Beyond the Happy Hallelujah

On New Year’s Eve 2015, our family had gathered with friends for our traditional celebration, but I had decided to shake things up a tiny bit.  Yes, we would eat goodies and play games and laugh at our crazy kids as usual, but I had found a list of thoughtful questions for us to ponder.  One of them stopped me in my tracks, because, without hesitation, my husband and I gave the identical answer — in unison:  With what word would you describe 2015?

“Disappointment,” we both said, and now, having read Broken Hallelujahs by Beth Slevcove, I can’t help but wish that the book had been written a year sooner, for Beth looks squarely at the truth that for most of our lives, we are living on “Holy Saturday,” waiting for a resurrection and walking in a hope that feels, at times, beyond hope.  Her journey began with multiple stories playing out in her life at the same time:  her brother’s diagnosis with brain cancer; his decline and eventual death; an on-going struggle with infertility; the realization that rheumatoid arthritis would limit her activity level and cause chronic pain; and a crashing economy that took her family business into bankruptcy.

Beth’s poignant memoir of grief and waiting moves beside a parallel narrative of spiritual formation.  “God, are you kidding?” became Beth’s prayer and anthem of loss, sung as she groped toward enough light to stay on the way of faith.  I especially appreciated her admission that her practical theology had centered around a cause-and-effect-vending-machine God.  Disappointment and unmet expectations led, eventually, to a howling lament that opened her ears to the sound of her losses, and, like the psalmists who poured out their sad hearts before God, she found that the “answer” to her cry was not an answer at all but a Person.    In learning how to pray out of that place of depletion, Beth realized that prayer postures can be a wordless connection, an expression in themselves of “openness, vulnerability, acceptance . . . submission, humility, and repentance.”

At the end of each chapter, Beth challenges her readers to dig deeper in a “here’s what worked for me” tone through exercises that require three healing behaviors:

  • Listening to your body, to your desires and emotions, to your places of poverty and neglect.
  • Engaging through projects that foster creativity, movement of the body, prayer practices, self-examination, and through questions that reflect on past behaviors and habits.
  • Connecting with God through heightened awareness of His love and His trustworthiness; entering into intensely personal communication with God without fear.

There is a tendency in Christian circles to soldier through grief and to minimize wounds and feelings of loss.  An example close at hand comes with my New Year’s Eve story, for right away I was tempted to reassure you that my family is blessed beyond measure and that our tiny disappointments of 2015 were minor compared with those of others we know (and maybe yours).  We minimize our feelings “as if each of us is only allotted a small amount of grief and we had better put it to good use on something really important.”  Allowing ourselves to feel authentically opens our hearts to “see the beauty, feel the joy, hear the laughter, and be touched by God’s innumerable graces that course through our veins and sneak into our circumstances.”

The truth of Broken Hallelujahs is that we are constantly being called upon to hold simultaneously two irreconcilable conditions in our mind and heart:  the way things should be and the way things are on this fallen planet.  Transformation and wholeness will come, but NOT through giving up on the beauty and order that we long for, NOR by stuffing our disappointment.

As a spiritual director, Beth Slevcove is uniquely positioned to share not only her own experience of healing out of grief, but also her observations of others’ creative engagement with loss, their process of making room for hope.  For instance, at the first hint of loss, my mind wants to start launching questions toward the heavens, and this is fine — except that I tend to ask unhelpful “why’s.”  Acknowledging the loss while affirming the presence of God (with me in the vacuum) leads to more helpful “what” questions (“What can I do in this unwanted situation?”); “where” questions (“God, where are you in this?”); and “how” questions (“How are you inviting me to be in this?”).  This kind of fact-finding demonstrates that I am paying attention to what God wants to do with a situation that feels like chaos to me.  Can I trust God’s motives?

Our hearts long for a depth of spiritual discernment that will enable us to hear the voice of God and follow with certainty.   We dread the hurt and disappointment at the end of rabbit trails that we thought were “The Way Home.”  Our broken hallelujahs, sung by and with the suffering during these days of shadows and longing, will find their way to a full-throated “grief-enriched” hallelujah — not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

//

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Advertisements

Published by

Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

53 thoughts on “Beyond the Happy Hallelujah”

  1. The book sounds impactful. What I like about the book is how the author calls the reader to go deeper into their own stories by listening, engaging and connecting. Thank you for sharing the book and your own New Year’s Eve story.

