Why Else I Got a Tattoo (The Other Half of the Story)
Earlier this year I posted a blog, Why I Got a Tattoo (and Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out). I had gotten my first tattoo, which was the Greek translation of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And my blog left something very important out that I need to address. But first, a nutshell of the first post:
My father had recently passed away, and his sudden death was much earlier than I expected. I was also on the downward slope of my first winter in South Dakota. Winters here are cold and lonely, and after my four years in Tampa, Florida, I was terribly spoiled by sunshine and palm trees in December.
Meanwhile, I’d always had both an optimistic outlook in life. This was a strength for obvious reasons, but a weakness for less obvious, as I ignored my problems, whistling as I swept them under a rug.
This always left a gaping hole in my grieving process, which I learned God wants of us. If we thank him for the good, what about the problems? Shouldn’t we ask God why he’s putting us through them, like Jesus did? Isn’t that an authentic relationship?
Those who read the blog may have wondered, “well, sure, but why did you tattoo that on your arm?” A father’s death is of course tragic. And my father and I were close, but maybe not enough for the dramatic choice of a first tattoo.
So, yes. There was some other grief in my life.
South Dakotan Winters
Sioux Falls residents talk about winter in a peculiar way. They use two tones – enjoyment and disgust. They’re bitter about a frigid beast that causes hibernation and isolation, but pleased the freeze removes the dead limbs of life and prepares the flowers for spring.
I discovered this for myself. This winter was terribly sad and lonely, but it forced me to face my pain. The hibernation gave me little choice but to cry out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The reason? There’s no delicate way to put this, so I’ll just say it: my wife and I were going through a divorce. I’m not going to go any deeper about that on here, as it is something I’m still processing and I don’t think that ever serves well on a blog.
But the pain is real and it must be faced. It won’t go away on it’s own.
In Pt. 1 I shared about a friend who countered “is it Friday yet?” office groans with “every day is Friday!” His intent was good but I felt he missed the mark. Similarly, I had another friend who responded to any complaint about bad weather with “I carry my sunshine on the inside.”
This might seem like a wonderfully great perspective, but like the Friday comment, it is avoiding reality. If we were only supposed to have sunshine I believe God would make it that way. But we need the rain.
And we need the dark days of winter, too. I would never have written the script that way, but I’m sure glad God did. I’m stronger now. Has this tried my faith? Absolutely. I wish I could say that no matter my circumstances I give thanks to God for not scorching me from the earth. But I’m human, and sometimes dark clouds are inside me.
How to Properly Grieve
My tattoo quotes some of Jesus’ final words recorded before taking his final breath. And he was actually quoting Psalm 22, which clearly predicted his crucifixion. But I also feel that from start to finish this chapter also perfectly represents each step of the grieving process. To paraphrase:
1. Complete despair:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (v. 1)
2. Comparison & self-loathing:
“In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone.“ (v. 4-6)
3. Pleading & afraid:
“Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” (v. 11)
“Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (v. 13)
4. Placing faith in the Lord’s saving grace:
“But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” (v. 19)
“Rescue me from the mouth of the lions … “ (v. 21)
5. Confidence & rejoicing:
“The poor will eat and be satisfied … ” (v. 26)
“All the rich of the earth will feast and worship … “ (v. 29)
“They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (v. 31)
It’s important to note the psalmist’s final rejoiced was about something we often overlook. It wasn’t about a great marriage, financial blessing or ministry that reaches the masses. Of course God deserves thanks when those things happen, but “He has done it!” (v.31) refers to our sanctification through Christ’s dying on the cross.
The Right Path
This wasn’t the first time I faced these crossroads.
At age 18 my parents wheeled out of a hospital in a wheelchair after a month-and-a-half stay. I had been in a car wreck I shouldn’t have lived through. In fact, the night of the wreck the doctor warned my parents I might not make it until morning. But after a half-dozen surgeries and six weeks of medical care, my body had recovered enough to go home.
My parents then became my nurses and I attended outpatient physical therapy to learn how to walk again. Everywhere we went in our small town people I knew (and didn’t know) stopped to love on me, and half of them told me they thanked God for answered prayers. “You’re doing so well, it’s a miracle!” they told me.
Meanwhile, my friends were running and jumping and flirting with girls without a care in the world. This was hard to do from a wheelchair. And people somehow had the nerve to tell me they were thanking God.
This came at a turning point in my faith. I had sat in a church pew every Sunday, but had recently become skeptical of this whole God thing. And when people told me they thanked God for my recovery, I questioned how an all-loving and all-knowing God could allow injury in the first place.
I even caused the wreck, and yet I wondered how God could let it happen. My parents’ insurance provided some of the best medical care the world had to offer, putting me on track to a full recovery, and I just shrugged my shoulders.
It was by Jesus’ blood on the cross that I wasn’t scorched from the earth as I sat in my wheelchair.
And now, in my latest trial, it is by God’s grace I’m not shrugging my shoulders again. Instead, I am working towards “He has done it!” though I’m probably somewhere around verse 21 – “rescue me from the mouth of lions.” Winter’s long past and now we’re in summer. I might need another hibernation to freeze off some more of this pain. I know I’ll never be fully rid of it, but this time at least I’m headed in the right direction.