I remember that morning like it was yesterday, the image and feeling permanently burned into my heart and mind. Just coming out of the new mother fog into a whole different way of life, I was beginning to adjust to my dizzying new reality. The constant fatigue from lack of sleep, the non-stop feedings and care of an infant, the joy of holding and kissing and loving this amazing gift of life and the fumbling to find the rhythm and routine with a precious little boy now in our care. And there he was in the back seat. This happy, joyful, laughing baby. His eyes caught mine in the rear view mirror as the sun poured in… Smiling right at me! My heart was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for our first-born son, having no idea this moment was a gracious parting gift goodbye.
Everything can change in an instant. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. That moment when the bottom drops out. When everything you knew no longer is.
“There’s been an accident.”
“I’m having an affair.”
“It’s stage IV cancer.”
“He’s not breathing…” Those three words changed my life forever. And I knew it the first moment they registered in my brain… my world would never be the same. On that same sunny day, our 4 ½ month old child stopped breathing during a nap and could not be revived. Our world was turned upside down.
Many psychologists say there is no pain so deep as the loss of a child. It is excruciating. Some moments it physically felt like I could not breathe. There were times I begged to never take another breath of air again. And still there are days when the wave of grief crashes over me out of nowhere and I crumble beneath it’s weight. How does a mother continue to live when her child is gone?
As devastating as the death of our son has been, there are other losses I’ve experienced which, while different, have been almost as brutal and life-altering in their intensity of pain. Rejection and betrayal are particularly overwhelming griefs to bear. I’ve come to believe that the depth of our grief is in direct proportion to the depth of our love and connection. Simply, the more we love, the greater the loss.
Grief is defined as a keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. The longer I live, the more I experience it and see it in the lives of those around me. Everywhere I turn, there is profound loss. The loss of dreams, of health, of relationships, of loved ones.
“In this world you will have trouble” John 16:33.
“For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” Matthew 5:45.
I used to believe it was Jesus’ plan to fix our broken hearts. That His intention in the lives of His children was to fit each piece of our shattered hearts back together, good as new. And one day God dashed my dreams of wholeness and gave me a new vision for His mission in my life and in the world. As I cried out to God to heal these broken places and make me whole again, He whispered, “That’s not how it works at all. My mission is not to fix what’s been broken as if it never happened.”
“Behold, I am doing a new thing” Isaiah 43:19. A deeper work. Because in the kingdom of God, healing doesn’t mean fixed, healing means changed.
“I don’t put the pieces back together as if your heart had never been shattered. I fill in the broken places with Myself.”
I have never in my life felt the presence of God more powerfully than in my moments of deepest grief. In fact, this is one of the greatest proofs of the existence of God to me. That in my moments of utter despair, I can testify with certainty that these promises are true…
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2
“For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.” Psalm 27:5
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
The GIFT of grief is the PRESENCE of God.
There is a sacred space in the agonizing prayers of God’s beloved where He meets us with His divine presence. Because there is no loss, no grief, “no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” (Corrie Ten Boom). It is more REAL than anything we’ve ever felt. Not only does He flood our souls with peace that passes understanding, but He gives us a glimpse of the magnitude of His love for us. That He willingly entered into the agonizing pain of this world and endured grief beyond description on our behalf.
In one of the most moving accounts of His humanity, Jesus shows us how He deeply identifies with the pain of His children. As Mary and Martha grieved the death of their brother Lazarus, so did Jesus. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” John 11:33. “Jesus wept” vs. 35.
What a baffling reaction. Why was Jesus so troubled? Why did he cry and mourn along with his beloved friends? Jesus knew not only the eternal ending of this story, but even the earthly miracle He was about to perform that would take away their sorrow in an instant, yet, He stopped to grieve.
“Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” writes John Calvin. While Jesus experienced joy and love and friendship and peace, He also felt the deepest pains of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and loss. He was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to endure Himself. Our own grief then leads us to the reality and power of the gospel. That the Creator drew near. He entered in. Immanuel, God with us. He not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He bore the weight of our griefs and afflictions. As God in the flesh, He actually experienced our sorrows. As God the Father, He is intimately acquainted with the loss of a child, His only Son.
He has promised a time will come when He will wipe the tears from our eyes forever, when joyous reunions will leave the past as distant memories. When “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4.
Until that day, what do we do when our hearts are shattered by loss?
Where do we go for comfort?
Who can understand the depth of our pain?
“Even the glories of Christ afford no such consolation to afflicted spirits as the sufferings of Christ. Christ is in all attitudes the consolation of Israel, but He is most so as the man of sorrows. Troubled spirits turn not so much to Bethlehem as to Calvary; they prefer Gethsemane to Nazareth. The afflicted do not so much look for comfort in Christ as He will come a second time in splendor of state, as to Christ as He came the first time, a weary Man, and full of woes. The passion flower yields us the best perfume; the tree of the cross bleeds the most healing balm. Like in this case cures like, for there is no remedy for sorrow beneath the sun like the sorrows of Immanuel…
Let us go, then, without reluctance to the house of mourning, and commune with “The Chief Mourner,” who above all others could say, “I am the man that has seen affliction.” Charles Spurgeon
What a friend we have in Jesus, bearing not only our sin but also our grief.
Held by Him,