There I stood. One of hundreds. Standing in line to satisfy one of the most basic needs of all. Food. We all just wanted food.
The lunch line.
I’d just sat through Donald Miller’s encouragement on how to handle disappointment. I’d heard Mike Foster talk about the difference between hurt and hype, and how hope is found somewhere in between. Randall Wallace gave insight not only into the skill of kilt-wearing, but into the soul that he brought to writing William Wallace’s “FREEDOM!!!!!” in Braveheart. I’d just finished sharing life across texts. Important life. Life that includes reminders of deep truth and questions about angels cradling lost babies.
And then I got in the lunch line. By the time 60 minutes had passed and I made my way into the cafeteria – the altar at which I had waited to bow – I found myself in wall-to-wall people and I was ready to use elbows if needed.
I can’t tell you how many days of my life go just like this lunch line. I hear/read/think something great, something inspirational, something revolutionary, something Truly Important. But then I get in a line – often on the freeway, sometimes on the internet, or sometimes just in my own head. I get busy taking care of basic things and basic needs. And I get frustrated and annoyed and ready to throw elbows.
As I sat down with a plate full of food to finally satiate the beast, my husband asked me this most obnoxious of questions: “So, how do you apply what you just heard to this moment?” Grrr, the bane of a pastor’s wife’s existence. Actual application of spiritual truths.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, Don just taught on facing disappointment – to list both the griefs and the blessings. I can name a few blessings that came out of that hour in line – can you?”
“Wait, I get to list my griefs first,” I said. Wait. I get to list my griefs first.
While at the moment I was being snarky, I was about two minutes away from one of those deep “aha” moments. My lists went like so:
Grief #1. I grieve inefficiency. Seriously, wasted minutes are like nails on a chalkboard to me, and I’d just wasted 60 in a line.
Grief #2. I grieve feeling overlooked – all of a sudden I felt like a number instead of a person attending this conference.
Grief #3. I grieve the loss of time with friends. Meal-times were the breaks I’d counted on to debrief with friends at the same conference.
“Okay”, he said, “those are all valid. Now list the blessings.”
Blessing #1. It didn’t rain on us in line, even though it had poured all morning long.
Blessing #2. A good friend that we hadn’t even known was at this conference stood in line with us for the full hour even though he’d already gotten his food.
Blessing #3. I got a one on one lunch date with my husband. These are far too far between in our daily lives.
Blessing #4. I was looking at the ocean the whole time. I mean, seriously, could there be a prettier campus than Point Loma?
I know, I know – it was a lunch line. For an hour. Epiphanies can show up in the oddest of places.
As I sat there, giving my husband snarky but real answers, I realized just how important both lists are – those of griefs and those of blessings – though blessings get more press. “Count your blessings, count them one by one.”
And don’t get me wrong – counting our blessings can be crucial to mental and spiritual health. But permission to list my griefs gave my list of blessings context.
Here’s what I mean. If I’d had to start with a list of blessings, I can guarantee you that they would have come out of my mouth with an undertone of resentment, because I was upset. But not totally clear yet on what I was upset about. So I would have shrugged and sighed my way through the blessings, and felt like because there were blessings, I wasn’t allowed to be upset. I’ve done that a lot in my life – the “resentful blessings” list.
The two-list method is far healthier. It’s like getting to exhale before I inhale.
And sometimes the lists are small and take minutes – like griefs from a lunch line. Other lists are much bigger and take much more time – like dealing with death and loss and major-life-disappointment.
I’d call Infertility my First Great Grief. I started out to fill a need almost as basic as food. I mean, let’s be honest, making babies is about as simple as it comes – until it’s not. And I found myself in a seven-year line that has no end in sight.
For a long time, I didn’t give myself permission to list my griefs in this. Because I knew my life had blessings, and I knew I was supposed to count them, and I had this unhealthy sense of equating grieving with whining.
But then. Oh then. God called me out. A couple of years ago, He told me it was time to go INTO my grief, to stare it in the face, to dare to see what I could find by looking at it instead of stifling it. He told me to air my griefs to Him, to list them one by one. He can handle it.
And I’ve learned so much. So. Much. About myself, my God, my grief, and yes, my blessings too. See, when I tried to see only my blessings, my griefs were in the way and blocked the view. But the interesting thing about looking at grief is that it’s a window, not a wall – it allows you to see through to the other side. And yes, even infertility has its blessings. Would I have chosen to learn them this way? No. But can I count them? Yes. My life is so full despite my womb remaining empty.
So let me encourage you in this today, friend – if you have griefs, small or large, on the lunch-line or life-loss scale, count them. Count them one by one. And then your blessings, too. One rarely exists without the other.
P.S. I’m now rather passionate about encouraging others to “go there” with God – to dig into their grief and be willing to be surprised by what they might find. If you or someone you know is walking through the grief of infertility or infant loss, share this link: www.choosejoyevent.com – yours truly will be talking about choosing joy even when you want to punch it in the face.