Dealing with Grief
One thing that has puzzled me in my 25 years of following Jesus, is that some sorrows can last for years with no sign of ever abating, and others, perhaps more devastating, are relatively easily resolved. There are some things that I have personally suffered from which I have received almost immediate comfort and consolation from God, and others that have continued to weigh heavily upon my heart.
Back in 1981 I was still a zealous new believer, eager to tell everyone and anyone about Jesus. I was coming to the end of my Graphic Design course and looking forward to graduating with my peers. During my 3 years at college I had been very outspoken and had managed to lead two of my friends to Christ and witness to all of my other fellow students and lecturers. As we approached the end of the final year, each student had an opportunity to display an example of their work in a printed catalogue, along with a short paragraph about their aspirations for the future. I took the opportunity to boldly declare that I wanted to get a job with a Christian organisation so that I could communicate the faith that I had in Jesus Christ to others. I soon got the impression that some of my lecturers were not very impressed - afterall, we were all being groomed for employment in some of the most prestigious advertising agencies in the country. Such idealistic and naive religious aspirations were very much out of place in such a sophisticated incubator of creative talent. Nothing was said to me about it, but when the first pages came back from the printer everything was in order - except that my paragraph was mysteriously missing! The senior head of department, seeing that all was not right, ordered that the pages be overprinted in order to restore my missing paragraph. The end result was that the block of text containing my declaration of faith was printed BOLDER that everyone else's!
Whilst that may have been a cause for celebrating God's way of confounding those that are opposed to Him, I didn't get much of a chance to rejoice - a big disappointment was waiting for me just around the corner...
As we awaited our final results before graduation, many of us had a fair idea of what to expect. Our results were to be based upon our performance on individual assignments throughout the year and our marks for each assignment were displayed on a board in our main lecture room. I could easily see that I had done as well or better than many people in the class. But when the final results were given I was shocked to discover that I had failed. I was devastated! Not only had I failed, I was the ONLY ONE in the class to fail, despite that fact that my average performance had been higher than many other students who had passed. Looking back I can clearly see that it was a travesty of justice... an ambush formulated to injure me by some who didn't like me and all my talk about Jesus. Unfortunately in the subjective arena of creative design, lecturers have the discretionary power to fail whomever they want and to pass whomever they like, with very little accountability and no-one to challenge their decisions. Had I been older, I may have fought for my rights and appealed the decision. But I was far too grief-stricken. I travelled home in complete silence unable to release the log-jam of emotions within me and the grief that had suddenly overtaken me. My friend, who was driving the car, decided that my countenance had sunk so low that he concluded that I needed to talk to someone... he drove me straight to my pastor's house and then discretely disappeared!
As I sat there in Peter Haylock's study, I was still completely lost for words. Peter was very wise. Sensing that I was not in the mood for talking, he simply asked me what I was feeling. With this trusted friend I felt that I could be completely honest. Without any expression of emotion I had no trouble listing the emotions that I knew were bottled up inside me: Shame, embarrassment, grief, hatred, revenge, injustice, sorrow... the list was quite extensive. Peter just listened. When I was through, Peter opened a big old Bible that he had permanently setup on a lectern under a spotlight in his study. He opened to Romans 8 and asked me simply to read it aloud. I wiped the tears from my eyes and started to read: "There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus..." As I read on, the words of Romans 8 seemed to reach deep inside me, past all the grief and hatred and shame that I felt. The Spirit of God reached deep within me and I felt a tangible, almost physical, deep, deep consolation. It was almost as if God was gripping me - hugging me tightly - in a place deep within me ,beyond where anyone or anything else could reach. The tears flowed freely. As I struggled to read on through the flow of tears, I had a physical sensation within my stomach that felt like bubbling water. As I read on, inspired by the words of Romans chapter 8 (please read it!) the bubbling sensation moved up through me, and with it came an inexpressible joy. By the end of that experience I had received all the grace I needed to completely let go of my vengeful and hateful thoughts, resign myself gracefully to the momentary humiliation of failure, and completely forgive everyone who had been responsible for what I had suffered. I walked from Peter's study with a sense of sure promise, that God had my life in His hands and He was fulfilling His plan and purposes for me and that, as Romans 8 declares, "...in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us".
Soon after, I was one of the first people in all my class to secure a job... with a Christian organisation.
That experience taught me that even in our deepest sorrow, God can be fulfilling His wonderful plan for us. I look back on that day thankful, because now I can see very clearly that God was guiding and directing my life along a very good path.
Recently our family endured another grief. After announcing to the world that we were expecting a new baby, we discovered that the baby had died late in the first trimester. This child had come to represent to us, to our whole family, the joy of new beginnings, and would have been met with a most loving welcome into our home. But why did God allow this happen? There are never adequate answers to that question. But like my earlier experience, my family and I have received great comfort and consolation from God - a peace that surpasses all understanding.
The Sunday morning after the miscarriage we got around the family dinner table and I encouraged each of us to write a short letter to the baby that we did not get to see. As each of us read our letters aloud to each other there were tears all around. I don't think there has ever been a time when we were all so overwhelmed with emotion at the same time. It enabled us to see into each others hearts and to understand what this baby fully meant to each of us. It enabled us to grieve, to comfort one another in that grief, and to remind each other of God's sure promises about our hope and the nature of eternal destiny beyond this world. Even our young boys, who up until that time has been handling the loss very stoically, broke down and cried when they fully realised that they would not get to play with a baby brother or sister, or teach them to ride a bike. But the crying was good... and since then we have all been able to move forward with the comfort and assurance that there is a member of our family who has gone ahead of us into the presence of God. We are also very appreciative of all who prayed for us during that time, and those who sent cards and gave flowers. We didn't realise that so many people genuinely cared for us.
But what do we do when grief just doesn't seem to go away? Certain losses seem to last much longer than others, stuck like a splinter in our hearts. For each of us it's different, but I relate so much to the words of David when he bemoaned the betrayal of a dear friend. He wrote:
Be completely honest about how you feel:
Find a healthy, non-destructive way to express them.
Share your grief with people that you can really trust:
Share your grief with people of faith:
Friday, November 10, 2006 printer friendly version | 5974 reads
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