Growing up is not as easy as it once seemed. As a kid, I always wanted to be doing the things that older kids were doing – driving, going out, “unlimited” freedom (so it seemed). I quickly accounted for the privileges granted for grown-ups. But I was ignorant to the additional responsibilities and realities.
As a child, we primarily see the good in life. We get toys from others. We get fed by others and often get our way. Now when we don’t, we certainly see the bad in life. In fact, everything in life can seem difficult in those moments. But for the majority of childhood (depending on your childhood), we are sheltered from many of the harsh realities of life.
For the past year and a half, I have been confronted with this idea of “Living in the Both” – the both being the good and the bad. Recent life experiences have challenged me. I’ve lost a very close friend to cancer, watched family members bury their 10-month-old, and heard a father deliver a eulogy for his 14-month-old daughter. These experiences have forced me to reckon with grief in a deeper sense than ever before.
My tendency would be to ignore the depth of the grief. “Man up, Scott. You can handle it.” As I’ve hit the mid-life crisis age, I’ve faced the reality of why this age is so dangerous, particularly for men. Around this age, I do think we hit a crossroads of life disappointments. Could be marriage, parenting, work – fill in the blank. Simply put: expectations were not met, whatever those expectations were.
The Good and the Bad
In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Changes That Heal,” he speaks to this reality:
“The world around us is good and bad. The people around us are good and bad. We are good and bad.
Our natural tendency is to try and resolve the problem of good and evil by keeping the two separated. We want, by nature, to experience the good me, the good other, and the good world as ‘all good.’ To do this, we see the bad me, the bad other, and the bad world as ‘all bad.’ This creates a split in our experience of ourselves, others, and the world around us – a division that is not based on reality and cannot stand the test of time and real life.
In the world around us, we require perfection, and we devalue any church, group, or job that fails our expectations. Either we withdraw from church, group, or job, only to move to another imperfect and disappointing situation, or we idealize situations in a way that blinds us to their bad points. In short, if we do not have the ability to tolerate and deal with the simultaneous existence of good and bad, we cannot successfully deal with and live in this world.
The Comparison Game
So what does it look like to respond in a healthy way to this reality? For me, it started with honesty – honestly talking about the grief to others. I’m quick to minimize my grief by comparing it to others in worse conditions. Their situation may be worse, but comparing my situation to others is not a healthy response.
As I talked to other men about the grief, one friend who is a therapist recommended that I write a letter to the baby girl, telling her what I saw and experienced. I haven’t yet. Why not? I could say that I’ve been busy, or I thought this was a silly idea. But if I’m honest, I just don’t know if I can go there yet.
At a funeral, it’s hard for me not to imagine others in the casket, including myself and my family. What would that mean? How would I respond? What would I start doing differently? As hard as these funerals have been, there is also great good. The good is that we pause to reflect. We are challenged to slow down and check our priorities. Where are we spending our time, talents and treasures? In eternal things, or things that will perish?
The Ongoing Journey
This journey will continue. We will continue to experience both grief and joy. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
By God’s grace, I will remain hopeful in the midst of trials and sufferings, because He knows our grief. He knows what it’s like to lose a child. He knows what it’s like to suffer. We do not serve a god who rules without purpose. We serve a sovereign God who has walked before us and knows our insides and outs.
So how does all of this relate to finances? Well, I’m not quite sure…other than I often see the “good and bad” with money. I see the good that comes when someone gives generously, knowing that they can’t take it with them. I also see the bad in money, when it becomes a person’s main goal to accumulate more without thought that it could all be taken away.
The more we grow into living in the good and bad, the sooner we can sing with confidence, “It is well with my soul.”