For years I’ve been walking around wounded. That’s one way I think about grief. In one sense, sorrow’s a journey, but not one you can rush through or take shortcuts to avoid the pain. In another sense, it’s simply a new and more difficult way to navigate the journey of life we’re already on. As I walked with a wound, it started out as a hemorrhaging gash, but even as it began to scab over, it left me with an ache and a limp along with the lingering risk the wound may be ripped back open.
For me, the journey was walking through my wife’s terminal cancer. I grieved the diagnosis. I grieved the slow loss of her capacities. I grieved her dying. And now I grieve single parenting and widowerhood with all the aloneness and weariness it entails.
Your specific journey and the anatomy of your injuries might be different, but the underlying call is the same: We all have to walk forward with these wounds. For Christians, it’s even more pressing that we continue onward and upward responding to the call of Christ despite our limps and our struggles even during the times when it’s Him we’re struggling with.
I want to speak to you as one damaged traveler to another. While this journey is hard, these 3 encouragements can help us. They won’t help us make it easy or remove the pain, but they will sustain and support us in this sometimes agonizing calling of walking forward with deep wounds.
Walk with Others
First, I encourage you to walk with others. Within relationships, and specifically within the community of the church, there are many important resources that will help you on the path.
This encouragement stings for 2 reasons: Grief naturally isolates us. We feel set apart from others, shadowed by a secret sadness. Add to the isolation the exhaustion of grieving, and you get what C. S. Lewis calls the “laziness of grief.” In that laziness, it’s easy to become disconnected, even from good friends.
In addition, relationships get harder because plenty of people and, sadly, plenty of churches don’t care well for those who are grieving, especially when the journey takes years, as it often does. I’ve been on the receiving end of well-intentioned but hurtful comments; the impatience that I wasn’t fixed yet; and the discomfort with honest expressions of anger, doubt, or hurt. Much of this insensitivity comes from a deficient theology that doesn’t reckon well with the gut-level lament of the Psalms and other parts of Scripture. And some is the result of simple selfishness and a lack of long-suffering love.
But even with all of those challenges, we need to walk with others in our grief even if we have to sometimes explain to others how to walk with us. Trust me. Nothing will kill you faster than having to shoulder the burden alone.
Throughout my journey of walking with deep grief I’ve been blessed with friends old and new who’ve walked beside me. They’ve helped and supported me in practical ways. More importantly, they’ve given me the indispensable gift of seeing and entering into my own pain. There’s something mysteriously beautiful and life-giving about sharing struggles of the heart and being genuinely heard and understood.
Indeed, the simple gift of human presence helps heal those wounds. In the most brutal moments of my life, I still remember the friends who showed up at hospitals in the middle of the night and sat with me. Their simple act of being present lit a candle in the darkness of my grief and kept the darkness from swallowing me whole.
Walk with God
In addition to other people, we need to walk through our woundedness with God Himself. We need to press into His presence with our broken hearts.
Straight talk: As you grieve, you’ll probably feel angry at God. You’ll feel hurt by Him, because in a real sense He has allowed you to hurt. Scripture never shrinks away from such honest admissions (see, for instance, Job 12:9-10 or Lamentations 3:1-18). None of those feelings are a problem or a sin; God knows and aches with you in your pain, even when you are angry or frustrated with Him.
The problem comes when we take this pain as an excuse to withdraw. Sometimes this comes directly from our emotions, as we storm away from God’s presence in bitter rage. At other times it comes from unhealthy Christian ideas, like the one which says that God wants us to work through our issues before we come to Him. When we withdraw from God, we’re cutting ourselves off from our greatest and only source of life and long-term healing. Even in our pain, we are left with Simon Peter’s question: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, ESV).
Instead, let me encourage you to take even the dark parts of grief to God and wrestle with Him in them. That’s what the name Israel means, “wrestles with God.” Jacob’s new name was inspired by his long night of battling with the Almighty. After the night, God left Jacob with a blessing, a limp, and a new name. God invites us to struggle through our doubts, grief, and anger with Him. If He didn’t, His people wouldn’t have been given the name Israel.
Wrestling means coming to God in our uncertainty, anguish, and pain and saying, “I’m not letting go of you. I’m pressing into you, even in a sense pressing against you, and I won’t let go until this is done.” Wrestling with God is a powerful and healing because you’re with God. Just consider that picture of Jacob. All night long he strives against God, and the whole time, God’s arms are wrapped around him and his head is pressed into God’s chest. Pressing into God causes enormous agony and intimacy. God is near us in that place, even as we struggle violently with Him.
Walk with Grace
More straight talk: Grief is tiring and troubling. It feels like you are moving through life with a wet blanket on your face, struggling to see and to breathe. You won’t be able to perform in the ways you are used to. You will fail people. And, calling a spade a spade, you will sin and struggle with sin in ways you wouldn’t if you were in a place of strength.
I‘m not going to tell you that this is okay. It’s something you’ll have to fight, even though you’ll fight feebly. My kids still need me to love them. People around me still need Jesus. In particular, there are certain areas of temptation you need to be diligent in not surrendering to, those that encourage you to cope in ways that are ultimately addictive or destructive to your body and soul.
However, while we must fight, we must also make sure that we are standing on the foundation of God’s grace as we do so. Nothing will reveal the poison of perfectionism in your soul like a season of discouragement and sadness. Nothing amplifies the accuser’s voice like the empty silence of sorrow.
So we must daily speak these realities of the gospel to ourselves: God loves us not because we are lovable but simply because He chooses to love us. God welcomes us not because we have earned our welcome but because Jesus died and rose again to buy us. God delights in us today not because we are righteous but because Jesus is. God will carry and support us until we arrive on Canaan’s shore simply because He has promised to do it and because He is good.
Even more, because we stand on nothing but God’s grace, God will still work in and through us despite our failings and pain. Our capacities are diminished by grief, but God’s capacity to use us is unchanged. Indeed, it’s usually our places of deepest hurt that God uses to most show forth His glory.
As I give these encouragements, here’s one final word. I know that none of these encouragements are easy. You’ll struggle to do each of them every day. I know I do. But as you journey with your wounds, know that our heavenly Father is beside you, before you, and within you every stumbling step of the way.
- 5 Gifts God Gives Us in Our Pain and Grief - June 8, 2021
- 3 Life-Giving Ways to Move Forward With a Broken Heart - May 28, 2021