How to endure grief well
Over the last few weeks I’ve picked up a new hobby: paddle boarding. It may not technically qualify for a “hobby” yet since I’ve only gone twice, but I am hooked. In a season where I do not even know who I am anymore, where I feel numb and empty, something about being out on the water makes me feel alive. The wind in my face, the cold water splashing all around me, and my muscles being strained by the paddle is life giving. It reminds me to feel again: to feel connected here on earth, to feel the presence of God, and to feel the pull of heaven.
I actually found myself wondering about heaven as I paddled as fast as I could against the breeze. I thought: Can Andrew experience what I am experiencing? Is there an ocean in heaven? Is there paddle boarding in heaven? What is he doing right now? What does it feel like?
Although I have no idea what Andrew is up to in heaven, I do have the gift of what he left behind. Andrew left us with a powerful, incredible, beautiful gift: his messages. Anytime I am overwhelmed with missing him I can see him, hear him, and learn from him. Not only are these messages healing for me right here and now, but they will be an irreplaceable source of comfort for my boys as they grow and mature. When their memories start to fade and they have questions about their daddy, I can open up a message, press play, and Andrew comes alive. His humor, his mannerisms, his gifts, and his calling all on display through the click of a button. What an incredible blessing.
As I was reminiscing on his messages I remembered how Andrew had recently spoken on grief. It was during our church wide fall focus study titled, “Endurance.” Through the Endurance series Andrew taught our church how to endure the trials life throws our way. During his third installment of the message series Andrew addressed how to endure grief. As tears streamed down my face I was absolutely blown away. I had heard this message before; I sat in the front row and watched my husband give this message live. Now just one year later this message has a whole new meaning, it has come full circle. My beloved husband is now teaching me how to grieve his death.
Every single word that came out of his mouth hit me hard. Maybe you too can relate to grief in one of these ways:
(from Andrew’s message)
“Some of you are here and you are on the front end of grief. Something just happened and you are in shock. And you’re trying to figure if this is real life?”
“Some of you are here and you are in the middle of grief. You are a few months in or you are a few years in and maybe you still feel numb”
“Some of you are on the back side of grief, and what you’ve discovered on the back side of grief is most likely that just because you move forward doesn’t mean you move on and the grief will always be there.”
“Some of you are here today and you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe it was a spouse and they were your everything and they completed you and now you’re all alone in this new season and you’re grieving that loss.”
“Maybe you’ve lost a child, maybe you’ve lost a grandparent, maybe you’re grieving the loss of a friend.”
“Maybe you are grieving the loss a relationship that’s broken. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a marriage. Maybe you are grieving a dream, because you planned it out but it didn’t pan out.”
What cut me to my core as I watched Drew’s message was how he specifically addressed grieving a spouse. I couldn’t believe he was speaking directly to me, right here, right now as I am grieving him.
Andrew went on to give three points in his message. As I sit in my pain these three points resonate deeply.
1. Grief is unavoidable
The consequence of love is grief. If you love someone or something you will grieve. If you ascribe value to someone or something you will grieve. If you’ve given your heart to someone or something you will grieve. Jesus says in John 16:20:
“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve.”
There are plenty of ways we grieve. This world is broken and the brokenness will touch all of our lives at some point. No matter how hard you try to run from it, none of us are exempt from the wrath of grief.
2. Grief is painful
Grief hurts. It feels like someone kicked you in the stomach and knocked the wind out of you. It feels like torture. It feels lonely. Grief is so unbearable that Jesus relates it to a woman giving birth. In John 16:21 Jesus goes on to say:
“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”
I made the decision to give birth the natural way all three times. By the third time I was begging for the epidural because I knew the pain was too much to handle. But, my sweet boy Brave came so fast I never had the chance. The most beautiful reward after the excruciating pain of labor is the new life you hold in your arms. Nothing compares to the love that overtakes you as you meet your newborn baby for the first time. Just as the pain of childbirth disappears with joy of new life, God is reminding us that our grief will not last forever.
3. Grief is temporal
Grief will become less frequent and less intense if we grieve well. There can be a turning point in our grief, Jesus explains in John 16: 20:
“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
and again in John 16:22:
“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
I have no idea what kind of grief you may be facing, but I know the pain. When the pain is overwhelming, we can choose to lose heart or we can choose to remember where our joy is truly anchored. My joy is not anchored in Andrew, my joy is not anchored in my three boys, and my joy is not anchored in my future. The only safe sacred place where my joy can be securely anchored is in Christ’s eternal, unconditional love.
God’s love never wavers, never runs out, and never gives up. No matter what kind of grief you are facing, God’s love will: cover you, hold you, and carry you through it. Grief is temporal but joy is eternal.
One day not too long from now I will know whether or not paddle boarding exists in heaven. One day I will no longer have to carry this pain. I cannot wait for the day when my joy is complete as I am reunited with my Andrew in forever. Until then I will anchor my joy in Christ’s love, I will run fast to fulfill my purpose, and I will set my mind on things above. God’s Got This.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” John 16:33
P.S. Here is the link to Andrew’s message on grief: