December 24, 2014

When Grief is Too Great

It is possible she doesn’t even remember, but I will never forget.  It isn’t the exact words that linger in the recesses of my memory; it is the general idea of what was exchanged in that conversation that changed me forever.

To anyone else it may have seemed like a normal conversation, a run-of-the-mill chat between moms – sisters-in-law.  We both knew better, however.  One of us was broken. 

  Beyond broken. 

  Just plain shattered. 

  She shared it simply, a story any mom might share of her two children.  It felt like a punch to the gut.  I was supposed to have two children close together like hers.  I was supposed to have stories to tell just as she did. 

You can’t tell stories of two children when one is gone and one is left.

The words that came next have burrowed deep into my heart.  They came with a sting and yet there was a little piece of my heart that latched onto them as if they were an invitation to something greater.  I know to this day she has no idea the impact of the simplest of words that I can’t even repeat verbatim.  I don’t remember.  I remember only the general idea and how they changed me.
She gently, quietly told me she almost didn’t share the story.  She knew it would hurt, but she also knew that I didn’t want her to hold back. She knew I wanted her and others to go on living and loving life even if my world was turned upside down.   

Did I agree with those words in my brokenhearted state?  I honestly wasn’t sure.  Part of me wanted to fight against that idea!  I wanted to tell her the story did hurt, and please don’t tell me any more since that cannot be my life!  Those words though, they were resonating through my being, challenging me to live beyond the empire of ME and allow God to have control of every part of my being and my story.

It was a moment of decision. 

Was my pain about me or was it an opportunity to glorify God?  That is what I was made for, why we were all made (Isaiah 43:7). 

  Should everyone be thinking about me and my pain, or would I truly live out Romans 12:15 and rejoice with those who rejoice even if I was trying to pull together the pieces of my heart after living through the circumstances that should never be – the burying of a tiny casket?  Could I rejoice in the good gifts others were experiencing with them because my joy wasn’t found in my circumstances?

I was never the same again.  A slow transformation of my heart began.

Christmas came less than 5 months after holding my son for the last time and sometime after this conversation took place.  To say Christmas had a sting to it would be an understatement.  This “best time of the year” left me in a place far from jolly.  At every turn was a reminder of what a wonderful family time it was supposed to be, and how it could not be such a time for my family because we had a gaping hole. 

I traveled back down memory lane to those hard days a couple weeks ago when I read this facebook post by Kay Warren. These are the words of a broken and hurting mother.  My heart goes out to her and resonates with her on many levels.  I had tears when I read her post.  Tears because I knew some of her pain, tears because my heart hurt so terribly for her, but tears also because the nature of what was said grieved me.  Please understand, I in no way cast judgment on this mother for what she said here.  She is still in an extremely raw place of grief.  However, as a mother who has also faced tragic, and devastating loss, I could not agree completely with what was written especially the last line, 

“So, on behalf of grieving parents everywhere, if you aren’t willing to modify your way of sending cards for a while, please do us a favor and take us off your list.”

I do not feel that way and did not even in those painful months after our loss.  God used that conversation I had with my sister-in-law to change me.  It allowed me to learn valuable lessons about being a follower of Christ even in my darkest days of grief.  It was the start of another lesson later that my joy was not found in my circumstances but in knowing God intimately and the depths of sorrow could not rob that and leave me joyless.

What God taught me through my grief was not that others should think more about me and my grief.  He did not teach me that others should think more about the hurting of this world.  No, He taught me that I should think more about others. 

That very first Christmas, when I couldn’t figure out how to breathe some days and every Christmas card opened brought tears to my eyes, He began to teach me not to see those merry little Christmas cards with frustration.  For the first time I was beginning to read between the lines and see through the pictures into the hearts and lives of those precious souls who had sent them. 

I began to really see.

Ever so slowly I recognized there is a world out there full of heartache and souls desperate for hope represented by every card.  Everyone has a story and not a one is perfect and pain free. 

Not a one.

 Every card also represented rich blessings from the Father worth celebrating.

Were there people who sent cheery cards to us without a single consoling word or even recognition of the horrors we had faced?  Absolutely.  Did that mean those people didn’t care or didn’t remember our pain? No.  By God’s GREAT grace alone, I understood that important fact.  He alone could grant the understanding I needed that some of those dear people were not experiencing any deep personal pain at that time but joys to be celebrated.  Some were afraid to say anything lest they would direct our thoughts to our pain.  Others were at a total loss for what to say and fearful of saying the wrong thing.  Still others were simply trying to hold their own broken worlds together and sending a normal card was one way to feel like all was well, or perhaps even an attempt to mask the heartache they were experiencing.  There were stories behind each one – lives full of joys to be rejoiced over and sorrows to be wept over.

It wasn’t the job of everyone else to see me, it was my privilege and responsibility as a follower of Jesus to see them.  I cannot control the choices of others, but I can choose to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” no matter what state of brokenness I am in.
Every person has to walk their own journey of grief and does so differently.  As I said, I don’t write this to in any way cast judgment on Mrs. Warren.  My heart breaks for her.  However, I believe that God can use our deepest pain to usher us into a place of not saying “here is what the world can do for me,” but rather becoming 2 Corinthians 1:4 kind of people.  “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  He can enable us even in our dark days to see what Ecclesiastes says, that there is a time to dance and a time to mourn and those times are not all aligned for all people.
It is a good thing to be honest about the depths of our broken hearts, but ultimately the answer to our hurt is not that others would think more about us – people will always disappoint.  

The answer to our pain is for us to think more about Christ.  

He is the one who came to heal the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1).

This Christmas, no matter the state you are in, look around you, read between the lines of those Christmas letters, and see through the pictures to the hearts of those you know and love.  Where there is joy, rejoice with those friends and family!  Wherever you see and know of hurt and pain, be the hands and feet of Jesus to those people.  Don’t be afraid to say something about their pain.  Meet a physical need of which you are aware.  Pray for them.  Call them.  Hold out hope to them in these ways.  That is what Christmas is all about.

 If you have recently stood over a casket, if you are staring a diagnosis in the face, if you have been wounded or abandoned, or if wrong seems to be winning, don’t look for encouragement or hope in the people around you.  Come and adore Him.  Emmanuel.  He is your healer and hope.  The babe that came to be with us, to die, but didn’t stay dead.  One day He is coming back and He will redeem all of it!

“Look!  God’s dwelling is with His humanity, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

Merry Christmas