Grief, Part Three

Why You?

And now, dear Friend, why you for the blizzards of life that temporarily whip off the blossoms and fruit? Because God loves you! He wants to strengthen you so you can be His special ambassador to carry to others His message of hope to a struggling world so in need of comfort and love. If you can see your sorrow as a gift from God (yes, I know this sounds impossible!) then I believe it helps the healing process. I tried to see Chuck’s death as his legacy to the world, and that God appointed me his executor to pass on a message of hope and comfort.

In Isaiah 48:10 the Father tells us that He has chosen us in the furnace of affliction. He doesn’t want us to while away our lives in comfortable beds when we should be up and doing for others, in spite of our gnawing griefs. I read many times this admonition from Joshua, “Get up! Why do you lie on your face?” (Joshua 7:10b). And He certainly doesn’t want us in the local bar bathing our burdened mind and heart in liquid anesthetic. Indeed, we lose a precious blessing which He has just for us, when we try to escape. But He kneels and weeps with us! Oh, friend, please believe that! The shortest and most poignant verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” How marvelous, the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with our unspeakable griefs, kneeling and weeping with us, His gentle arms enfolding us as we cry out in anguish. Dear friend, what a beautiful thought! There were many dark nights when I felt those arms! In my distress I pictured the Father as giving strength, the Son giving hope, and the Holy Spirit giving wisdom. These we need so urgently, so quickly, so completely, in the darkest moments.

At this point I would like to share with you tried and true steps in dealing with deep grief. Dear friend, I want for you at this moment of your sorrow that peace that only God can give. May He bless you and grant you comfort and calm as you read these practical steps in dealing with what now seems so impossible.

1. DON’T CONSTANTLY TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS OF DESPAIR.

E.G. White says it is “a law of nature that our thoughts and feelings are encouraged and strengthened as we give them utterance.” We need to share, yes, but try to speak of hope. Confine your deepest grief for friends who really do understand. When we constantly talk of the negative aspects of our grief, we make it just that much more difficult to recover. It may be tempting to open your bleeding heart for all to see and suffer with you, but a wound always exposed and being probed doesn’t heal. God will provide the balm. Please believe that!

2. DON’T WORRY ABOUT ELOQUENT PRAYERS, BUT DO PRAY.

Realize the prayers may be silent or sobbing prayers. In your confusion you may not know what to pray for, but God knows and that is the important thing. Just keep the line open. God understands the temporary static. Don’t feel He has lost you or left you because of the way you feel. He, too, walked the earth, He felt pain as we do, He loved as we love, and He felt losses as keenly as–yes, more keenly than–we ever could.

Remember that God surely hears these prayers, especially the silent ones, the weeping ones. He hears them instantly. Our agony deeply touches His heart. The eighth verse of Psalm 56 is a prayer in itself: “Put my tears into Your bottle.” How extraordinary! God takes note of every tear, drop by sorrowful drop. The word bottle takes on a holy significance, for it is God’s receptacle in which He preserves and then transforms our tears into pearls. What a thought when we feel we cannot go on another hour!

I believe that the greatest prayer we mortals can offer is an ever-present prayer of thanksgiving. Oh, yes, dear hurting soul, thanksgiving! But how can you be thankful when struggling under a load too heavy for a human heart to bear? Give it to Jesus, my friend. Right now, as you read this. Pray, “Jesus, please, I beg You, hold this broken, shattered heart of mine in Your gentle hands.” Picture Jesus lifting your heart and giving it rest and peace. Thank Him, friend, and know that He is healing your heart.

Then open your Bible to Philippians 4 and read over and over these verses. Verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Verse 11: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Verse 13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Mark these verses. Go to them in moments of searing pain.

3. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS.

Trite, but I have found this to be truly helpful. Charles L. Allen, in his book All Things Are Possible Through Prayer, tells of the lady who asked him, “What have I done to deserve this?” His reply was, “Nothing. Neither have you done anything to deserve many of your blessings.” Mr. Allen also points out that every blessing has within it the risk of sorrow. If we love, we risk losing the object of that love. But surely, as the saying goes, it is far better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. If it helps you, jot down your blessings (you will be surprised to see how many you have!); and when grief begins to overwhelm you, read them again. I found this to be particularly helpful. Tangibles such as a note to read can stabilize our emotions and clear our clouded minds.

4. TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME AND ONE DAY AT A TIME.

We hear this so often, but it becomes a practical necessity in times of extreme suffering. God has promised help for the day and strength for the next agonizing hour, and He has yet to break a promise. It is up to us to cling to that promise. Allow friends and relatives to take over the physical and mental duties for however long you need their help. They want to. Don’t deprive them of this Spirit-inspired wish to be of service. Someday they may need you. Thank God for them and accept their help graciously.

At the time of sorrow it is imperative that we keep up our strength. When searching Scripture for comfort, I was impressed with the many promises of actual strength. One of the treasures I discovered in my sorrow was: our God is a practical God. Isaiah 40:29 and 31 became as necessary for my heart as food for my body: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength…But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Our God is a God who “neither faints nor is weary,” (Isaiah 40:28b) so He is there for us every moment. But, dear friend, don’t run ahead of God! Don’t become impatient if He allows you to remain in the valley for a while. There may be lessons we still have to learn. “The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones” (Ezekiel 37:1).

