No matter where the arms of a clock may land, there is never an ideal time to receive bad news. No amount of sugarcoating makes being told that you’re losing your job, that you’re not going to be able to attend you’re dream college, that you’ve got an illness that has no cure, that your significant other is leaving you, that you have cancer, or that your loved one has passed away any more bearable. Even if you’re braced for it — you’re still blindsided. Shell-shocked. Left with a pit in your stomach, your heart in free fall, and ringing in your ears. Suddenly, the world seems to flip. What was up is now down. Left has become right. You’re tossed around by wave after wave after wave of emotional and spiritual distress. Darkness descends upon you as the storm of grief, an ugly tempest, unexpectedly arrives at your door. Where do you go when the darkness closes in? What do you do when you find yourself sitting among the broken pieces of your heart? What are you to do?
Honestly, I do not know what to write. I have tried time and time again to make something coherent of my restless thoughts. I find that this is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to write. Honestly, this is more than I am able to process. A burden far beyond my ability to carry. A path that I am not able to navigate. I am at the end of myself. I have nothing left in me. Frankly, I do not know why I am writing this in the first place… For the last two months, grief has been my constant companion. the most bitter of fruits, an unexpected quest who’s outstayed its welcome. This season, utterly unbearable and quite insufferable, has left my heart rend, cleaved in two, and ground to dust. I continue to lose the words to say, and in the quiet moments, with stinging tears streaming down my face, I find myself crying out to God, “Why?”
Why would you do this, God? Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand! Help me! Help me understand, because I don’t! In my distress, I’ve cried out to God in worship with songs that speak to my present sorrows and to remind my weary, defeated soul that God is still good. Never, not for a moment, have I doubted God’s goodness, but I don’t feel it. I know, from the depths of my soul, that God is working in this season, but I don’t see it. Day after day, I have to preach God’s word to myself. I have to remind myself, and my broken heart, that God remains faithful no matter what I feel. In spite of what I see, God remains true. Yet, I continue to find myself asking God, pleading really, did it really have to be this way?
As I’ve searched through the scriptures, seeking anything that would comfort my anxious heart, I’ve found myself repeatedly in the psalms. Here, among the songs of psalmists, I have found that grief and despair exist simultaneously with joy and peace. I have chewed, day after day, on the vivid imagery and deep meaningful expressions of the psalmist in Psalm 42:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
-Psalm 42 (ESV)
Here, within the words of the psalm, the psalmist is despairing. His heart hurting beyond measure, weighed down with an a burden seemingly unable to be carried. Yet, in the midst of such anguish, the psalmist is reminding himself that God is bigger than his pain. Hope in God; for I shall again praise him. In the moment of despair, the psalmist looked toward God and the hope that would come again. The psalmist writes as though he does not feel as though God is near to him and that he cannot see God in the midst of this present struggle. Hope is hard to come by as his heart and soul are overcome with grief. As I reflect upon my present anguish, I cannot help but see my life echoed in this psalm. How long must I keep going before I’m no longer over taken by the waves of grief? How long until my heart finds solid footing in God once again? Why are you cast down, my soul?
I feel so weak, so weary. At times, I feel like a broken record skipping and repeating as wave after wave crashes over me. Suddenly up and then suddenly down. Every day, I seem to learn something new about God’s mercies and the deep wounds of grief. I’ve come to learn that I’m not alone in my suffering. Somewhere, through my sobbing, I heard, as if a whisper, God tell me that it wasn’t suppose to be this way.
Losing my beloved friend has been the single greatest struggle of my life. This affliction has been and continues to be insufferable, unbearable, and has wounded me deeply. Death is not part of the natural order of life, because death was not apart of God’s original design. You and I are not equipped to process death! We should not know what grief feels like, to know what it feels like to be dying, or to have somebody that we love pass away. Our flesh, our minds do not know how to respond to these things because they were never intended to experience these things. When God created all things, placed Adam and Even in the garden, and gave them dominion, death was not apart of the equation. Death is the side effect of sin, and when sin entered the world all of creation groaned out. Deep calls to deep. All of creation, with Heaven, with God cries out in anguish because it’s design has been corrupted! Death has tarnished that which God has created.
