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Ep. 227 The Painful Problem of Letting Go of Something You Love

Ep. 227 The Painful Problem of Letting Go of Something You Love

Shows Main Idea – All of us love something. More than likely, you love many things. And you are keenly aware that nothing lasts forever except for God, His Word, and our souls. Loving people, places, and things are normal and healthy. The alternative is abnormal, unhealthy, and dangerous. But as all loving people know, there is that painful problem of letting go of those things you love. I will address how to work through this problem in this podcast.

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Show Notes

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These Show Notes are my sermon notes from a message my pastor gave on Revelation 18. You may find the message on our church’s sermon page, February 9, 2020.

Our Universal Sorrow

Key Idea – Letting go happens to all of us, and how we respond to our losses reveals who we are and how we relate to God.

Some folks can lose a loved one or something else, and they reorient and spring back into the normal and expected Christian life. Others take a long time to recuperate from the loss. Then there are those who carry bitterness, anger, and hurt for decades. In this episode, I’m going to address those who take months and maybe years to recover from their loss. But what I don’t want you to hear is an artificial timeline that says, “You must be over this loss at ‘such and such’ time.” I’m not going to present that argument to you, and you should not do it to yourself.

But if the “blue funk of loss” continues to linger for more than six months, and into a year, you must find help because something is wrong. Though there will not be a day where you will magically snap out of it,  there has to be a gradual change from bad, to good, to great in your life. If you’re consistently flatlining in sorrow, despair, discouragement, or bitterness and anger, you must find help.

Thus, I repeat: do not put artificial pressure on yourself but please soberly assess where you are. Here is an excellent assessment question to think about as you move further into these notes: Would you characterize yourself more of a “flatliner” or as a person who is incrementally changing?

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Many Types of Love

Another error in judgment that a listener could make is comparing apples to oranges. There are many types of love. There are things you lose, and nearly anyone would rebound quickly from it. Trading in a sentimental vehicle for a newer one could be hard for a child, for example. Moving to another home is on the smaller end of this “loss problem,” but moving to a new town, new home, new school, and a new church is much more challenging.

Then there are more significant losses that usually include death, disease, or divorce. Losing a spouse or a child ranks at the top end of heartbreak. It is hard to fathom the pain and sorrow of letting go of a person you love. But every death is not the same. You may weep with those who weep over the loss of their loved one, but when it happens to you, it’s a more profound sorrow.

And there is the danger of comparing yourself to others who have an equitable loss. One spouse who lost a spouse will grieve longer and different from another spouse who lost theirs. There are reasons for this difference in the length of a grieving period.

One spouse could find more of their identity in being married while the other is no less spiritual but has not permitted marriage to manage them like that. Perhaps a person’s walk with the Lord—an older mature Christian—reduces the vacillations of emotion when they lose a loved one. The key idea is not to compare the loss with someone’s different loss, and don’t compare the two ways people grieve when they have lost similar things.

From Despair to Hope – Grieving the Death of a Loved One

It’s All for Glory

The fundamental idea that I want you to examine in this podcast is the idea of glory. There are two types: self-glory and God-glory. I’m not initially speaking of you giving God the glory when you lose something, though you must get to that point. But first, I want you to think about how your response to your loss reveals the glory that you currently possess when you lose something.

Peter Hubbard said it this way: “When the pressures rise, priorities shine.” I want you to think about what a disappointment reveals about the state of your soul, specifically how you think about God. If you have not recovered from your loss in a reasonable amount of time, you have to start by asking the “why” question: “Why am I this way?” You don’t begin by asking the “what” question: “What must I do in response to my loss?”

  1. Step One – Why can’t you give glory to God and become free from the blue funk of loss? Identifying what to “put off,” per Ephesians 4:22, is where you begin.
  2. Step Two – Once you understand what has captured you, then you can start the “renewing your mind process” per Ephesians 4:23.
  3. Step Three – You know what has caught you; you’re in the process of putting it off, and you know what to “put on,” per Ephesians 4:24.

Which Glory?

The first type of glory is the one that focuses on self: what I want, desire, hope, prefer, and find much comfort possessing. Then there is God’s glory, which, on one level, is mysterious, but ultimately satisfying in ways that human pleasures cannot touch. John Piper captured this idea when he said:

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. If that is true, then there is no conflict between your greatest exhilaration and God’s greatest glorification.

In fact, not only is there no conflict between your happiness and God’s glory, but his glory shines in your happiness, when your happiness is in him. And since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do—to reveal himself, and magnify himself and vindicate himself for our everlasting enjoyment. – John Piper

Self-glory

Self-glory illustrated is a person who continually weeps over their loss. I’m not speaking of the immediate loss of something because there is normal “human hurt.” We must cry because of the hurtful things that happen to us. But this weeping lingers. And when it does, self-glory comes into play because the situation the person is weeping over has become part of their identity; it’s an idol that makes them feel good.

Read Mark Grant’s Identity Series

For example, a person should weep over a divorce, but they must not stay in the funk of that disappointment. I have gone through a divorce, and I know what it is like to grieve for an inordinately long season. I’m talking about multiple years. Upon reflection, which the rearview mirror does provide, I can give you a list of my idols that captivated me, all of which point to my desire for self-glory.

