Sunday, January 25, 2009

Or Maybe Not (Lazy, I Mean)


Grief consumes energy. Psychic energy, physical energy, spiritual energy, mental energy.

Everything I do requires a long recovery period. Everything I think or feel requires an even longer one. A lot of effort precedes infintesimal movement and then a slide backward.

I have been thinking about the story attributed to Cherokee tradition that Sharon Watkins preached at the National Prayer Service earlier this week (I picked it up at Meaning and Authenticity):

One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces. "There are two wolves struggling inside each of us," the old man said. "One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear... "

The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love..."

The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: "Which wolf wins, Grandfather?"

His grandfather replied, "The one you feed."

The problem with grief, I think, is that both wolves are integral components of its reality. You cannot, at least in the first months, nourish one to the exclusion of the other and expect to emerge intact. It sounds heroic, I suppose, to say that you will choose to feed hope over fear, compassion over resentment. But the truth of loss is that it calls you to friendship with the scary and the disheartening as well as the brave and the wise.

Maybe there is a third wolf. A wolf whose compassion and faithfulness enable her to acknowledge that the fullness of experience requires her to feed self-pity and resentment at times.

Does that sound awful? Resistant and pathetic?

I don't think so.

At the end of the summer, a few days after our son died, one of our friends, a woman who lost her husband to an accident a few years ago, talked about the resentment she sometimes feels when she sees an elderly couple walking down the street together. Why couldn't that have been us, she wonders? Self-pity? In a way. But her articulation of genuine pain was an act of generosity to us. Had she starved her anger and resentment, she would have less openness and compassion for a family beginning a new journey of loss.

I don't think you should be feeding steak to the angry wolf. But I have a feeling that if you kill it off, it will find its way back, viscious and snarling and larger than life. Better, perhaps, to stroke it gently and nourish it with kindness so that, someday, the third wolf will emerge, the one who blends joy with sorrow and power with rage into a shaggy and compassionate whole.




(Image: I can hardly believe that this painting of three wolves and more by Jody Bergsma popped up when I google-imaged "wolf.")

9 comments:

Joan Calvin said...

Lots of wisdom in your writing. I have never been one of those who has thought that anger, fear, and some other emotions were "bad". I believe God has given us emotions. What we do with those emotions is the important thing. Even the ones we call "good" can be misused.

You are in my prayers.

mompriest said...

the story is primarily about anger...which is not exactly the same as grief - even though grief contain anger....and anger may contain grief...but most anger - like that manifested by some folks these days - can be more clearly defined and understood in a manner that is not about compassion or understanding - anger is more about the pharisees than Jesus....

But grief - well, grief may in fact be about three or four wolves...because grief is its own entity....emotion....reality....and maybe Jesus understood grief - but I am certain that the Mary's did...well maybe not "understood" it - but surely knew it intimately.

Jennifer said...

I think you are wise and healthy in your approach to grief and its timetable.

Magdalene6127 said...

I don't think you should be feeding steak to the angry wolf. But I have a feeling that if you kill it off, it will find its way back, viscious and snarling and larger than life.

I think you are right. I think we have to acknowledge the pain of our losses. How could it be otherwise? When I was in the depths of grief about my marriage ending, I expressed to a friend that I was frustrated with myself... why couldn't I just move on? (I know it's not a good parallel with the sudden death of a child; it remains the greatest loss I've experienced). She said, Would you really want to be the kind of person who "just moves on" from that kind of loss? Don't you think it's important to honor the love you had, that it mattered, it meant something to you?

I think she's right, and so are you. We have to pet the wolf be gentle with it... it's a part of us.

(((Gannet Girl)))

Presbyterian Gal said...

Integration of the two. I believe most of us spend lots of our lives bifurcated to varying degrees. Sort of a spiritual dissociative disorder.

You're already an awesome pastor GG. The school bit for you, IMO, is just a formality.

((((GG))))

Kathryn J said...

The picture was perfect. Although I've heard the story many times, this was a new perspective on it.

I think the previous comments were on target about anger as a component of grief. I think the story is about anger for anger's sake. It really doesn't address the need to explore and understand those emotions as part of the complexity that is being human.

Cynthia said...

You are so right about everything here, from the energy involved to befriending the scary and even the pathetic within us, and how that wolf comes back. I'm sort of dealing with that now.

bean said...

""I don't think you should be feeding steak to the angry wolf. But I have a feeling that if you kill it off, it will find its way back, viscious and snarling and larger than life. Better, perhaps, to stroke it gently and nourish it with kindness so that, someday, the third wolf will emerge, the one who blends joy with sorrow and power with rage into a shaggy and compassionate whole.""

but that's because you (general you) aren't 'killing it off' at all. It's being shoved away - out of reach -- but that's why it will come back worse and more powerful. emotions are so painful at times but better to experience them.

Jim said...

I've been coming here for awhile, but have felt it better to read "from afar" rather than attempt words. What could I say, anyhow? I lost my father suddenly when I was 18, he about to turn 41. I know "the dagger in the belly" kind of grief, but can't imagine losing one of my children or grandchildren. At 67 and with nearly 37 years of knowing Him, though, I think it okay to feed all three wolves, as long as it is done via a conversation wherein He is involved in the process. You probably already know that, for I find Him here in what you bring to us...