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Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Desert of Grief

When I was a kid, I loved reading the Reader's Digest.  I had two favorite sections - "Laughter is the Best Medicine" and "Humor in Uniform".  Both are lighthearted short stories intended to bring a smile to your face and a little cheer to your day.  I guess I was attracted to these sections in the magazine because they made me laugh.  In fact, I gravitate toward laughter!  I find it is like a magnet to my soul.  Whenever I hear a group of folks laughing, it lifts my spirits - almost releasing some type of hidden "energy" within.  Much happens with laughter - medically speaking.  Yet, laughter can conceal a great deal of hurt behind it!


Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.  (Proverbs 14:13 NLT)


Did you know the average person laughs somewhere around 15-20 times a day?  If you are considering a face-lift due to a few sagging facial muscles, you might consider getting a steady dose of laughter each day!  In laughter, we contract not less than 15 facial muscles!  Do it often enough and you'd save a bunch on botox!  Did you also know laughter makes our brains work a little harder?  In fact, there is so much "brain activity" involved in laughter, we almost are "exercising" our brains to laugh!  We use our frontal lobe to make an emotional response to the joke, our right half of the brain to actually break the joke down well enough to "get" it, the left side to analyze the words as they are spoken, and sensory and motor sections of the brain are also involved as we throw ourselves into a good bought of laughter!  That's a workout!


The average person laughs because they find something funny.  Yet, there are times when we laugh because we are tense and feeling very nervous.  It is kind of a weird response of our body, is it not?  The majority of our laughter is probably invoked because we find some "relief" in it.  It is similar to a "pressure valve" - allowing us to "let off" some of the heaviness and seriousness of our day.


Now, back to our scripture.  Laughter can conceal a heavy heart - yet, in the end there is grief which remains as a heavy cloud.  As I am aging, I see many friends faced with physical challenges in their own lives and those of their loved ones.  It just seems as we get over 50, many of our friends (and maybe even ourselves) begin to experience changes in our physical bodies - whether it be disease, deterioration, or a tragic event.  In the end, the results are probably pretty similar - we mourn our losses.  We don't have to be aging to experience grief, though.  There is the grief which comes because of wrong activity choices, or the grief accompanying wrong relationship decisions.  Regardless of the specific cause, we often find ourselves dealing with grief in our own unique manner - sometimes using laughter as a means of concealing it.


In considering some of the experiences of my own life, I look back at the times I "hid behind" way too much laughter - all the while doing little more than concealing my own grief and hurt.  Lots of bad decisions as a youth led me to some not very honest or honorable activities.  In the end, I left a whole lot of lives hurt in my wake.  After getting really serious with God about my desire for a life change, I often found myself looking back at those I'd hurt - some still very much present in my life (like my mom and dad).  In fact, I'd drift into times of remorse over my selfish, self-directed decisions and would deal with a whole lot of "grief" - some of it grief because of the pain I saw I caused them, but also the "grief" I gave myself (we call this shame).


I used laughter as a means of concealing the grief I felt so deeply over my failures - both those in my past and those in my present (because we don't change instantly - growth is a process and failure is part of growth).  Grief is really another "emotion" of the brain - coming from our frontal lobe region (right there behind the forehead).  Someone once said, "There is no way out of the desert except through it."  Ugh!  So, in order to get "out" of the desert of grief, I must cross "through" it!  In order to be at a place where my laughter actually no longer is a cover-up for my grief, I must acknowledge I am actually in the desert!  And...we rarely find much funny IN the desert!


The desert is a barren place - dry, crusty, and without much relief from the "heat" of the day.  In order to escape the dryness, to avoid the "crustiness" of the desert, I need to cross over some pretty "hot" places!  This is how it is with our grief - we move from one really emotionally "charged" place to another - until we come out on the other side.  When we become a little more honest about the place we "are" (in the desert of emotional grief) instead of hiding behind our laughter, we sometimes find we make it to the other side just a little quicker!  Why?  Perhaps it is because change begins at the point of acknowledgement.  We begin something knew only when we realize the "old" wasn't working!


I am not sure if I am touching anyone today with these words, but just know this - you don't walk this desert alone.  You are in the midst of a really dry patch right now.  You feel like everywhere you turn, things are just crusty as all get-out!  You cannot see any end to the "desert" of your grief.  My challenge to you - acknowledge it!  I found something this morning which sums it up well:  "There can be no knowledge without emotion.  We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.  To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul."  (Arnold Bennett)   Your soul is experiencing much - not just your brain.  In the end, you will come across your "desert".  In the end, your laughter will no longer conceal, but will be a means of relief!  Hallelujah!