Last night, I came across an article on grief. What grief is. What it looks like.
I wouldn’t say I’m in a position of actively grieving anymore. I can say in full honesty (and full thankfulness) that the season of active grief is over. But there’s something there still. Something deep down inside that I know will never, ever be the same. And I read articles on it now because I’ve walked through it. And for the first time in my life, I understand the words.
After I finished the article, I read another one. A heartbreaking one. Of walking away from faith after tragedy. After loss and sorrow and people saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Grief is difficult. But when words are spoken that happen to be the wrong thing at the wrong time, it can also be alienating. The lonely world of grieving quickly gets much lonelier There are many times I want to reply with fists clenched and anger raging when people say the wrong thing. Or when they say nothing at all. But I also recognize the need to extend grace when the wrong thing is said.
Because it will be.
I don’t know of one person who has walked the road of grief successfully without encountering someone along the way that said the wrong thing. Did the wrong thing. Acted the wrong way. Disappointed them. In a normal functioning world, we allow a certain measure of grace for people. But in a freshly broken and grieving world, the filter is lost. In a world of loss, social courtesies go out the window. The blinders come off. The grace-colored-glasses are suddenly tear-stained and reality is more harsh. More dark. More devastating. And more life than you ever recognized before.
Here’s the deal: grief is confusing. And it’s not pretty. (There’s a reason that the term “the ugly cry” was coined.) And usually, there aren’t words to adequately describe it. (Which makes the idea of people saying the wrong thing a little bit more understandable.) If I can’t describe this loss. This hurt. This squeezing of heart and heaviness of limb. Then phrases that could be cross-stitched on pillows smelling deeply of age and dust settled in won’t come close to making things better.
Last night, I read dozens of comments from women who have walked away from their faith in the wake of loss. And a large percentage of their comments also included the well-intentioned words spoken in the midst of it. Just recently, I was talking with my mom about those well-intentioned words. Words that sting more than soothe. She shared with me her own experience. After suffering a miscarriage, someone close to her suggested that maybe God was trying to tell her that she’s done having children.
Christians – please, please hear this two-fold statement:
1. If God Himself doesn’t say it anywhere in the Bible, you shouldn’t quote it to someone who is hurting.
2. And even if He does say it… that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to pass along right then. I have a deep, deep love for God’s Word and I couldn’t stand reading it, hearing it, or even opening it for weeks.
It all sounded so… trite.
Yes, God has a sovereign plan for our lives that He is working out. Yes, He makes everything beautiful in His time. Yes, all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. But, when faced with a dear friend who is grieving. Or even a distant friend. Or an acquaintance. Can we just back up to Romans 8:27 before quoting Romans 8:28? Can we busy our mouths with interceding? Can we pray people through grief instead of quoting them through it?
Instead of saying “God has a plan for you”, can we instead choose to look someone in the eye, shake our heads, squeeze their necks, and simply say “I am so, so sorry that this happened”? Then go home and get on our knees and turn that verse from Jeremiah 29 into a prayer. God, I know You have a plan for her. I know You have a plan for them. And it’s good in the end. But this right here is not good. This is ugly. Please, God, begin to make it beautiful in Your time.
I don’t know how to talk women out of setting aside their faith in light of insurmountable loss. I said it out loud in a desperate prayer right after Shawna died. When I didn’t have the strength to hang onto my faith. When I couldn’t cling to it. When I couldn’t kick to keep my head above the water. When all I could do was float. When I was so aware of the hope that anchored me to the depths of Him.
People have walked away from You for less than this, I said. And last night, I read stories from two dozen women who have chosen to walk away. And I cried.
I don’t know how to convince a woman that her faith can survive infertility. Failed adoptions. Unsuccessful treatments. Miscarriage. Stillbirth. SIDs. Accidents. Loss. I don’t know how to say “you will survive this” without diminishing pain. How to explain that faith and hope can weaken. But they will strengthen again. The cycle of grief that comes every 28 days for a woman trying to get pregnant chips away at the foundations of everything you believe. Even the repetition of ocean waves erodes a shoreline after awhile.
That’s why our foundation isn’t built on the shoreline.
As believers, our faith isn’t built on faith. It’s built on Christ, who is the author and finisher of our faith.
So I suppose I want to say… Yes. Let go of that faith. As long as you know that your hope is sure. And steadfast. And anchored to the Presence behind the veil. The Presence that experienced the death of a Son. And the death of a friend. Let go of the expectations of what it looks like to have faith and trust that He will carry you for awhile. He will be strong for you. And you will survive this. Because there’s no other option but to live another day.
Here’s to grief. To shutting mouths and opening arms. To love exercised tangibly and not spoken vaguely. To dropping anchors and letting go of expectations. Expectations on ourselves. Expectations of others.
Here’s to letting go without walking away.
Hebrews 6:19-20, Hebrews 12:1-2, John 11, Matthew 7:24-27, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:26-28, Ecclesiastes 3:1