  • Idol: Comfort – I did not want to be alone.
  • Idol: Identity – I enjoyed folks knowing me as a married person versus being single.
  • Idol: Fear – I did not want my fundamentalist brothers to kick me out of the ministry.
  • Idol: Reputation – I did not want to carry the stigma of being a failure at marriage.
  • Idol: Arrogance – My subtle smugness as a married man put out an air of having it all together.
  • Idol: Control – Being a spouse was more manageable (and comfortable) than being single.

I’m sure if I spent more time thinking about this, I would realize a few more idolatries tucked in the darker recesses of my heart. But you get my point. The question for you is if you’re in the funk of loss, will you do the hard heart-work to examine how you might be pirating God’s glory?

God-glory

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness (Psalm 115:1).

God-glory returns glory to its rightful owner. Rather than trying to pirate glory for yourself, you know it’s wise and prudent to give glory to God. You understand that your ultimate satisfaction will come when the Lord is most glorified. It’s no longer about your image, preferred outcomes, or a customized world of your own making.

Think about how untenable those three things are. Nobody has total control over their lives, and it’s impossible to live in a customized world that hits all the beats of your preferences. Our world is fallen, and so are we. Loss, life, and death are not in our hands or under our jurisdiction. The illogicalness is worse than that, though.

If things of this world are your most significant source of satisfaction and happiness, you will always live on the edge because you know the possibility of not maintaining those outcomes. Perhaps you have become comfortable being the master of your destiny; thus, you don’t realize the lack of peace in your soul.

What You Believe You Need Will Control You

It’s the frog slow-boiling in the kettle. The little amphibian never perceives how something is cooking him to death. Sometimes we “slow-boil” in our “pots of idolatries,” and then when we lose that thing, it’s devastating. The devastation and extended recovery time will be proportional to the grip the “self-glory idol” has on your soul.

God’s Call On Your Life

Did you know that there is glory all around us and in us? It’s true. Our jobs are to assist and cooperate with the Lord in repossessing that glory and giving it back to Him, the rightful owner. You could say that Christians are in the repo business. And you start with yourself, making sure you aren’t hoarding a bit of it for your pleasure.

The Christian objective is to position ourselves to where we can revel in the rightness of God’s justice, not become angry or cynical when things don’t go right for us. Justice for the sin that has interrupted your life is not yours to determine or fixate. You see the worst version of justice when the victim of evil becomes angry with God for “what He did.”

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).

The temptation is to seek out personal justice for the wrongs that happen to you rather than entrusting yourself to God to do right for what has happened to you. I’m talking about self-glory here. It will extend your weeping beyond what is healthy for humans, and your temptation will be anger, whether it’s toward those who try to help you or those who have hurt you, and even God if you think He’s the culprit.

He will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great (Psalm 115:13).

The Subtleties of Self-Glory

As hard as it is, the right answer is to practice giving glory to God in all things. This part is what I mentioned earlier. Though you don’t start here, you must get to this point. You must “put on” (Ephesians 4:24) as you are putting off (Ephesians 4:22) and renewing your mind (Ephesians 4:23). Though it’s simultaneous action, there is a sequence.

Put This On – The only blessing that will satisfy you is when God receives maximum glory, and you are continually giving it to Him. The temptation is always the “Glory-Robber Syndrome.” Rather than being “overly-needy,” which motivates glory-taking, you want to be a glory-giver.

Jonathan Edwards talked about the subtleties of self-glory when he made a distinction between common virtue and authentic virtue. Common virtue is a learned behavior that fears and pride drives. Meaning, we know how to act like a good Christian while enjoying the benefits of our idols.

An example of this is when a person learns how to behave like a Christian in church and public, but it’s not authentic. It’s a learned behavior. Then folks are shocked when he goes off the rails later in life when something horrific happens to him. He had more common virtue than authentic (Christian) virtue.

The virtue he had was “common to man,” which is good behavior and good words that anyone learns by reading good books and associating with good people. They want good habits, but something is wrong inside of them. True virtue is Spirit-infused and Spirit-transformed (Galatians 5:22-23). It transcends natural or common virtue. It’s a person who weeps when bad things happen, but he rises seven times (Proverbs 24:16) because he’s not holding onto those things too tightly. He knows how to give glory to God.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:20-22).

The book, Suffering Well, is my autobiographical journey through the Book of Job, as I wrestled through the grief and pain of my divorce. I recommend that you read this book. You will be glad you did.

Call to Action

  1. Perhaps you are not weeping the loss of anything currently. But do you recognize the hidden subtleties working in your heart as you read this? It’s far better to address these things before the sorrow comes.
  2. Regardless of your current condition, in what ways are you pirating God’s glory for yourself? What does it reveal about your thoughts? Will you talk to someone about this?
  3. How would your closest friends characterize you? Do they see you as a “repo man or woman,” always looking to find glory and giving it to God? Or would they see you as a person who enjoys your identity, fame, reputation, comfort, and a desire to manage your world?
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