Grief Comes in Layers
This post is part of our No Longer Sola Series.
This series details my investigation of Orthodoxy and comparison to the doctrine of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as they understand it from Scripture and interpreted through the Book of Concord. This post tells one aspect of a journey that lead me to conclude that Lutheranism, for all it's strengthens, is not the fullness of the Church.
Readers are invited to check out the other posts in this series (found at the link above) for a fuller view of the journey.
In my experience grief isn't controllable and it doesn't happen in an orderly fashion. I learned about the 5 stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
The harder you try to control grief, the more I think it spirals out of your control. You can't control it, you only get to experience it.
One of my personal goals in documenting why I left Lutheranism is not to give in to anger. To try and remain thankful for all the good even as I laid out where Lutheranism is incomplete or wrong. I have endeavored to be truthful and honest about what I think and my experiences but to do it without anger.
Anger is one of the layers of grief. The feeling of being lied to in my process of becoming a pastor was a significant source of anger. Depression tends to come out as anger in men too. I recognized these stages of grief in myself as Lutheranism crumbled in front of me. There was plenty of denial and bargaining accompanied with bouts of anger and depression.
You can't hide from grief. You can try to distract yourself and keep yourself so busy that you don't allow yourself to experience it, but the longer you put it off the worse it will be when those distractions run out. When we lose something that is important to us, we grieve; there's no avoiding it.
An important part of Orthodox spirituality is thankfulness. In my first post, Thank You O Lord, I quoted the last homily of Fr Alexander Schmemann: "Everyone capable of Thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy. ... Thank you, O Lord, for everyone and everything." I was gently reproached more than once by Orthodox friends during my conversion process for being overly negative toward Lutheranism, for not being thankful for the many good things I received as a Lutheran, for not seeing the good in what I was given.
Today is the anniversary of my ordination as a Lutheran Pastor. It's a day of mixed emotions. Joy mixed with grief. Grief because of that which I lost, over the LCMS, over lost relationships. Grief over hurting my congregation. Grief at knowing the doctrine of the LCMS meant I could never be the pastor my people really needed.
I have to acknowledge the grief. It's there. It hurts.
I'm thankful for the people my ordination brought into my life. I cannot count the joy they gave me as they allowed me to be part of their lives. Indeed, a most painful part of the whole process was the slow realization that Lutheran doctrine gave me an incomplete toolbox for being their pastor. That reality weighed heavily on my conscience. To take seriously the doctrinal commitments of being a Lutheran would always mean I have one hand cuffed behind my back as I tried to be a pastor to them. That was an intolerable feeling.
As much as today is filled with grief for me, it is easier to bear than being bound to preach and teach and care for people in accordance with a Lutheran theology that is genetically flawed and potentially harmful. Being a spiritual shepherd over others took my struggle out of the realm of the theoretical and into reality, into what people deal with on a daily basis. I saw how limited Lutheran theology is when applied to the messiness of life. My conscience would not allow me to continue on as a Lutheran pastor; people's lives are too important for empty comfort and false conclusions.
The main thing every single Lutheran is lacking are the benefits that Christ has to offer His Church on the path of salvation. Orthodoxy offers the ancient Christian path to union with Christ. Orthodoxy has all the tools for transforming our lives in Christ.
My deepest prayer is for all those I love who are still sincerely Lutheran. I respect the sincerity of your conviction even as I pray and hope that you all would join me in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy is the faith of the Apostles - the Church established by Christ. She is the pillar and ground of the truth.
The early Lutherans appealed to the Orthodox Church when confronting the Papacy. They sought acceptance of their doctrinal position from the Patriarch of Constantinople but the dialogue fell short. I plan on writing more about that later on. If there is one thing I pray for today as I remember my ordination, I pray for this: that each and every Lutheran would come home. That all of you would do what the Reformation was originally trying to do, to come home to Orthodoxy.