I am struck by how grief feels. It is remarkably tense. It feels like suspense. I imagine it must be a lot like how it would be to be held between two tall buildings with elastic cloth. Waiting for something to happen. But then nothing does. You are just left with an overwhelming feeling of stretching and rising strangeness in your gut and chest, in your legs and arms, in your back and hands. Always stretching—always a feeling of about to break but knowing there will not be any breaking. The dead will not come back in this lifetime. The dream will not repair itself in a moment. The relationship will not come back together, or at least not in an unbroken manner. Nothing which caused the grief will change, but time will go on, and eventually there will be some kind of relief.
But the stretching. The stretching is almost unbearable.
It is utterly strange to grieve around this time of year. It is weird to watch those around you grieve differently because why can’t we all just be in the same place together? Wouldn’t that be easier?
Thinking about death in contrast with the birth of Christ—what do we do with that? What kind of a strange dichotomy are we sitting in where we must continue to grieve death while celebrating the birth and eternal, resurrecting life of Jesus?
Because there is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4b), but what if those times flood us simultaneously? What then? What is it to both laugh and cry—for joy and for grief.
Just before my grandmother passed away in August, I had a dream that she was healed, completely. She was physically and mentally back to herself. She was laughing. And then days after I dreamed this, she died. And I suppose that dream was rather accurate—entering full healing and everything. But it is almost unbearable to remember such a dream on this side of the story for the very reason that I am on this side of the story.
It is so strange because there is an abnormal balance experienced by those who remain alive in the world. The tension we live in still being here—the Now and the Not Yet. The Now I’m here, and God is moving, and I am sad and the Not Yet where the Kingdom is Ultimate and Fulfilled in every element of Heaven and Earth. They are there in my Not Yet and I am here in their no longer Now.
I don’t feel at Home. But I have Hope, and the unseen promises of earthly life are being lived in by those who have died in the realized Hopes of Fully Present Kingdom. Dancing and singing, and I am sad. Because I want to be there or for them to be here or to finally have Everything come into Fullness of Glory and Completion in Christ, but that is the tension of the Now and Not Yet, so we wait.
I recently finished reading C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and I was struck by how Lewis’s writing mirrored similar emotional responses to those which are provoked in sitting down to read Lamentations, the Psalms, or Ecclesiastes in Scripture. There is something so remarkably comforting about raw questioning and uncertainty.
When we look at the absolute overwhelmingness of grief, it is quite difficult to understand what God could possibly be doing, but I think my eyes were opened rather well to a better picture of what it means for us to walk through pain when Lewis compared God to a surgeon in his regarding of the pain of grief:
“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”
Suppose you are at the end of your rope—so utterly consumed with heartbreak, whether it be the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, the crushing of a dream. Suppose you are so steeped in grief, you cannot possibly imagine this pain being used, in any way, for good.
For you cannot see the end; I cannot see the end.
With a surgeon, we know the ending if we are laying on the operation table. We know the purpose of the pain and the healing behind it. But with grief, we don’t. We cannot see in full the reason.
But praise be to God. For He can see the end. He can see beyond the tide of the unknown and the unfinished, in our eyes. Beyond the limits of time and human knowledge and promises yet to come. He can see.
And rest in this—there is no command to “get over” or to “forget” the object of grief. We serve a God well acquainted with grief—His understanding runs deeper than we might ever hope to imagine. For His regard of grief and the brokenhearted are profound. He was not named as a Man of Great Sorrows for no reason. Scar after scar of our own He bears—within His hands He has held our greatly broken hearts.
As we walk in this season of joy and hope, be reminded that the great pains and fears accompanying grieving are covered, not only in the blood of Jesus, but in the understanding and great kindness of Him as well.
Do not be afraid to pour out brutal honesty at the feet of Jesus; He is not afraid of our pain, our fear, our anger. He breathes Life over us and into us, and in the seemingly unending strain and elasticity of grief, His name is still Comforter.
Hopelessness does not have the final say.
Fear does not have the final say.
Grief does not have the final say.
“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”
– Lamentations 3:16-24 –