Adversity is frightening. It also becomes the test of strength, including physical, for stress can affect our physical condition. I tried to understand that when difficult situations come into our lives it is because God knows we are strong enough to endure this and this temporary grief will make us even stronger. Psalm 46:1 assures us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” What a blessed promise! Another thought I would like to share: while reading the Book of Job it occurred to me that it wasn’t so much that Job trusted God, but that God trusted Job! For some inexplicable reason, that thought got me through some very bad moments when I thought I was losing it. But I would stop and think, “God trusts you, Pat, to come through this! He’s depending on you to bring victory from this.”

5. GET BUSY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

This is imperative. I cannot stress it too much. Work keeps mind, heart and body intact. Start jobs that have accumulated over the months and years. If you have a paying job, get back to it as soon as possible. Physical exercise with a friend is most helpful also: jogging, walking, camping, swimming, picnics, tennis, basketball–whatever you like to do–but do it with a friend and do it outdoors whenever possible. Nature has definite healing powers for the hurting hurt.

I believe this is one of the most important steps in dealing with grief. In New England there is an expression used for those in heart pain: “Go out and tell it to the bees.” The bees stay busy.

Physicians tell us that we use the brain cells of our frontal lobes when we are worried and fearful. Other brain cells control muscular activity. In physical activity we relieve the strain on the cells of the important frontal lobes and allow them to rest from their intense stress. The very worst thing we can do is withdraw from life, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over our heads, and reflect on what an injustice we have been dealt. God’s natural world provides the fresh air, sunshine and beauty we so need at all times, but especially in the dark times.

6. HOLD ON TO FAITH–FAITH IN TODAY AND, ABOVE ALL, FAITH IN TOMORROW.

This perhaps is the most difficult step of all. Does God really know best? Does He really care about our tangled hearts, our shattered dreams, our sleepless nights, our Gethsemane moments? Oh yes, my dear friend, He does! At the time you may not believe it, but hold on to the reality that when you are trapped in that terrible valley of despair, the everlasting hills are all around you.

In the immediate aftermath of grief we are so tempted to ask why. Indeed, we feel we have a right to know why we have been singled out for such an unbearable burden. We may pass through the futile and self-pitying stage of thinking that no one else suffers as we do. My friend, go next door, to church, to the grocery store, to the halls of Congress, to that friend who seems so carefree, and seek out a fellow sufferer. The world is filled with them! Grief is universal and is no respecter of age or status.

Rather than wasting time and emotion threatening God (I’ll never trust you again, God!), study His Word. There are certain pieces to God’s puzzle that He reserves for Himself to test our faith. Faith is simple in definition but enormously difficult in practice. It is admitting and believing that our Father has complete control of our lives. We are not the masters of our fate, as Henley in his poem Invictus would have us believe, but we can choose the Master of our fate.

7. KEEP IN MIND THAT IN GRIEF THERE IS A PECULIAR MINISTRY.

I use the word “peculiar” in the sense that it is used in God’s Word: set apart, consecrated, exclusively God’s. You who have borne sorrows made bearable through a divinely renewed heart and mind have a special work for God. Your heart has been broken up, watered with tears, and planted with God’s special seeds so that you may bear the graceful blooms of hope, love and gentleness for others to appropriate in their dark moments. What a beautiful ministry!

8. REMEMBER THAT ONLY GOD KNOWS THE END FROM THE BEGINNING.

There is a sublime purpose for and in our lives which includes everything that happens to us. Joseph’s beginning was full of trials: he was sold by his brothers into slavery and then he was imprisoned for something he didn’t do. But he believed, he held on to his faith and he was rewarded. God had a plan for Joseph, and it could only be fulfilled with his cooperation. So it must be with our lives. “Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading” (Oswald Chambers).

Job is another example of stability and steadfastness in the face of catastrophe. He lost all, he was afflicted bodily, and yet he could still say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). Still another declaration of Job’s complete trust: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). In Job 42:10 we are told that “The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends.” The word “captivity” is significant. We become captive to feelings of anger, hate and distrust in extremity of heart or body.

When Job prayed for others his captivity was turned and he was given twice the blessings he had before. When sorrow descends on us, it is so easy to become a captive of self-pity and resentment. But in praying for others, in listening to the even greater burdens others must carry, we can be liberated from our own prison of discontent.

There are well-meaning friends and relatives who tell us that time heals. They are right, it does. But I’m grateful for the advice of a good friend who warned me that before the hurt is lessened it might get much worse. God may ask us to remain in the dark for a while, to learn more lessons and to discover the shadows in our heart that we don’t even know we have. Only in the dark can we finally see the Light. The school of sorrow has within its walls a unique kind of education obtained nowhere else.

G.R. Nash writes: “When the famous artist Sir James Thornbill was painting the inside of St. Paul’s Cathedral he stepped back one day to view the effects of his work, bringing himself, without knowing it, so near to the edge of the scaffolding that another step would have sent him hurtling down to certain death. His assistant, seeing the danger but not daring to shout lest the shock should make the other lose his balance and his life, rushed forward, then snatching up a brush he rubbed it straight over the painting. Overcome with rage, Sir James sprang forward to save his work, only to be pacified with these words: “I spoiled your painting, Sir James, that I might save your life.” (When Days are Dark).

It is at these times we must appropriate the precious promises. One of the dearest promises in all the Bible is Revelation 21:4: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” This is the verse on my son’s grave.

Think of it, dear weeping friend! No more tears; no more pain in body, mind or heart; no more parting from loved ones. We shall know as we are known; we shall again meet those we have loved. We shall walk hand in hand with our lovely Savior up into the everlasting hills.

Thank You, Father!

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