? Where can you escape from his spirit. So thanks for listening today we'll continue to engage topics like this, like lament, and grief and all that's required for us to dig deeper to live deeper into this god saturated reality of our lives. Talk to you again soon on restoring the soul