Two months after the birth of my third child, my father died. Suddenly. Intrusively. Without warning or welcome.
But wait. We had plans for lunch that day. And his newest grandchild had just started turning his head to that familiar grandpa voice.
And didn’t God know that my tummy was still squishy from postpartum body changes and my emotions still squishy from three kids arriving in rather rapid succession? Whose timeline was this?
Loss, disappointment, and heartache remain uninvited guests to a party we didn’t plan. When you’re in the child-bearing years, where your sanity is being stretched daily, it seems as if the emotional bandwidth for accommodating grief is reliably nonexistent. That’s the only given in an equation where just too many unknowns prevail.
That’s when I think about the young woman named Mary, whom we first meet in the gospels of the New Testament. I don’t think we often talk about the context of sadness that she must’ve brought to her narrative as a young mother.
Mary, in Luke 1: 46-49 issued one of the most beautiful and poetic passages in Scripture, bursting with the faith of an innocent, certainly unaware of what lay ahead as a result. Those verses feel good.
But, is it too outrageously irreverent to wonder if, after the initial endorphin spike of Gabriel’s visit, a wistful sadness might not also have crept into the shadows in the room?
I don’t think that a young Hebrew girl was unlike any other ingenue, with dreams of how her love story might unfold. I suspect she felt some misgivings knowing that she would have to forfeit hearty and heartfelt celebratory wishes and accept instead the sidelong glances and murmured whispers from childhood friends about her “condition.”
What about after Jesus’ birth? Escaping Herod’s horrific massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem’s borders, the sudden move to Egypt – can you imagine the trauma? Only to have Simeon, a prophet, add to it with his temple pronouncement directed to Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)
Nothing like an old-fashioned dark prophecy to usher in a little postpartum depression. Calling it grief would be putting it mildly.
It would be akin to sending a baby present to a friend along with the note, “I’m so thrilled to welcome your little one, but you’re going to experience indescribably pain as a result of his arrival.” I’m sure any mother would burst into song after that.
My take on it? You can trust God, desire His will, and be sad all at the same time. Period.
That’s how you navigate loss, disappointment, and heartache. By being real in your responses and honest in your lament to a God who knows your grief intimately. If in doubt, look to the Psalms where the collective wail among the saints is, “Where are you, God?” And where there are stories of mighty kings “who drench their bed with their tears.” (Psalm 6: 6-9)
Sadness and faith often hunker down in the same space; in fact, they work in tandem to deepen our faith and translate our sadness.
So how might you navigate grief when it comes calling?
- Adjust your expectations to your reality. Forfeit prior imaginings about how you would endure with a “stiff upper lip” and “keep it all together for everyone else,” because, well, “that’s what you’ve always done.” Grief takes “what you’ve always done,” and undoes it. Reliably. Swiftly. Ferociously.
- Learn to say, “I need help.” This is an uncomfortable, unfamiliar phrase, especially if you’re the one that others traditionally go to for help. This is a season where you are not expected to have all the answers…or any of them for that matter.
- Avoid isolation and seek a trusted community. Not everyone needs to know your story or your sadness. It may be time to erect some boundaries with people who can’t engage in conversations about your loss. Spend time with friends who can sit in discomfort with you without an expectation that they will “fix you.”
- Get outside. It’s free and it’s effective. The best walks are those in beautiful spaces, sometimes with crunchy leaves underfoot or salt water breezes tangling our hair. Stepping outside and taking long walks can soothe our spirits and lessen grief’s weight. Beauty mends us.
- Therapy. It’s a choice of the privileged, I recognize. But speak with a pastor and discuss referrals who offer sliding scales or group therapies.
Grief and lament are part of worship and we should exercise that fully, without condemnation or an arbitrary timeline for our healing.
Finally, remember that as Jesus’ followers, we can hold close the promises that offer that “this is not the end of the story.” Redemption…a reimagined life beyond grief… is coming, probably in the unlikeliest of ways and matching the contrary methods in which God chooses to work.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4: 13-14)
If you, or someone you know, is dealing with grief we recommend Carole Holiday’s book, I Don’t Know Who I am Anymore.