    Like

    1. Yes, those Listen, Engage, Connect exercises are unexpectedly good. The author admits that sometimes this sort of thing in books leaves her a bit cold, and invites readers to ignore them if they are not helpful, so I paid special attention to their relevance, and found them to be activities (such a lame word) that really would invite someone to explore not only their situation and their feelings about it, but also helpful in finding out what God would have them do within their circumstances. Thanks, Mary, for showing up here so faithfully.

      Like

  2. This sounds like a great book. It is hard to hold together the truth of how things are and how they should be but it is important to be honest about our pain and disappointment. I love the examples in the book of Psalms. I also jump too readily to the “Why” questions so I like the other questions that are suggested here.

    Like

    1. The psalmists (and Jeremiah) really show us how to talk to God through our heart ache. We’ve lost touch with the practice of lament in our culture. Thanks, Carly, as usual, for your insightful comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Michele – This book sounds like a profound and powerful tool to help to people to walk through the grief and pain… sometimes the way through the pain, is through the pain. I like that she has given 3 easy steps to help the reader navigate and evaluate. I am sorry 2015 was a year of disappointment for you and your family, but praying for you as you walk the road of 2016 that God will pour out His comfort and peace…… thank you for sharing your post today at #TestimonyTuesday

    Like

    1. I agree, and the author would not claim to have offered “an easy 3 step plan” because she would recognize from walking through her own grief that there is nothing easy about it, nor does everyone process loss in the same way. However, her humble offering is, I believe, a good path for those looking for a way back to joy.

      Like

  4. Michele, your words challenge me. Living authentically — acknowledging the pain while holding onto our hope in Christ. Not diminishing our pain because in comparison to others it’s not worthy. But seeking God with questions that invite His presence into my situation.
    While I pray 2016 will be summarized with His joy and blessing, I pray I remember the hope that awaits us in Christ. Thank you, Michele. : )

    Like

    1. Yes, asking him what He wants to do within a situation is so helpful – reminding us that He is there and has been all along. Blessings, Crystal. Thanks for reminding me, once again, of The Hope.

      Like

  5. I very much can relate to living in the “Holy Saturday”. I know Sunday is going to come and I look forward to it in HOPE! I am in the midst of editing my second book. I just reviewed a devotion called “Christian Expectations” and you statement of seeing God as a “cause-and-effect-vending-machine God” is what I talked about. I must need this message today…and I do. So glad to know Resurrection Sunday does come!!! Thanks for your post!
    ~Sherry

    Like

    1. I think we all need a theological adjustment now and again. I know that I do, for although my confessional theology is all about the sovereignty of God, my practical theology constantly surprises me!

      Like

  6. This sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for telling us about it.

    It’s so true that in choosing to be honest before God He can take us from despair to ‘“grief-enriched” hallelujahs’. I’m learning this day by day. That’s why I’ll always say I’m grateful for the gifts I’ve received through the mourning and PTSD…they have brought me closer to God…as God used them to break through the facade and wall around me…and He’s still removing brick by brick.

    This is why I love the Psalms too. Have you ever read Travelogue of the Interior by Karen Dabaghian? It’s her journey through life and grief through the Psalms. She studies the Psalms and writes her own based on what she learns and what she is turning to face. It’s so beautiful and so full of God’s loving Presence.

    Like

  7. Michele, disappointment is so hard … I’m sorry last year was a difficult one for your family. I also really appreciate this review … especially how you point out the importance of asking the “what,” “where” and “how” instead of focusing only on those “unhelpful whys.” I need to put this one on my “to-read” list. 🙂

    Like

  8. I read this review yesterday but didn’t have time to comment. I hustled through my morning routine and then took a coffee break on the porch with my Bible. I had finished up First Corinthians the day before and was ready for Second. As I moved through 2 Corinthians 1:1-24 I thought of your post and how we all need coaching through our moments of despair and disappointment. All those centuries ago Paul, who had had his share of anguish, was able to counsel the Church in Corinth because of his own personal experience. Sometimes, knowing that one is not alone or singled out can be a huge comfort.

    ps – I got the book Running on Red Dog Road and let my 81 year old sister read it last weekend. She absolutely adored it. When I get my deadlines met that one is on the top of the stack! 🙂

    Like

    1. Meema, I am so honored to be part of your porch-sitting time. Does your sister have a blog too? Some of my favorite people are octagenarians. I’m also reading in I Corinthians, but very slowly. I’m spending this week on chapter 6. (So glad to have 5 behind me . . .). Coaching is a great word for what Paul did — and for what we should be doing for each other on this planet.

      Like

  9. Hi Michele,
    This sounds like a thought-provoking book with some situations we can all relate to. It’s so hard not to give up and let our disappointments rule our hearts by shutting down but our only hope is that God is good and this is what keeps us pressing on!

