by Christy Whitaker
God did not create a broken world. He made a perfect world. It was people who decided to do things their own way and broke it. Because of that brokenness, grief is inevitable. There is no way to leave this world unscathed from it. All of us will lose people we love, lose relationships, lose out on our dreams, lose out on what should have been. Experiencing grief is like being dropped in the middle of a desert beside a trail that leads out. You cannot see all the way to the end of the trail, and the parts you do see look treacherous. You can choose not to take the trail at all and remain in the desert- alone, and eventually die of thirst- or you can walk down the trail. It will be hot and uncomfortable, you may fall several times, but eventually you will make it some place more survivable.
A few years ago, on an otherwise normal weekday morning, I received a phone call from my mom telling me that a close family member unexpectedly passed away. I remember standing by the edge of my bed and visibly seeing the world shift beneath me. This was someone who, when I was a child, would take me to an indoor swimming pool in the middle of winter because that’s what I wanted to do. I remember our hair freezing when we would step outside to leave. Someone who let me drive her car, because I was terrified to drive, and she wanted to encourage me. Someone who got me one of my first jobs and commuted to work with me every day I went in. Someone who was easy to talk to and was very understanding when I made mistakes. It was, and still is, a hard loss.
I have heard it said when something difficult happens in your life, your mind reverts back to the age you were when you experienced your first trauma, and so it is likely you will respond in a similar way. This was true for me. As a child, I was assaulted by a neighbor, but instead of saying anything about it, I shut down my emotions and I pushed people away. When I experienced the loss of my loved one, I had an almost one year old and was pregnant with another baby. I was unaware of what I was doing at the time, but I kept myself busy (which was easy) and stuffed down my grief. I also threw up a wall between me and other people, so that I didn’t have to feel my pain.
When I wasn’t numb, I was angry. Mostly at God. I raged at Him for not intervening. And if you’ve known me for a while, then you probably know that when I get angry, my tendency is to give the cold shoulder. I ignored God. I refused to pray, to be in The Bible, and to be real with people around me who cared about me. I went on like this for a few months, and then Covid-19 shut down the world, my baby came, and I was quietly slipping away from God.
One afternoon (Day ?? of quarantine) the kids were both napping at the same time, so I was sitting on my bed hoping to veg out. What I should have been doing was reading the devotional book that our church was going through at the time. I was behind but was going to join a Zoom meeting that night with the women in my small group and maintain the pretense that I was fine. Out of nowhere, I had a clear thought pop into my head, “fight or die.” Now, I didn’t think I was literally about to die. That thought didn’t even occur to me. Deep inside, I knew what that thought was about. If I didn’t do something, anything, for my relationship with God then I was going to die spiritually. When I cracked open the devotional book to that day, the topic was do or die. God is funny like that.
What got me into the fight was not as dramatic. All it really was at first was just knowing that I had made a commitment to God when I was baptized. I do not like to renege on my promises. So, even though I did not have a desire to do what God wanted me to do, I did it anyways. It was not a super quick turnaround. It looked more like this: I picked up my daily Bible and read the scripture for that date, I became angry about something in the passage that day, I prayed to God and expressed my anger and asked Him to help me understand. Then I would text or call someone from my small group and tell them something real I was feeling. Repeat day after day. It wasn’t pretty, but it was obedience. Through this obedience, God gradually began to soften my heart to feel His nearness again and I was able to lower my walls and reconcile my relationships.
Most of the time people do want to heal from their pain, but, usually, we want to do either one or the other of these steps: we want to do it all on our own without involving anyone else, or we rely solely on other people and never learn to do the work on our own. Doing both is what brought blessing into my life.
What do I mean by “blessing”? This term is thrown around so often that it has become watered down when compared to what it means in the Bible. In the book How to Worship a King by Zach Neese, he explains, “biblical blessings catalyze destiny in people’s lives”, then he explains it like this: a blessing is what calls the diamond out of a piece of coal when it is still in the dirt.” That is very different than a momentary good feeling, it is a life-changing event that brings people closer to God. Jesus talks about being blessed through hardship and grief. Sounds crazy, right? Not when you consider the real meaning. Let’s insert the word “changes” (because “catalyzes destiny in people’s lives” is too long) alongside blessed to get a clearer picture of what Jesus is saying:
“God blesses[changes] those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses[changes] those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses[changes] those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses[changes] those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses[changes] those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. God blesses[changes] those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. God blesses[changes] those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses[changes] those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3-10
Choosing to take the difficult road, and journey with God through grief will grow your faith. Your attitude will become like these Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and you will receive their blessings. I don’t know why it works this way. I don’t know a lot of things. It makes no sense to me how my bitter heart could grow to love God just by being obedient to Him, but my faith is firmer now than it was before. All I know is that God’s ways have worked for me. I have also seen it work for countless people in my church who have worked to heal from their pain. So, if anyone who is reading this is drifting far from God and is feeling stuck in the desert of grief, I beg you to take a step in obedience and see where the road leads you.