Honest Grief

I've lost so much, precious loved ones, my mother, sister and now my daughter. Is there more loss to come?  I'm afraid. Every cell in my body hurts. I can't think straight. My heart pounds. I am trying to hang on to my faith, but what if it isn't true? Because frankly, just the idea of believing that God loves me in the middle of this grief taunts me. Is He sovereign? In control? Does He really love me? Then why, why, why?

My friend's cries pulled me back to those early years after Mark's death. The anguish in her voice, face, eyes, words was almost too much to bear because I knew the reality of the deep sorrow. She was me. I was her.  There are still days I wonder, I hope, that the foundation of my faith, the Bible, is true.

Like my friend, I desperately searched for answers, bought and read every book I could find on grief, taking hope from those ahead of me in this journey, who expressed confidence that God is sovereign and I could trust Him. But on those long days, weeks, months, years that the tears wouldn't stop, the ache in my chest wouldn't break, I questioned God's love, the reality of His presence, the truth of His Word. What if it wasn't true? What if there is no heaven? What if this is all there is? What if there really is no purpose in any of my life?

You don't have to lose a child to ask these questions, do you?

Shortly after the birth of our third child, Daniel, in the dark quiet of early morning, I rocked him, looking out a window over the dark skies of Philadelphia and a wave of despair and sadness washed over me. Thoughts foreign to my heart pushed to the surface. "What if there is no God? What if what I believe isn't true?" These questions terrified me because they brought into question the very foundation of my life. If these building blocks were destroyed, what purpose did I have, did any of us have? How could I have brought a child into such a dark, hopeless world?

treeroots


I was twenty-seven years old and I decided that if Billy Graham believed the Bible was true, then so would I. I know, that's kind of pathetic! But I was too afraid to take on the challenge of questioning my faith.

Grief didn't give me that choice.  Our youngest child's death threw everything I believed into the refiner's fire and if I wanted to experience purpose and joy again, I had to allow sorrow and anguish do its work. Grief is a hard taskmaster and I have learned that the only way to survive its lashes is to transparently confront the challenge to reconcile God's love with His sovereignty.

Another bereaved mother further along in this journey encouraged me to be honest with God, to pound on His chest, to understand that He invites my questions, that He is not afraid of my struggles.  For it is in the darkness of this frightening place that my understanding of God's love would grow deep and wide. Her words didn't make sense, God's love didn't compute in the depth of my insane grief, but I decided to follow her counsel.  I discovered that the Bible is filled with people who transparently and honestly communicated every emotion to their God.  Our Father in heaven seems to applaud such honesty in his rebuke to Job's friends in Job 42:7-8 when he declares to Eliphaz, one of Job's comforters:

Job will ask me not to treat you as you deserve for speaking such nonsense about me, and not being honest with me as Job has. (The Message)


Every morning I met with God, I asked Jesus to open my eyes and heart to truth that would put my shattered heart back together. I wrote out my sometimes heretical thoughts in my journal, then read a Psalm, a Proverb, the daily devotional in My Utmost for His Highest and Streams in the Desert. And I waited for God to speak, to respond to my emotional tirades and to comfort me in the darkness. Sometimes He did. Other times all I heard was silence. This journey, the cries of the Psalmist and Hebrews 10:19 - 25 pushed me into a deeper understanding of what it means to pound on God's chest.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:19-25


Here I see an invitation to come with confidence into God's presence, to pound on His chest with my questions, doubts, wails of anguish. He promises He will not reject me but rather pull me into His lap, hold me, comfort me with His truth,  reminding me of the gift of His Son, Jesus, the greatest love gift. Spending time in His Word reminds me of the hope that has guided me throughout my life. The Bible reminds me that He cannot lie, His promises are reliable. And then I see that time with Him will eventually lead me to offering others the same help and hope that He has given to me. Scriptures acted as medicine for my soul, but friends, that medicine was not an overnight fix. sometimes I felt a moment of relief, but grief is long term, a chronic sorrow. It is not one and done. I had to take it for years, and when I skip taking it, my soul reacts badly.

A friend of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, once said, "The woman who has no experiences in the dark has no secrets to share in the light." Shortly after the death of our son, Mark, this statement challenged me with a choice. Would I accept midnight sorrow as an opportunity for God to reveal his secrets of the darkness? Or would I refuse to open my eyes and hands to treasures designed to turn my heart toward him?

I will give you treasures in the darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you will know I am the Lord your God, the One Who calls you by name.  Isaiah 45:2-3

In time, desperation to understand my heavenly Father and experience his power drove me to place my hope in what I know about Him, not in what I do not know.  This was not a once and for all choice, but rather daily, moment by moment. I began to more clearly experience the treasures in the darkness and riches stored in secret places, each one designed to remind me that He calls me by name, and help turn my heart toward my God.

Learning to see when the lights went out took me back to the foundations of my faith, where I unpacked each belief and examined it through the grid of God's Word. I needed to know that what I had believed and taught for more than twenty-five years was absolute truth. For years and through tear-filled eyes, I searched for God's presence everywhere and in every event. No detail was insignificant. It still isn't.

I am revisiting these early grief years because several of my friends are experiencing excruciating sorrow and loss. Their shattered hearts remind me that there are many who live each day, trying to make sense out of this broken world, but afraid to admit their own struggles to reconcile God's love with His sovereignty. I write to encourage you to lean into the pain, honestly grieve, pound on your Father's chest, expect Him to hold you tightly in His grip because of Jesus. The journey is hard and long. But don't give up. Keep running to His Word and ask Him to give you treasures in the darkness to help turn your heart toward Him.

In His grip with you,

Sharon

For more encouragement while facing grief:

 

Sharon Betters