Grief and sadness come to all of us. None of us are beyond its scope. It meets us on the road of life, sometimes blindsiding us in its suddenness, urgency, and magnitude. It leaves us floundering in a morass of pain and despair, weighed down until we feel absolutely alone and crushed. Our emotions can then careen all over the place and life may seem hopeless and mind-numbingly boring. Although some of us may not experience these emotions as intensely, that doesn’t make them any less real.
Even as I thought about the seasons of loss I’ve experienced in my life, I realised that the first advice I've heard is – ‘Process your grief’. Or words to that effect. And while I absolutely agree that the only way to move forward is to step into that yawning abyss of darkness, I totally understand how daunting it might seem when you’re in shock and bewildered by the pain of loss. At that point, you want to run away from the hurt and pain, not towards it.
Our losses are devastating to us because they are personal. They hit home. In this article, I’m not going to try to assess what type of loss is worse than another or minimise someone’s grief in any way. All I can share is my own journey and hope that it will help you in some way.
2020 was a year of several different types of losses for me and when 2021 began with news of more loss, I reached a point where it just got too much. Something inside me went cold and then hard. I wanted to cry but the tears refused to come. I was heartbroken but was so physically tired from caring for 3 kids that I didn’t have the energy to process it. I couldn’t pray. Couldn’t sit still. My brain seemed to be on auto-pilot. I couldn’t string a single sensible thought together. I just wanted to crawl into a cave and be left alone.
And that’s the first thing I want to say. It’s ok. It’s ok to feel like your world has come apart at the seams, because to a certain extent it has. It’s ok to not be able to think clearly. It’s ok to not have it all together. It’s ok to not have the answers. It’s ok to not feel ok.
So what did I do? I painted. I bought painting supplies, watched YouTube tutorials, and painted as I’d never done before. And having that space to retreat into my shell and just do something relaxing and mentally energising, actually helped me begin to process my grief. I could think more clearly, and more importantly, I began to pray.
My prayers were fragmented thoughts – not spiritual or worshipful. They were rants - bucket loads of venting, a lot of angst, and definitely a lot of anger. But below all of it was an unending wellspring of sorrow. I didn’t shy away from praying those harsh words though. In fact, I think God welcomed my broken honesty. It wasn’t beautiful or profound. It was raw. But I connected with Him finally.
I brought all my anger to Him. I ached in the deepest part of my being because my biggest problem with my loss was that I couldn’t understand God anymore. This Heavenly Father, whom I had worshipped and loved for more than half my lifetime, suddenly seemed like a stranger. I was sinking in the miry clay of all my doubts and sorrow and confusion and questions. I felt like I was treading sinking sand. Nothing seemed solid or trustworthy anymore, especially God. And that scared me!
And that was when I began to read the Psalms. I don’t think I ever realised how ‘unspiritual’ a lot of the psalms are until I read them through the lens of my own pain. Some days when I didn’t have any words to express my emotions, the psalms would almost be like a megaphone of my thoughts. Here are some absolute treasures:
I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart... For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. (Psalm 38:8, 17)
My heart is severely pained within me... (Psalm 55:4a)
Put my tears into Your bottle... (Psalm 56:8a)
You have shown Your people hard things; You have made us drink the wine of confusion. (Psalm 60:3)
Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:1, 2)
Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God. (Psalm 69:1 – 3)
In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. (Psalm 77:2 – 4)
All of Psalm 88!
How long, Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever? (Psalm 89:46a)
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord (Psalm 130:1)
Those psalms became my prayers. They gave vent to my bewilderment and despair. They helped me lament all that I had lost. They were a beam of light in my dark thoughts. As Jon Bloom said in this beautiful article on Psalm 77, ‘There’s a reason God preserved this psalm for us’.
And as I began to ‘process my grief’ I discovered something precious. I wasn’t alone. I found others struggling similarly – grappling with loss, despair, and hopelessness. I found that my pain resonated with others, just as theirs did with me. And in being vulnerable and honest with each other, I discovered a community to lament with.
The relief of knowing that others understood and were dealing with this too was beyond words. To not feel lonely anymore! I felt renewed and refreshed. And in finding these select few who understood, I realised that it was so easy to not see the pain in someone’s eyes; so easy to not dig deeper.
Yet, the Bible calls us to be a community. We are called to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). Being met by empathy when you are sunken in despair can be the most heart-warmingly liberating experience ever! So I tucked away this nugget of wisdom – remember to be this kind to someone who is struggling to get their act together. We never know the mental agony they might be under.
Isolating myself only dragged out the pain and anguish but facing it within a community actually began the healing process. I realised that talking, sharing, being real and vulnerable with each other brought us to the feet of God. There was no more pretence. No more masks. In that honesty, the fog began to clear, the ground stopped shifting, and the Rock of Ages became my anchor again.
The point of all that I’ve shared is not what God spoke to me exactly to help me deal with my loss. Rather, it is that we can only find healing when we take our pain to Him. Since He created our minds (Psalm 139) He alone understands us perfectly, sometimes better than we understand ourselves. He alone has the 'right answer' for our specific loss. Only when we bare our souls to our Maker, do we find our healing, our hope, and our purpose.
I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I’m finally heading home! I hope you do too!