I am learning the value of resting, reflecting, trusting and grieving.
Not all grief is the result of a death, but often grief does result from a death of some kind. Dreams can be shattered when marriages are torn apart or when someone must face the struggle of infertility, broken relationships, illness or disability. Trauma or unexpected tragedy and even war and terror attacks reframe the way we see how the world functions and even the way we approach the day. Often, when grief is caused by something other than death, it is easy to believe that pushing past it is the appropriate thing to do. Sometimes, when faced with my own grief up next to the reality of another person’s, it is easy to dismiss my own as something trivial.
For many years I tried to skip the grieving part of my story. I wanted to forget about anything that caused my heart to ache and dismiss it as a waste of time or even selfish. I would take my best coping skill, pushing through, and I would maximize it to its highest potential. I learned how to be an expert at “suck it up, buttercup”.
Quite a few years of this unrecognized and dismissed grief and it did what most heartbreak does when left unchecked-it turned to anger, resentment and fear. Eventually, every time I came face to face with the reality of my grief, instead of sadness, I felt anger and resentment. When day would break and the sun would rise, I would be faced with fear of the unknown, because my heart was already so heavy.
This absence of grieving, it kept me stuck. Stuck in the past. Past dreams and plans and expectations were all that filled my thoughts. I wasn’t able to move forward because I was continuously reminded of what was, or what would never be.
This is not a good place to be.
Through some counseling, heart to heart moments with friends and some family, through much prayer and many tears, I was able to let go of what wasn’t any more.
Something beautiful happened through this process.
I was finally able to accept what life had become and I realized that, although there are still hard things, it is a beautiful life.
Sounds super simple, right?
That one sentence represents the key that released me from so much heartache, but it also required a lot of time and work.
But it was so, so, worth it.
In John 11, when Lazarus dies and Jesus finally arrives to raise him from the dead four days later, there is a lot of grief surrounding the entire situation. Mary and Martha are grieving, not only the loss of their brother but the fact that they knew Jesus could have saved Lazarus and he didn’t.
Mary, who had previously lavished love on Jesus, found herself paralyzed by her grief (v20) and didn’t even greet Him as He arrived. Martha, steadfast in her duty and probably of the “suck it up buttercup” kind of mind, was the one who went out to meet Jesus, all of her grief and doubts bottled up. It wasn’t until Jesus asked her, “do you believe?” and she responded with a “yes”, that she held onto the hope that there might be more to this story than she understood. She quickly ran back to Mary to bring her to speak with Jesus. Both of these women were dealing with their grief differently, and it took Jesus’ presence and questions to help them work through it. So many times Jesus will ask questions of His believers. He doesn’t ask it for His sake (He already knows the answer). He asks it for theirs, so they may begin to understand the depths of their own heart.
Often it is in the grip of our own sorrows that our faith is tested. To know that Jesus stands with us and provides ways for us to be reminded of His restoring truth, faithful love and His eternal hope is vital. All we must do is be willing to have a conversation with Him.
There, at the tomb, Jesus saw all the grief, felt the sense of loss deep in His own spirit, and even though He knew what He was about to do (raise Lazarus from the dead!), He still joined in the grieving process.
Jesus Wept (v35).
The brokenness of this world will not leave any of us untouched.
But we have an Advocate and a Counselor Who knows first hand the heartbreak of being broken.
There is nothing productive or helpful about skipping to the “happy ever after” parts, nothing healthy about pushing through and past the heartbreak.
Grieving our own losses, as well as weeping with those who weep, is part of what makes us human.
I believe it is also important to remember that grief and self-pity are not the same things. Walking through suffering and processing heartbreak is one thing.
Sitting in a pit of pity is another.
Notice, Jesus wept and then He moved.
When He raised Lazarus, Jesus assigned Mary and Martha to the task of unwrapping his body from the burial clothes. They were removing, bit by bit, what had caused so much grief.
The death still happened, the burial clothes would still exist, but they were able to unbind from it all and move on because of Jesus’ direction and their obedience in action.
Grieving is a process, self-pity is a pit.
Grieving is a movement, sometimes slow or even backwards to recover from a wrong turn, but it does move us forward over time.
Self-pity digs the pit deeper and there the Light can be harder and harder to see.
Today I encourage you to take a moment to listen to your heart. To press pause on any “pushing through” you might be doing. To acknowledge grief where it exists and then to reach out to a trusted friend, fellow believer, or a counselor as you walk along the road of releasing the grief you carry to the One who promises to carry you. I trust that, through the faithfulness of Jesus, you will see beauty for your ashes. Beauty for ashes doesn’t diminish the experience that caused the grief. The process of grieving gives it it’s due and then frees our hands and hearts to hold new gifts of hope.
You only need to first let go of the ashes.
Isaiah 46: (ESV)
4 even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.