The thing about grief is that there’s not just one thing about grief.
There are many different types of loss and responses to loss. Just when we seem to have found a formula for complexity, another factor comes to light – everyone is different, unique.
Maybe that’s why I found hope and comfort in this simple proverb.
“The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” (Proverbs 14:10, ESV).
Pain, sorrow, even joy – these are unique journeys of the heart. Rather than loneliness and isolation, the singular aspect of our experience provides freedom. Freedom to be myself. My painful self, my processing self, my self turning to God. And it gave me freedom to let other people be themselves too.
There isn’t a script for how things are supposed to go in the process of grief. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people pitching a script others are supposed to follow.
Of all the life-giving, healing, transforming help I have found in the Lord, none of it was a prescription of how things are supposed to go.
There is no schedule or time-table in the Bible about how to walk through grief and loss. There is only principle, there is only relationship. And oh, there is mercy.
And anyway, a big loss isn’t something you get over, it is something you must figure out how to keep going on after.
Big trouble is isolating in a way. There’s really no one else that can experience things just the way you do. Even though people care and reach out in kind and compassionate ways, there is a sense in which only you and the Lord know how things are really going in your heart. Only He can really understand at the deepest level. And only He can reach that deep into my life. The point is not that we are alone, but that we are not alone.
And that is the other thing I’d have to say is “the thing about grief.” That He cares. Psalm 34:18 puts it this way, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and delivers those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
Now, the Bible clearly teaches that God is everywhere. So the intention of this verse must be about more than God being generally present. Nearness here must be about concern, not merely presence.
Taken together, these verses help me a great deal. Here are some things I’m learning.
- Even though the depth of trouble isolates me from everyone else, God is with me. No trouble will ever separate Him from me. He is the one – the only one – who can deal with the depth of me and my crushed spirit.
- Friends are a gift from God, but no matter how wonderful they are, they can’t replace my need for God. Nor would it be fair of me to expect that of them.
- I can release people from the expectations of my own time table when they are going through trouble. This makes me a better friend and the impact of my friendship a better blessing. I can learn to help them find God’s help rather than try to teach them “my way of doing things.”
- I can be me, authentic, really learning to trust the Lord and find His help to keep going. I don’t have to be what others expect. I don’t have to get back up as fast as people expect me to – nor do I have to stay down as long as they think I should.
- If I really have Jesus with me on the journey, I don’t need an itinerary.