Sparks will always fly upward and trouble will come, but is it possible that our path of grief can afford us pain with joy? I believe so. Let me tell you how I have found this to be true.
2019 was one of the hardest years of my life. It was a year of pain, loss, and confusion. It began in March when my dad suddenly fell ill and spent six weeks in the hospital battling sepsis. On April 22, he passed away and my world changed in ways I never expected.
Of course, there were the waves of grief that typically accompany such a loss. Additionally, in the middle of everything, we were already packing to move. Not wanting my mom to be alone in all of this, we hastily changed our plans, finished packing our apartment, and put all of our belongings, save a few suitcases, into storage. Then we moved an hour away to live with my mom and figure out the next step forward for us all.
It was a dark and overwhelming time. My husband and I wrestled with feeling cut off from our church family, the people we would normally have leaned on and would have supported and loved on us in a trial. We were living in a new area that was unfamiliar to us. Our closest friends were also removed from us. It seemed as if we were in a totally new world. Nothing was normal. I found myself desperate for normal—just one tiny scrap of something to be as it had been before. It was not to be.
After a few months, we resettled near our church with my mom and tried to pick up our lives where we felt we had left off. But even though we had returned to our little corner of the world and were plugging back into our church and friendships there, something felt amiss. It was the same place, the same people, the same surroundings, but there was a sense that everything was different.
Everything had changed. The pain and grief I felt intensified as I realized that not only was I mourning the loss of my dad but also life as I had known it. Things would never be the same again. Life wasn’t going back to the normal it was before and it never would. I was now living in a new normal.
As we approached the holidays, I felt anxious to leave 2019 behind. I knew in my head that life wouldn’t magically change just because the calendar did, but there was a part of me that foolishly hoped it would.
Then came 2020. I think it is safe to say that all of us have experienced upheaval, loss, confusion, and heartache of some sort this year. Many have had to cancel or change plans for weddings, graduations, family visits, vacations, and other events. Churches haven’t been able to gather, worship, and fellowship as they once did. Parents and children are faced with new and overwhelming options for school. Many of us cannot even grocery shop in the same way we once did. The future looks murky and a return to normal seems less likely with each passing week. The truth is, no matter how much we long for life to be as it once was, we are all living in a new normal.
But during these months of chaos and turmoil, the Lord has graciously given me some perspective and helped me to understand some very important lessons about the choices we encounter on the pathway of grief and how these choices impact our experiences with loss and hardship.
Lesson One – Choose stability over normalcy.
At face value, it might seem that normalcy and stability are synonymous. However, they are actually very different. When things are normal, they are routine and predictable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to change. For example, when my daughter was a newborn she slept most of the time, waking every three hours to feed. That was normal and predictable. But over time, her needs changed, and life changed. If she were to be now, at two years old, exactly as she was as a newborn, there would be cause for alarm. But thankfully, she has grown and progressed as she should and is living life as a typical toddler. Life is full of such shifts and seasons.
Change is normal. However, stability indicates security, consistency, and permanence. There’s very little in this life that is truly permanent, that remains unaffected by the passing of time. Life is full of change and variance. We grow, we age, and we change. All of that is normal. After begging the Lord for months, “Please give me back my normal!” my eyes were opened to an important truth. It wasn’t normal that I needed or yearned for so desperately. I didn’t want life to be “normal.” What my heart truly desired was stability. I wanted life to be established and secure. I wanted freedom from change or at least change that I felt knocked my world out of balance. I was operating on the faulty assumption that life is good—that trouble is not inevitable.
That is not to say that there is no good in this life. But I wanted only good; I expected only good. And when the folly of that desire was revealed to me, I grieved. I should have grieved because of my foolishness. Instead, I grieved because I could not have what I wanted. But here is the really crazy thing—I could have experienced good and stability in the middle of all of my pain. I could have experienced God’s grace, peace, and presence. Instead, I continued my pursuit of stability in all the wrong places.
The quest for security and steadfastness can only be found in the One who is the very quality Himself. Looking to anyone or anything else to serve as our anchor and source of joy will always lead to disappointment. In the midst of my frustration, God lovingly brought me to Psalm 73.
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26
If we take the very best that this life has to offer, it still cannot come close to the treasure we have in knowing God and being loved by Him. That is amazing since we can all acknowledge that God has given us some wonderful blessings to enjoy here on earth. But those gifts serve as evidence of His goodness and glory; they are not as great as the One who bestows them.
