Katie walked slowly to the podium. At least as my memory serves me, the altar was surrounded by white flowers and an impressionist painting of a little girl hugging Jesus.
Once Katie reached the podium, she choked back tears and then began her daughter's eulogy. I don't remember all of the words that Katie spoke about her darling 19-month-old daughter who died suddenly of sepsis that resulted from a simple cold, but I do remember when she said,
"This is where you find us today: amid terrible and immediate grief. It's hard to put into words because words fall short..."
She paused to choke back tears and then continued.
"Lately, in the evening, grief feels like a searing hot poker that starts at the core of your being and grazes each of your organs, eventually reaching up through your throat, burning your eyes, and settling in your chest.
In the quiet morning, it's a gentle nudge, a tender push in the direction of, yes, it really happened, and no, her life wasn't just the best dream your little heart and brain could have ever conceived."
I sat in the back of the church with tears streaming down my face, reflecting on the losses I have experienced in my life. Yes, I remember thinking to myself, that is grief. Even if my grief didn't always look the exact same, I could see reflections of the grief I had experienced in Katie's description.
Since that day at my friend's daughter's memorial, I have walked through other seasons of my own loss and grief. I have begged God to spare the lives of other friends and more babies, and I have cried buckets of aching tears when He chose to take them home instead. And, in my grief, I often wonder, Why does loss feel so incredibly painful when, as Christians, we have the hope of Christ?
I think about this a lot.
Loss in this life can threaten to overwhelm. At times, we might even be tempted to throw up our hands and say, "This is too much!! I give up!" It is tempting to give up–to pull the sheets over our heads and think, If I don't get up today, maybe loss will evade me.
And yet, we know that isn't true.
Somewhere deep within our souls, we know what is true. We know some sort of ancient grief based on the knowledge that life wasn't supposed to be filled with loss.
In God's original design, we lived in a garden of abundance in perfect harmony with Him. We didn't experience loss, pain, or tears. The world was perfect. Then, sin entered the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience (Genesis 3). Since then, we have lived in a cycle of birth, abundance, and loss. However, even in our pain, we do have hope.
Looping back to my original question–why does grief feel so painful when we have the hope of Christ?–I do have some kind of answer. We experience pain because we are still living in a broken world.
However, over time, I have learned that there is a certain balm for our sore and blistered souls. And that balm is not found in trying to escape our pain. Instead, it is found in looking at our pain square in the face, gathering it in full, and handing it over to Christ, who is the only One who can fully empathize with our aching hearts.
So now, the question presents itself: how do we continue to live in our pain here on earth?
Below are three ways that I have found to live in the pain of this world yet not be overcome by it. The list below is nowhere near exhaustive, nor can simply reading it solve what only our Redeemer can solve. But I do pray that this list helps you today.
- Rest in your Creator
One of the things that my friend Katie shared after her daughter's death was that she was tired of people saying things like, "You are so brave," or "You are so much stronger than me." She shared that she didn't feel strong; instead, she felt wounded and shattered. But she also said that it was her shattered-ness that made her appear strong because what people really saw was our strong God holding her. With Katie's permission, I am sharing her exact words,
"It is this nightmare of losing one's child, this ocean of pain and longing, that brings heaven into sharp relief. It's the process of being wrung out, relieved of your self-sufficiency, that points you squarely in the direction of He who made you; He who holds the stars in the sky; He who carries you; and He who now cradles your beloved child."
So, dear reader, as you attempt to live in your pain and suffering, surrender yourself to your Creator. Melt into His arms and allow Him to carry your tired body and worn-out heart.
- Meditate on verses about God's nearness to you
God is near you now. He empathizes with your pain. Below are a few verses to meditate on. Write these verses out, pray them, and allow these truths from Scripture to soothe your soul like a calming balm over an aching, still present wound.
"The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit." – Psalm 34:18
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn you." – Isaiah 43:2
"I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and rescue you." – Isaiah 46:4b
"So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you." – John 16:22
- Meditate on what is to come
In Revelation 21:4, John reveals that God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away." Even now, a heavenly host sings, "Holy, holy, holy," and beings live in complete glorification and fulfillment of God's promised redemption. And someday, we know that He will restore all things. So today, set your eyes, ears, and heart on the future hope that God has for you. God has promised this to all who believe in Him, and this is our hope for today.
The truth is that nothing today can fully take away your pain from loss. Perhaps you haven't gone through the death of a loved one, but you are walking through the loss of unfulfilled dreams, a child walking away from their faith, or financial struggles. Whatever it may be, my prayer for you is that it would point you toward our heavenly Father, who knows your pain intimately–who sent His Son to bear your sin and shame. We all experience a cycle of birth, abundance, and loss, but Christ gives life abundantly forever. Someday, all the loss and pain in this world will be washed away and replaced with a new heaven and new earth, and we will live in complete fulfillment of His promises. As John wrote in Revelation 22:20, let us pray, "Come, Lord Jesus!"