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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Secret Agent: Grief

 Grief is closely tied to loss. It is the companion of letting go. Anytime we must give up something that we love, there is a grieving of sorts that takes place - a longing for the return of that which we released. The emptiness, the seemingly irreparable void, that is left in the wake of our loss, consumes us deeply. It appears, to us, to be impossible to move on. Hope is the last thing on our minds. We ask ourselves, 

How can anyone ever go on? Even more, who would want to?

This is especially true when we have lost a relationship - whether through a break-up, a divorce, or even death, the absence of the life we once enjoyed eats away at us. We feel so alone. We long for the happy times we once experienced, and we sometimes resent the circumstances we now find ourselves in. Naturally, we try to victimize ourselves and look for another source to blame for our sorrow and misfortune. Usually, our anger and disappointment get aimed at God. 
 I so clearly remember one particular day when this was most evident in my life. It was the day my grandmother died. I had already experienced the hardship of loss several times over, but the fact that God was taking her too seemed cruel and insensitive. 

Can't anything be normal, God? I wondered...
Just for a little while?

That afternoon, I had just finished talking outside on the phone with a friend, updating him on my grandma's condition. I went back into her apartment and was struck, upon entering, by the inevitable approach of death. Her passing was imminent. I went straight to the guest room where I was staying at the time, and shut the door. With it, I shut out everyone and everything. I sat on the edge of the bed and started to sob. My clenched fist pounded the bed. In that moment, I had a flashback to three years prior: once again, sitting in the darkness on the edge of a bed - the first time in Alaska, this time in California. Again, I found myself saying "no" to God.

You're ripping apart my life! I said to Him. What kind of loving God are you?

While I knew her death was God's choice, I couldn't surrender myself to the looming prospect that I would have to let go yet again. A few, short hours later, she slipped away and was gone. The loss felt like someone had just sucked the life out of me, too. Even though I knew she was rejoicing with the angels, the bliss of Heaven seemed to be drowned out by the emptiness of earth - the feeling that I would never see her again this side of glory. For weeks on end, I would wonder how I could ever treasure the memories without being stung by the pain. 

How would I be able to adjust to the fact that I could never tell her anything anymore?

With every picture, every obituary in the paper, every phone call to tell someone about her passing - it felt like a blow to the heart each time. I longed to talk to her...just to say I loved her one more time. 
 But strangely, even as I rejected God while battling my grief, He never abandoned me. Rather, He kept on knocking on my door even as I tried to ignore Him and wrestle with my pain on my own. Then one day, came the phone call from Heaven. I was having a dream that my grandma called me on the phone: 

We were at home, and the phone rang. I picked it up, and there she was. I was floored. 
How could she be calling me when she was dead? 
I asked her, "I thought you died!"  She replied, "I did." 
I was so confused.  
"Then why are you calling me? Is this a phone call from Heaven?" 
The answer came, "Yes it is. I wanted to know about everything that's happened since I left." 
I proceeded to tell her about all she'd missed. When I was through, she said, 
"Well, it sound's like you're getting along fine without me." 
And the dream ended...

I woke up soon after and pondered what had happened. 

God, could you really care about my loss enough to do something like that for me?

I felt so comforted by that brief exchange with my grandma that I began to wonder if what the Bible said about God was true:

"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds."
(Psalm 147:3)

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those 
who are crushed in spirit."
(Psalm 34:18)

"He [Jesus] was...a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering."
(Isaiah 53:3)

After all, I thought, Jesus grieved over his cousin John the Baptist's murder (Matt. 14:1-13) and wept over the death of his dear friend Lazarus (John 11:33-36). He even tasted death Himself so that he would not only save mankind from their sins but that He might also identify with us in our sadness. Jesus knew loss also - loss of reputation, loss of relationship, loss of life. Because of this, it dawned on me:

He should know what I feel even more than any other human being would!

The dream was His was of showing that He truly cares, that I'm not alone in my suffering...nor is anyone else. 
A faint glimmer of trust arose in my heart. Maybe this God I claimed to believe and then didn't was true to His Word, just not in the way I thought. As I contemplated this concept, it occurred to me that grief is the agent which God uses to draw out the soul. When one is deeply hurting, one is forced to confront the truth about themselves and about life. They are faced with the choice of whether or not they will remain behind the door. 
 No matter how difficult the circumstances, we do not need to be governed by our grief forever. It's not that we forget and never remember. We do, but we are enabled in our grief to press through the sting and hold onto the happiness we once enjoyed. It is learning to look back and be thankful. Not so much to long for old days and wish things were different but to cherish what you did have and be grateful. It's the old "glass half-empty or glass half-full" concept. We can concentrate on what we do not have, or we can count the blessings we still do have. 
 God does not afflict us unnecessarily. This I have learned through my losses. He has a reason for everything that happens to us in life, good or bad. Even those things which seem to be contrary to His purposes are, in fact, part of a glorious plan we do not yet know. As Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his book, Glorious Ruin:

"We may not ever fully understand why God allows suffering that devastates our lives. We may not ever find the right answers to how we'll dig ourselves out. There may not be any silver lining, especially not in the ways we would like. But we don't need answers so much as we need God's presence in and through the suffering itself...God's chief concern in your suffering is to be with you and to be Himself for you.
In other words, our ruin may not ultimately spell our undoing. It may in fact spell the beginning of faith. And in the end, that is enough."

 Grief can arouse a stirring of the soul. Brought about by the relentless pursuit of a loving and gracious God, this stirring can motivate us to look beyond our sorrowful condition and dare to see the Light that needs to a new beginning.