This world, broken by sin, cries out to its creator. Bemoaning it’s fallen state. It’s cries echoed back from Heaven in an deafening roar of God’s glory and majesty! The psalmist is (metaphorically) caught in a sea that is churned up by restless winds, thrown about by massive waves that leave him desperate to catch his breath, as he’s deafened by roaring cries of his brokenness. His words back to God are not of desolation and destitution, but of lament. Where has God gone? Why has God forgotten me here as I stand among my brokenness? The psalmist is not doubting God’s presence or reality, but rather lamenting the lacking of feeling! The great disparity of what the psalmist knows in his heart and what he’s presently perceiving. This disconnect is perhaps best illustrated through attempting to walk when your leg is completely numb. Your mind knows that your leg is there and how to operate it, but you can’t really feel it. Thus, you either stumble along with your hand on any surface to help steady you or you stand and wait until you’re no longer incapacitated. Grief hinders our connection to God with its stormy interference.
Heaven roars back into the deep, the maelstrom, in recognition of the disparity that lay between it and the rest of creation. As though creation, in it’s anguish, is reaching up to Heaven seeking deliverance. Heaven reaching down to bring creation back across the fold with compassion. Our grief extends beyond just the immediate causes in this life. Grief, as incomprehensible and ill-equipped as we are, is the manifestation of the separation we have from God! Sin separated us from God. Sin brought death. Sin brought grief. The overwhelming brokenness I am feeling is an echo the brokenness I feel because I am, presently though saved by grace, separated from God. Moreover than the inexplicable, excruciating anguish that is ravaging my heart and my soul — God is angry that I am experiencing this!
Make no mistake about it, God is not taking any pleasure in our suffering! Even though we cannot see God through the storm. When we cannot hear His voice through the raging torrent. God is present with us in the chaos. God is among our brokenness! God is feeling heartache, just as you and I are, because He knows the depths of our souls! God did not create death. Death is not apart of His design. Death is part of the opposition of God’s plans. Thus, when death entered the world, God did something radical. Something that would upheave the new, unnatural order of life. God used death to give life!
Jesus knew that it wasn’t suppose to be this way. Death should have never had a place in creation, yet Jesus found himself grieved after learning that his beloved friend Lazarus has died. John 11:33 tell us that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and was greatly troubled.” Even knowing what he was about to do next, Jesus felt the weight of loss. John MacArthur notes that Jesus may have been angered because he was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition. Jesus then wept (Jn 11:35). Weeping for the unbelief of those grieving at the tomb. Weeping for the unfairness that death instituted in creation. Whatever cause for Jesus’ weeping, we see, abundantly, that Christ felt as we feel. Paul, later, would write to the church at Thessaloniki to remind them that for those whose hope is found in Christ do not grieve as if they have no hope. We do not mourn as if this is the final stop. We have hope in tomorrow because of Christ. Jesus would go on to resurrect Lazarus in demonstration of his divine authority over creation. Even though he was resurrected by Jesus, Lazarus would go on to die again. The inevitable was delayed, as God continued to prepare the way for something greater.
I want to let you know that you are loved! Not generally, but specifically loved! When death separated us from God bringing darkness and despair with it, God did not stand by to leave creation as it was. God immediately began to work against death. God made moves to create a way for you and I to be reunited with Him once again! He did this because He loves you! Yes, you! Specifically you! God defeated death by dying! How amazing is that? That God loved you so much that He defeated death so that He could reconcile the relationship with you! The creator of the universe, El Shaddai, wanted a relationship with you so greatly, that He faced death in order to reconnect to you! Nothing can stand against God’s love for you! No amount of fear, despair, brokenness — nothing — can stand against His mighty love for you!
Jesus knew his purpose. He knew, exactly and entirely, what his mission was as he walked the earth. He healed people’s illnesses, raised people from the dead, showed compassion to the least of the least, and he revealed his true purpose by meeting people’s spiritual needs. Jesus came to conquer the very thing which had changed the natural order. Jesus came to defeat sin. With it, defeating death. Everything Jesus taught pointed to the plan God had for redemption. Jesus’ life demonstrated everything you and I could ever need. Trust in the Lord, your God. With your heart, with your needs, with your life!
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
-Matthew 6:25-27 (ESV)
Far too often, we get so caught up in our immediate circumstances that we lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose sight of God’s plan. We work ourselves up into a frenzy as we try so desperately to control our situations by our own power. We must surrender the need for control. God isn’t seeking to see us get stronger by our own sheer will, but moreover by our reliance upon Him for our strength. As believers, we lean into God’s power through prayer, through seeking His will, by laying our selfish desires aside, and taking up God’s will for our lives. Jesus understood his purpose, and even he went before God to ask for strength and to surrender to His will.
