Healing Line

Healing Line

Grief: Love's Descent

by Sherri S. Grady
Fall/Winter 2017

 

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He restores my soul.
Your rod and staff, they comfort me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
All the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

– Portions of Psalm 23

 

Grief is classified as an emotion and a state of being. Grief feels like sorrow or anguish. Spiritually and psychologically its function is to activate us to cry, to help us accept truths of loss, and to engage us in seeking support from others and God. These are ways that the pain of grief can be comforted. Grief, as a state of being, is sorrow and other similar emotions we are immersed in for a period of time.

Grief has been one of my closest companions for many, many years. My mother died in 2004, which was near the beginning of a ten-year season of significant losses for me. There was an ache that moved in and remained. Over time, I began to realize that to grieve is actually a gift from God. We grieve because we have the desire to love which has been placed in us by Him. We are made in God’s image, capable of deep love and joy. Therefore, by design, we are capable of experiencing deep, deep sadness and pain upon loss. When we love someone or something, the experience is felt within every part of our being. Perhaps the most beautiful, powerful experience of life is found in being known and loved as well as knowing and loving another.

We grieve when we experience the sorrow of loss. The sorrow and suffering may be experienced in the physical sense in tears, difficulty with energy, confusion, and heaviness. The emotions may be a flood of sadness, sorrow, despair, anger, hurt, loneliness, and fear that come in waves. It is also important to realize that individuals grieve differently. Everyone’s process is unique.

In general, people tend to live in the midst of tension between the desire for love and the fear of pain. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. We cannot enjoy love without experiencing pain. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is a worldly belief inherent in humankind. One of the most challenging calls for the Christian is Jesus’ bid to come and die to self (Luke 9:23-24). Dying to self means a willingness to accept painful experiences. Growth in the capacity to navigate and process loss is necessary to mature in Christ. However, it is not necessarily something we are “taught” very well.

Our perception of the grief process is that it is something that happens TO you. The typical belief is that when you have a loss, you experience “grief” and it is not something you have any responsibility for or control over. That is a myth. Part of the grief process is voluntary. It is the intentional journey each of us takes in our deep sorrow. Time and distance do not heal wounds. Father Richard Rohr says,“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.”

The process of grieving the loss of my mother, father and others has strengthened my capacity to embrace suffering, and this embrace has been a gift from God. I am sad that I wasted much of my life being afraid of and avoiding one of the most prominent companions we must meet on the road as a disciple of Christ. It is often during suffering that we experience the beautiful descent of love with Christ. We usually only surrender control when we realize we cannot get ourselves out of the mess or the pain or whatever discomfort is swallowing us up. For me, the times that I seemed to be most capable of surrendering deeply were in the middle of the heartache of losing the people I loved the most. There was no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go. I am grateful that God led me there and met me there with his full support. It put me in a position where relying on my defense mechanisms no longer worked. I knew I needed to depend on Him. It wasn’t until I was at this place in the grief process that I realized how much I relied on myself and not on Him. His invitation to me was a step of faith, like plunging into murky water not knowing what was underneath.

Part of the grief process is God’s responsibility, and part of it belongs to us. To understand God’s part, we look to His Word. He promises to comfort you; to never change but to change all things; to never leave you; to love you; to give you strength; to give you a garment of praise instead of despair; to give you peace; to give you the oil of gladness instead of mourning; to bring joy; to bring help; to bring you hope. He promises these things to His children, and He is faithful. The Holy Spirit is faithful to minister these Truths to our hearts and minds when we call upon Him.

What is your part? First, be willing to identify and acknowledge your suffering and losses. Explore with God what those are, even if there are historical ones you have not honored. Some examples to help you in the process are: create a timeline of your life, use a workbook as a guide, allow for solitude and space to be with God, or engage in the spiritual practice of lament. You might be thinking, WHY? When we do not intentionally grieve, we often unknowingly allow our hurts to become the centerpieces of our life, or we construct walls to keep ourselves protected. When healing doesn’t begin or finish, our choices often become defined by trying to fill emptiness or numb pain with other things or people (and we might not even be aware of it!)

We are changed through suffering. We have a choice whether we are willing to participate in being transformed more into Christlikeness or move away from Christ. In a grieving process that is intentional, we reach a point where we can take a small step of faith with courage into the real condition of our soul. We can let go of the belief that it is God’s job to protect us from all pain and hurt. In our deepest pain, we are given the invitation to look to our Savior, Jesus, for healing.

Grieving allows a person to move from the aches of “goodbye” to accept something new. There is freedom to shift from sadness to remembrance accompanied with joy. At some point, there is a desire to comfort others with the love of Christ as you have been comforted. When we intentionally grieve, over time we are relieved of the piercing anguish of heart. There still may be sorrow, but your heart is free also to experience joy.

Jesus took this beautiful journey along the descent of love. Just like Him, we get to choose whether we step on the path and whether we will walk until the end. Grief is a voluntary journey and suffering is a critical process in the transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Romans 5:4 is one of the best explanations of how that happens: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is the option of the narrow road where we choose to respond to suffering the way Jesus did. It is the hardest road, full of anguish and agony, and it is one that leads to life. “And He said to all, if anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Luke 9:23)

I have begun to think of grief as love’s descent. A characteristic of love is humility. “Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God, is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of His creatures.” (Andrew Murray, Humility) It is the joyful surrender of self-denial. It is the stance that believes that God alone is worthy of our sacrifice and praise. That means a willingness to give up things and being open to not having what you want at times. That means trusting God with every part of your soul and your life—the past, the present, and the future. It means leaning into God in the deepest suffering. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

Weeping may last for a night—but joy comes in the morning.” (John 16:20)

During Jesus’ life on earth, the phrase He chiefly used when talking about the relationship between He and His disciples was "Follow Me." When He was about to leave for heaven, He gave a new word. That chosen word was “Abide in Me.” You cannot expect to abide in Him unless you give Him time. He is your manna for each day. We must feed on Him if we are to live in Him and Him in us. As we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering we are made more into His image; that is part of the gift of the experience of grief.

In my experience of losses, it often felt like my soul was being pierced by nails of pain and anguish of heart. We do not just "get over" or "move on" from the pain and suffering of loss. It is necessary to intentionally carve out time to deal with the condition of our soul with God. It is important to value solitude and guard against the temptation to isolate. Support from companions and friends who love you is crucial. Taking the time to allow God to minister to you through the Holy Spirit, whether through His Word, the Eucharist, prayer ministry, praise, worship or others, is vital for healing. When coming alongside others who are grieving, listen, love, and pray as God leads you.

Suffering for Love’s sake is the journey Jesus took as He took on flesh. It is the descent He walked when He carried His cross and laid down His life for all the sins of the world so that you would be reconciled to the Father for eternity. Participation in our suffering is a critical part of being transformed into Christlikeness. It is a beautiful, necessary part of your spiritual journey that will yield much fruit. Friend, take courage—you are not alone.

 

“Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, 
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, 
and the deeper the wells, the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.”

—Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision: 
A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

 

 

Sherri S. Grady Sherri S. Grady, LPCS is a teacher and author, Sherri is a licensed professional counselor and supervisor in private practice and resides in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.  Fall/Winter 2017 Issue