Grief has been a significant part of the past 12 years of my life. There have been some devastating personal losses: the hardest of them the sudden deaths of my beloved brother in 2011 and my beautiful friend-of-my-heart mom in 2019, as well as dealing with the ongoing loss that is infertility. On a daily basis, it is also part of the work that I do as a mental health therapist, specializing in the area of grief and trauma. I did not choose this specialization for myself and I would not have chosen those major loss experiences either. However, in His wisdom and goodness, God decided to really accentuate this “grief thread” as he weaves the tapestry of my life story. These ongoing encounters with sorrow have taught me to not avoid or fight grief, but rather to embrace the process and receive the gifts that it offers. The most precious gift of journeying into the places of grief (whether my own or as I companion with others) is that it constantly opens doors to EXPERIENCE God anew in life-changing ways.
Jerry Sittser writes in A Grace Disguised (his grief memoir following the sudden and tragic loss of his mother, his wife and his daughter to a car accident) that, when comforting those who grieve, “mere words lack power, even when they communicate truth”. This echoes what A.W. Tozer captures so well in The Pursuit of God: “For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. [Even] the Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”
As I open up my heart to feel my own grief or sit with the grief of others in the presence of the Lord, I do not encounter mere encouraging statements of truth. No, I encounter the fullness of the real person of Jesus as he meets me right where I am. Jesus, the “man of sorrows” (Is. 53:3), who felt grief so intensely that he cried out ”my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Jesus, the empathizing High Priest (Heb. 4:16) who does not dismiss or make light of my losses, but weeps with me and is deeply moved by my loss experiences (John 11:35&38). Jesus, my good Shepherd, who constantly refreshes my soul on the grueling journey (Ps. 23) and equips me to navigate the rugged terrain (Ps. 18:33). What I love most about Jesus is that he never just tells us what to do with our pain. He rather offers Himself to us as a most faithful, compassionate companion. Emmanuel, God with us. He never rushes us through our sorrow, because His goal is not for us to “get better”. His goal is for us to experience Him more personally, because that is the ONLY thing that truly heals and ultimately TRANSFORMS us. What I find there as I feel His heart for me, is something so astonishingly beautiful, so real and so good that my whole being comes alive to it. So with quiet confidence and the anticipation that I will encounter not only comfort but deep transforming joy, I enter into my grief and, time and time again without fail, I taste and I see that the Lord is good.