Conversely, there is also no pain or loss that can diminish or outweigh Him as our everything. Therefore, when life is upended and chaos seems to reign, He is still good. When I face loss, grief, or hardship, He is still good. My desire for stability can be satisfied, even though my flesh and heart fail, because God is always good. Therefore, choosing stability means pursuing and clinging to Him as my true source of strength and comfort.
Lesson Two – Choose faith over doubt.
One of the greatest dangers I faced on my pathway of grief was the temptation to doubt God. This doubting was never something I explicitly thought or voiced. Doubt is such a subtle enemy of the heart that I don’t think I even recognized I was doing it. But I have learned that if I am not consciously choosing to exercise faith, I will always default to doubt.
The pain and difficulty I experienced as I grieved were greatly intensified as a direct result of doubting God—His love, His goodness, and His wisdom. Questioning God’s trustworthiness makes our pain feel overwhelming and robs us of peace. It is not wrong to be curious as to the “why” behind our sorrows—to want to make some sense of it all. The danger comes when we step beyond simple questioning to outright demanding. This is not faith, and in order to walk the path of grief in a way that honors God and allows us to experience His goodness, we must choose faith.
This life is full of mysteries I cannot comprehend. Even if God were to reveal His sovereign plan to me, I am sure my finite mind would still be unable to understand. The “why” is not what I need to be answered. I already have the surest and most complete answer.
These simple truths put to rest any questions raised by the pains we face. The “why” can remain a mystery because faith trusts God and settles all doubt.
Lesson Three – Choose hope over despair.
At my father’s funeral, his pastor encouraged us with Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians not to “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The premise here isn’t that we do not grieve. Knowing Christ does not mean we do not feel loss, sorrow, and pain. The point Paul makes is that our grieving must be different. We do mourn, but we also have hope.
We can have hope in our grief because the pains we experience are temporary. They will not last forever. Scripture describes the trials we encounter in this world as a “light momentary affliction” when compared to the eternal glory that is waiting for us and calls us to
“Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Believers ought to grieve with eternity in mindset and perspective.
Christ’s resurrection is another reason for our hope. Because He overcame death, one day we will too. Moreover, the joys of heaven, especially the unceasing presence of our great God, far outweigh all of the hardships, loss, and pain we experience on this earth. Reminding our hearts of this truth gives us the strength to carry on. Choosing hope means we are empowered to do more than just gut it out. It means we can live right now in joyful expectation of all that is to come.
As I have dwelt on these pivotal choices,
But now I can see that somewhere along my pathway of grief, I wandered off course. I looked for comfort and stability where it could not be found. I questioned God’s goodness and wisdom. I lost hope. I began to grieve as one who doesn’t know God; I was hopeless, desperate, and defeated. I was gazing back at what I'd lost, blind to the peace, and consolation God was offering in front of me. In both directions there was grief, but I chose the one that forsook hope and wallowed in despair.
Perhaps, you are on the pathway of grief as well. This year has certainly given us many experiences we could have never expected. Many have lost loved ones, jobs, health, and life as they have come to know it. Maybe the loss you are experiencing is the loss of something that never will be.
My encouragement to you is two-fold:
First, remember that discovering and experiencing God’s peace doesn’t just happen. You must choose it deliberately. If you do not, your flesh will naturally look to self and this world for comfort and find none. You’ll be plunged into deeper grief and pain as you trust in self, doubt God, and forsake hope. However, when you trust God’s loving and wise hand and look to Him to be your all, you will surely find Him a steadfast rock to cling to in the chaos.
Secondly, you must grieve. Acknowledge the pain and sorrow you feel. It is not wrong to do so. But you cannot stay there. As believers, we are called to a better way. As John Piper has said,
“My counsel is, yes, go ahead, embrace that moment. Weep. But then, say to your weeping after a season, ‘No. You will not define me sorrow, because my God has said, No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).' Yes, let there be weeping in those seasons—feel the losses. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life He’s given you.” —Piper
Day by day, I am learning to embrace the new normal God has given to me in His sovereign love and wisdom. And when the next shift and change of season occurs, my prayer is that I will have learned not to hold too tightly to what was and embrace with hope what God chooses to give.
The best is always yet to come.
What lesson have you learned from the path of grief?
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