Hours before he would be seized, Jesus entered into Gethsemane to pray and I, in this present season, resonate with Christ’s words as he separates from his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death… (Mt. 26:38).” Anguish was building within Jesus’ soul. He did not fear the physical torment that he was about to endure, but rather Jesus was sorrowful because of the bitter cup he was about to be given. There, Jesus fell to his face and cried out to God, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as your will.” The cup, a symbol of divine wrath against sin throughout the Old Testament, was about to be given to Jesus. Upon the cross, Jesus would bear the sins of you and I and of all creation as the divine wrath against sin would fall upon him. All the anguish, the pain, the suffering was bore on the cross by Jesus. Jesus cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus died upon that cross. His fulfilling cry out to God, at this moment, was Christ experiencing the abandonment and despair that resulted from the cup being poured out upon him. He, Jesus, was the sin-bearer for you! Jesus paid the atoning price so that you and I could be reconciled back to God. Jesus died to defeat death. To defeat sin! God changed everything when He sent Jesus to die on the cross! Where sin had corrupted God’s original design, God had turned death against itself! When we lay out faith in Jesus, something radical happens. We are covered by the blood of Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, which nullifies the punishment for sin in our lives. We are able to have a relationship with God once again!
In your time of grief, of despair, you are not alone. God knows and feels the depravity of what you’re experiencing. He does not delight in it, but He calls out to you because this is not the end. For those whose faith is found in Christ, there is hope for tomorrow. Hope in God’s awesome, mighty, sovereignty! Jesus felt every bit of the pain and sorrow that you are inundated with. Knowing that this was what he came to earth to do, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will. His prayer to God, “not as I will, but as you will,” reveals how Christ’s humanity voluntarily surrendered to the will of the Father in all things so that there would be no conflict between the divine will and his desires. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father so that we may not grieve as those who have no hope. Jesus died so that we may have hope that defies all logic and understanding. Jesus died so that we may be able to weather through the tempest of grief in our times of crisis.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus prepared the way in which we should follow. Exemplifying laying our trust and our faith in God, and living that out in every facet of his life. At times, his disciples were baffled by Christ’s words and actions and Jesus, giving the most poignant of responses told them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (Jn 13:7).” Grief can breed many different responses. Consistently, I have found that grief obscures our ability to see God at work in the midst of our lives. Only through purposeful reflection, somewhere down the road, are we, then, able to more clearly see how God had been preparing the way. In the moment, we have great difficulty seeing beyond the brambles of our present suffering. Looking back, we can see how God was working to clear away the path He set us upon. Does this make trails and tribulations more bearable? Perhaps not. However, we may be grateful that God was there with us, working through our lives, to assist us as we continue down the trail set before us. Time and time again, I find myself crying out to God seeking “why?” Why did it have to be this way? The only answer that I have found is that I do not understand now, but one day I will. This has not eased my pain or my sorrow or my suffering, but it has eased my anxiousness. I can keep taking steps forward, though small and tepid at the moment, deeper in faith. This path, while presently twisted and choked￼ out with thorns and thistles, is mine to tread. I am not alone on this path, however. God is with me, feeling as I feel. Picking me back up when the burden becomes too great to bear. Wading through the raging sea of pain and grief with me.
I have shed so many tears as I’ve written this article. Tasting the bitterness of my brokenness, and having my heart rend because I’ve had to preach these things to myself over and over and over again. I have a burden far beyond my ability to carry, and even as I set it down at the feet of Christ, I feel as though I’m only given more. I find it unbearable. The honest truth is that God will allow us to experience things that are so wildly, unbelievably beyond our abilities to carry, to process, and to experience on our own. His purpose being that we’re not intended to carry these burdens apart from Him. I wish that I could say that things have gotten easier, but they haven’t. My heart is pierced repeatedly by the very things that had once been sources of hope and delight that are now, suddenly, daggers of sorrow. At times, I feel so selfish because I wish for nothing more than for things to have been different. Reconciling what I would have hoped for and what God’s will has been, has been my greatest trial. Here, as I sit among the broken pieces of my heart and my life, I know that God is with me. He is putting things back together in a way unlike anything else. This process is not easy or comfortable or quick. But as the storm continues to rage around me and the tempest only grows more turbulent, I hear God whispering through it all, ‘I’m not finished yet.’ I reply, ‘not my will, but your will.’