We’ve all heard the expression that grief is not linear. Science would like to put it into neat little steps and stages for us, as if we could just check them all off and magically be okay. And somehow, I truly think that is how it’s expected to work. Those that have lived through it, however, can tell you differently.
You can be impressively happy all day, even feel a little proud of yourself for how you’ve continued on with your life with little to no emotion bubbling sneakily to the surface to ruin it.
“I’ve done it!” you think, relieved that maybe, just maybe, you’ve outsmarted the grieving process. That maybe you’ve circumvented all that hard, ugly crying stuff and you’re gonna be able to cakewalk it outta there.
And then, you settle into your favorite corner of the couch for your evening coffee and writing session, and it hits you. Sometimes like a ton of bricks. Sometimes its just like a little prick of anxiety that draws your attention away from what you came to do, and maybe makes you irritably snap at your husband who only asked if you wanted the light on or off.
That’s where I am tonight. After a fantastic, happy day in the city with my children, enjoying a highly anticipated event together, and being too busy to really ponder life or let it get in the way. I felt like I blocked relationship anxiety really well today. Ten points for me!!
But here I sit, on the couch, thinking about someone I care about, and feeling the tightness in my chest that indicates that my body is feeling the weight of loss, even though my brain thought we’d beat the game. It’s really, really tempting to be bitter when people leave you hanging without any explanation of what the heck just happened that caused them to suddenly withdraw. You wonder if you might have stumbled into a middle school nightmare, because the drama seems oddly childish, with one party flat out giving the cold-shoulder to the other – but then you remember you’re 30-something, and this is real. You wonder what in the world you could have said or done differently, and what went wrong. I have never been in the position of grieving the death of someone especially close to me and so I am in no position to compare. But I honestly think that it’s just as hard to grieve a living person, because you know that they are still walking around knowing that they have hurt you, and quite possibly enjoying that upper hand just a little bit.
I’m gonna tell you what I’ve learned, though.
I have learned that those thoughts mentioned above, while very real, are not where we can afford to dwell and stay if we want healing, especially since forgiveness is a prerequisite. Those thoughts are flesh thoughts. We still need to think God’s thoughts about ourself AND our loved one.
I have learned to recognize their sudden departure as a sign that they are experiencing catastrophic emotional trauma or life change beyond what they can verbalize or that I am aware of, and to respect their distance, but never stop praying.
I have learned that when I start to feel that familiar tightening in my chest, I can say “Jesus, it’s hurting again.” And He will run to my side and remind me that He chooses me. All day, every day.
I have learned that as long as that living person is alive, there is still hope for redemption and restoration. And if it’s meant to happen, God will do it in His time.
I have learned to block out the negative voice when Satan tries to prey on insecurities and eat my lunch.
I have learned what it means when the Bible says that His grace is sufficient for my weakness. I can lean into grace, and trust it to carry me when the heaviness is too much. When no one else understands, when it takes too much effort to try to explain, and when you want to confidentiality…Jesus knows, and it is somewhat comforting to look up and say “I trust this to you. I CAN trust You with this.”
I have learned that worship lifts me out of the mud pit of stinkin thinkin. The music allows my tears to flow freely to release emotions. Sometimes crying is the best way to deal with hurt. God’s Word says that He collects my tears in a bottle and that every one is counted and recorded (Psalm 56:8). That would imply that He is gentle and attentive to us as we weep.
I have learned that praising Jesus in the middle of battle literally confuses and silences the enemy. It blocks his entry. It crumbles his foothold. It ticks him OFF, because this was an attack that he launched against YOU, to make you STOP trusting God with your friendship and your tender heart, and yet here you are PRAISING the very One who supposedly “let” this happen?! This was an attack meant to snatch that person from your prayers, especially if you are a prayer warrior who moves with authority and purpose in your prayer life. You were getting too close, you were impeding Satan’s strategies, and he wants you out of the picture and her out of your prayers. When you continue to pray for your friend even though she has separated herself, you literally outsmart the enemy at his own game. He was banking on you letting go so that he could come in for the kill, and instead there you are – pleading the blood of Jesus over her, protecting her and still blocking his next calculated move.
I have learned that it takes a literal boatload of self-discipline to look up from my heartache, my current focus, and put my mind on Jesus and begin to worship. I do not always pass this test, and many times it crosses my mind to worship and I stubbornly refuse.
I have learned that it is utterly pointless to sit here drowning in anxiety over a situation I cannot control, and that my energy is much more effective when I turn it around and praise instead.
I’ve learned that it’s a leap of faith to close your mind to the finality of it all and to declare victory and healing over it instead, but that you have to be ready to ask and believe that it will be done without ever allowing a shadow of doubt into your mind. “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:6-7)
I have learned that it is okay to hope and apply the Word to my situation. Even though the Scriptures don’t seem to point promises directly at restoring friendships, we KNOW that God’s work is redemption. Its not a stretch to believe that His grace and mercy extends to our friends as well.
I have learned that God knows that I hear His voice most clearly in a moment of deep hurt, and I believe that sometimes He moves that friend just so that I will seek Him more closely. Sometimes He is just like a parent watching a toddler who is trying to carry an object that is too big and heavy for her, and as the parent, He simply removes the object from the child until she has grown enough to be able to manage the responsibility. In the meantime, the toddler may throw a fit but eventually is going to throw herself into her Daddy’s arms to refocus and calm down. I think that God does that for us, too.
I am so grateful for the lessons that Jesus brings out of grief. We make the choice whether or not to stay in it. We choose whether to try to manage the pain of what we have lost on our own, or whether to focus on giving it to Jesus, moment by moment. It is colossally hard, but it is a sign of maturity as a believer when we are able to lean in to grace and trust Jesus to draw us close.