    Like

  10. Dear Michele … after a year of startling change and big transitions and huge griefs, this sounds like a must read. I love the emphasis on paying attention to our bodies and emotions and choosing responses that are healthy and Christ-focused.

    This sounds just excellent … thanks for your review, friend.

    Like

    1. I can’t remember what I just read, but recently I happened upon something you had written a while ago and was reminded of the earth-shattering losses you’ve encountered lately and the upheaval of a move on top of it. Beth’s approach is very wholistic and so freeing. The book is definitely NOT about “follow these 10 steps and your life will be perfect like mine.”

      Like

  11. Our lives as believers aren’t always filled with sunshine and celebration, so I love seeing authors address the hard issues.
    My husband and I just sent a copy of “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” to friends whose son has been ill. I’ll have to check this one out to see if it would be a fitting recommendation, as well.

    Like

  12. Glad to be catching up on my Michele-reading : ) This books sounds like one to put in fine print on my list for when I’m ready to face the music Especially this quote “we minimize our feelings “as if each of us is only allotted a small amount of grief and we had better put it to good use on something really important.” ” Ooof. Going to be thinking (and probably trying unsuccessfully not to think!) on that one. Know what I mean? Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  13. “as if each of us is only allotted a small amount of grief and we had better put it to good use on something really important.” Beth certainly nailed it with this sentence, didn’t she Michele? This books sounds authentic and free-ing. Thank you for the insightful review. Blessings on your Saturday, friend.

    Like

  14. I heard something similar recently about Christians acting as if everything is okay and trying hard to hide their pain, as if we shouldn’t feel it. I appreciate when believers share their hard life moments because there is always a lesson there for me. And I cling to the Biblical truth that Jesus heals the broken-hearted. Thank you for sharing, Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “Our broken hallelujahs, sung by and with the suffering during these days of shadows and longing, will find their way to a full-throated “grief-enriched” hallelujah — not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.” AMEN! I think my times of brokenness have really drawn me closer to God. He has been faithful to be with me through them all. It’s His strength working in me that has brought me through every time. Thanks for sharing this! Blessings to you, sister. xo

    Like

  16. Michele, what a great review! You do such a good job of selecting great representative portions of this book I can see myself reading it and getting so much out of it…especially this quote, “Transformation and wholeness will come, but NOT through giving up on the beauty and order that we long for, NOR by stuffing our disappointment.” many blessings to you sweet friend ❤️

    Like

  17. Sounds like another great book. I tend to downplay my disappointments too, comparing them as trivial to what others are going through, even though they’re still painful to me anyway. “Transformation and wholeness will come, but NOT through giving up on the beauty and order that we long for, NOR by stuffing our disappointment.” Good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks for sharing your review, Mary. Looks like a good book…going to write it on my “books to read” list as soon as I finish typing this. Hope your 2016 is less disappointing than your 2015 was. ((hug)) xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  19. The daily is not easy – is it. I have wondered at the speaking faith yet sweeping the hurt/pain/brokenness under the carpet. We know it’s there – but it’s the elephant in the room. No – it isn’t a lack of faith to acknowledge it. He wants us to take it to him, to give it to him – and to know exactly what it is we are giving to him. We cannot do that unless we acknowledge it. I still do a lot of giving to God and then grabbing it back, but he’s patient with me – and each time I give it back, I let him keep it longer until one day I won’t take it back any more. I’m putting this on my book list, Michelle! Thank you for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. sounds like a great book michele! i’ve been more aware of how often i respond the way the author discusses! so not good or healthy…to constantly diminish my own pain and gloss it over by trying to put icing on the cake and show how good my life is. no wonder so many of us are depressed:(

    Like

    1. It seems as if we (1) want to hide our disappointments; or, at the very lease (2) want to assure others that we are o.k. – that they needn’t worry about us. As you say, “no wonder!”

      Like

  21. I’m sorry that your 2015 was hard, and I’m glad you and your husband seem to be processing it together in a healthy way. Also thankful the Lord brought this book your way as it seems to have been a blessing! Thanks for sharing with us at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com this week!
    Tina

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Michele,
    You have the BEST books and reviews. I have an enormously growing list of books I SO want to read! This book reminds me of the song popular a couple of years ago by Amy Grant, “Better Than a Hallelujah.” It’s the idea of feeling the authenticity of those moments. In the depths of our worship while living the difficult the power of our God and of our faith reveal itself. It hurts. It aches. But it is beyond the happy hallelujah.
    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful hope with us at Moments of Hope! I am so honored to have you with me there each week ♥

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s