Last October, I wrote an article upon the nature of grief after unexpectedly losing a beloved friend two months prior. Everything in my life was shaken and trembled as a result of many difficult challenges, trials, and circumstances that afflicted me throughout last year. I continue to find difficulty in labelling 2019 as a terrible, dreadful year, because there were so many incredible things that took place throughout the year, but those wonderful things are marred by the realities of the tragedies, struggles, and tribulations that were ever present. My life came to a halt in August, and the subsequent months continued to see my life tossed about by the storm of grief and despair. Life as I knew it continued on, but I was still nursing a wound that cleaved my heart in two. I hobbled forward with a limp through life toward new challenges that would bring new tribulations and deeper hurting. My life has never been the same, but, as I sit writing, something is different. Different about my life, different about my perspective, different about myself.
When I got up this morning, my heart was heavy (and remains heavy even now). A deep groaning that cannot be put to words bellowed from the depths of me. A yearning to go back to when things were different. A longing to draw near to that beloved friend. Grief had come to visit me today. I am not surprised by the timing as the days creep closer to that one year mark. This most unwelcome, unrelenting guest has become an occasional traveling partner. A year ago, I cried out to God from the depths of pain and suffering. Uttering my grievances, shaking my fist at God, and making my anger known to Him from the depths of my affliction. A pain that is incomprehensible. The brokenness and frailty of my human nature on full display as I wanted to hurt God as He had hurt me…
The ugliness of death permeates beyond the physical world. Death – grief – sin, tear at the very fabric of God’s design. We were not designed to die. We were not created with the capacity to understand grief. Sin’s corruption opened the door for our suffering, affliction, and our despair. The way our bodies and mind react to death are completely unnatural. When we are being subjected to the waves of emotions brought upon us by grief, we have difficulty explaining them to others who ask of us, “how are you doing” or “are you okay?” The words are never sufficient to describe the breadth and weight of grief. Even with the most refinement, I could not ever truly describe the excuriating pain that I was experiencing. Grief is one of those things you never fully understand until it comes to visit you…
The physical pain of grief has largely subsided, though this morning I could not hold back the tears that burned as they flowed as fire from my eyes.. I have found that it’s the quietest, stillest moments of my life that my mind settles upon my beloved friend. A longing for this person who is missing from my life. A fleeting desire, from the depths of my soul, for things to have been different. The thoughts come unexpectedly, without warning, and it has become bittersweet. I have a more difficult time with ‘happily ever after’ at the end of movies, books, and music now than I did a year ago. The realities of the Christian life tells us that ‘happily ever after’ is not found exclusively here on Earth, but in the presence with our Creator. My heart twists, somewhat selfishly, because I would much rather have my beloved friend here with me today… Yet, my heart and soul rejoice because I know that they are in the presence of God! My friend is made whole again, set free from the suffering of sin’s corruption! Those memories and thoughts bring about wonderful, joyous sentimentality of this wonderful person, and they bring a tinge of sorrow for their absence from this earth.
“Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.”C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Although we were not designed to experience grief, I am a better man as a result. I am a better man because God deemed it necessary to bring my beloved friend into my life. I am better because God began to draw our hearts together. I am a better person because God has walked by my side every step of this long, agonizing path. Something within me is different, vastly different, and I can feel it. I am not the man I was, nor am I fully who God has intended me to be — yet. I recognize that that was a strange sentence to read, but by virtue, the fact that I am writing this now is evidence that God still has plans for me and my life. The transformative, sanctification process is not yet complete in my life. He continues to draw me toward greater repentance and Christlikeness.
Navigating grief is hardly an easy task. Grief is a violent storm. A raging war. Grief shakes at the foundations of our faith to reveal where we’ve placed our hope. The longer I’ve walked through this process, I have become more aware of how helplessly vulnerable my heart is to the afflictions of this life. However, in the same way, my heart is vulnerable to the work God is seeking to do in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a cynic. Everybody and everything is motivated by their own self-interest. Selfishness. This perspective toward life is highly pessimistic (and problematic). My outlook on life was rigidly negative because, by its nature, cynicism looks for the worst in people. The cynic expects people act on their own self-interest, and cynics are rarely caught of guard because of it. The trap of the cynic’s worldview is in their hardness of heart. A snare that sniffles and suffocates the heart from seeing things from God’s perspective of grace and mercy. Grief would be my undoing.
I have been on a path of unlearning since high school. My self-preservation, coping mechanisms, of cynicism, sarcasm, and skepticism were deeply rooted in the facets of my life as I began down the path toward sanctification. I am a deeply flawed man. I fail (frequently). My hard heart has been one of my greatest hinderances in growing toward Christlikeness… A friend asked me some months back in the (what as at that time) height of coronavirus quarantine what I thought God was trying to teach me through my experience with loss and grief. I’ve honestly given up trying to come up with some rational answer to that question because every conclusion I come to is contrary to the character of God. If God took my friend away to teach me a lesson, then their life was more about me than it was His and that can’t be right. If God took them away because I was not holy or righteous enough, then God’s is cruel which is not true in the slightest. Still my friend’s question has lingered with me as I’ve mulled over my life with introspection. Instead of rationalizing this time of my life, I’ve instead searched the scriptures. Seeking to understand the nature of grief, of death, of God, and of grace. How can I learn from this time, and help those who are experiencing grief? What can we learn about God through our grieving? Scripture speaks directly to our frail, broken hearts. God whispers into our sufferings, and bellows into our lives with hopeful expectation.
I am nowhere near the end of the grieving process (though admittedly, I do not believe that it ever truly has an end on this side of Heaven). The process has changed, and I can see God’s hand at work in my life through this process. I have become more compassionate toward things that I was once cynical about. My outlook on life and on others has begun to swing toward something more optimistic. My hard heart is softening as God stirs in my inequity and works through my brokenness. God is good! He is awesome, powerful, and mighty! He is good, gracious, and merciful! I dearly love my beloved friend. From that very first encounter with them, something was different. As I spent time with them, the more I was drawn to them, and from the very depths of my soul all I wanted was to see God’s best for their life. True love. Not infatuation marketed as ‘true love’ by Hollywood, but the genuine expression of love. God is at the center of the very essence of what we know as love. He is, after all, the one from which we begin to understand love. Thus, as I’ve come to realize through this undoing, I cannot love anyone truly if I am hard of heart. My cynical view toward life has been contrary to the very essence of God’s grace and mercy.
God speaks, even in our suffering. Our afflictions are not purposeless. God may teach us through these difficult and often painful experiences, but that does not inherently mean that God allowed them solely for that purpose. That purpose is beyond our ability to comprehend. However, I rest knowing that there is a ‘happily ever after’ for those who lay their faith in Jesus. There is hope! We, as believers, may hope expectantly for that happily ever after because God is at work! We may share that hope with others by striving to love those around us genuinely. Free of our self-interest and gain. Our hope is for the work God is doing, even now, in the midst of difficult seasons. We hope to see God’s best fulfilled in the lives of others. Even from our suffering, we may hope! Hope for deliverance. Hope for new perspective. For God’s transformative work to be done in our lives. Hope for our lives to be leveraged in such a way that we may serve others as examples of true love!