The topic of grief has been a prevalent one for much of our country over the course of this past year. There has been so much loss…of loved ones, of routine, of jobs, of relationships, of normalcy. Grief upon grief seems to be a binding commonality amongst friends and strangers alike. It has been so commonplace that it begs the question…why? Why is this something that God would allow? To the detriment of my husband, this was a topic I could not get off my mind as we were standing on the top of Sugar Mountain in Boone, NC this past weekend.
In a cool dad moment, my Christopher decided he would take all of us on an impromptu trip, five hours north to allow our kids an opportunity to experience snow. Among our adventures was skiing – he hadn’t been in years and the kids had never been. He was SO excited and I… was not entirely thrilled. My insecurities were much higher than my anticipation.
Before hitting the slopes, we first had to gear up. It is important to note that I was already sporting 2 long sleeve heat-insulating running shirts, long running leggings under my jeans, thick long socks, a massive coat, toboggan and (because of Covid) a mandated mask. (The gloves were riding along in my pocket until we got back outside.) In other words, I was layered for warmth! We made it to the back equipment room with the multitudes of others who were also eager to suit up and hit the snow. But first I had to add to my layers an additional snow bib and ski boots. By this point the nerves were revved all the way up, the heat of the crowded room and weight of all of the attire was pressing in – bringing with it an unwavering rush of panic. I put on my first ski boot and instant claustrophobia rushed over me. If you have never skied, these boots are very big, heavy and obviously restrictive in your ankle movement. I had barely gotten it on when nausea washed over me. I genuinely thought I was going to jump out of my skin. I pulled it off as fast as I could, stripped myself of my coat, pulled off the mask and toboggan and inwardly freaked out. Then I looked over at the excited faces of my kids and immediately thought ‘How am I going to do this? There is no way that I can do this!”…
As I was struggling in this ridiculous moment, I could not get past how familiar this feeling was to that of grief – something our family has been battling with since the passing of my father-in-law toward the end of 2020. Grief. It is something that we always know is out there. We know that it is possible around any given corner, at any unknown…future time. If asked, many of us could give our best Webster’s Dictionary response as to what grief is… that it is a “deep and poignant distress caused by bereavement; a cause of suffering; a trouble or annoyance; an unfortunate outcome.” But until we are faced with it – there is no way to understand the weight it carries; how layered it is; and how at any moment any additional thing makes it instantly suffocating. Grief, in my personal opinion, is a vicious beast. It makes you feel overwhelmingly claustrophobic where your primary thought is “How am I going to do this? There is NO way that I can do THIS!” Unlike my ski attire, however, you can’t just start shedding things to help that feeling pass. It seems so overwhelming…a bit cruel even…surely this isn’t what the Lord intended for us.
And yet, God allows grief.
- “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
- “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
- “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13
It is something He allows, yes, but not without reason. It is an opportunity to lean in on Him. It is an opportunity to watch Him move first hand. It is a way to connect with the One who suffered far more than we will ever understand – even in our darkest grief. It is under the weight of grief that we are reminded of our need for a Savior, that we remember a world who is lost without Him and that we desperately need to cling to Him.
Yes, He allows grief, but God also helps us process grief.
It took a moment, and some inward cursing, but I was finally able to get on all of the clothing and equipment I would need to safely step onto a slippery mountainside. We made our way from the equipment room to the door that led to the slopes, whereby I was handed my actual skis and poles (dear glory…more stuff!). We then promptly headed for the practice area. This practice area had almost no drop, but just enough incline to allow them the ‘downward’ sensation. It was only a matter of yards in length – not at all intimidating (to them). It was the first opportunity that everyone had to actually put on their skis and get a feel for how to navigate the ice and snow. Within minutes, they were all dropping; skis going one direction, bodies going the other. I tried to help Chris retrieve the littler ones and push them back to the top so they could try again. Each of our children reacted very differently to the difficulties that skiing presented them. One of our boys willingly flung himself to the ground as a braking mechanism. Our daughter fumed that the skis would not do what she wanted. All four processed and worked through it, and my husband graciously and patiently helped each one right where they were. You will notice my use of ‘they’ here as I had yet to actually put my skis on. It was an hour of practicing and they finally felt ready to try an actual sloped incline, when my six year old explained to me that it was now my turn to put on my skis. I reluctantly complied. I placed one foot in, and it immediately grew a mind of its own slipping all around while I tried to put on the other ski. I hemmed and hawed, made several excuses, and finally got the darn things on and attempted my own jaunt across the practice area. My entire body was tense, and I remembered – instantly – why skiing is not my thing. I had absolutely NO control.
Similarly, grief is something that comes in and out whenever it wants to. It takes your mind one place, despite the fact that your body is trying to go a completely different direction. It is unpredictable and completely frustrating. It comes at you in random, unexpected moments. Sometimes it sneaks up and sometimes it literally takes the ground from underneath you. It makes you feel you have absolutely no control. So how do we process it? How do we navigate something that appears seemingly unable to tame? To process, scripture says…
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:6-8
- “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
If you are the one trying to help someone to process it – may I suggest the strategy my Christopher took that evening that we stood on that mountainside. Chris knew my insecurities and reservations. He knew they did not match with his adventure and inhibitions. And while he knows well that skiing is something that can be powered through and figured out – he knew that he couldn’t force me to figure that out. It was something I was going to have to navigate at my own speed and in my own way. He gave me the freedom to take my time and to navigate what was scary and unfamiliar in a way that was more comfortable for me. He met me where I was. When someone you love is grieving scripture says to embody the fruit of the Spirit and fully explains how to demonstrate that love…
- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
- “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
God provides relief from grief.
At some point, Chris came and retrieved our littlest and took him over with the others to the ‘real’ slopes (turns out he was the best of all of them!) and I was left in the practice area. And for an hour, I stood at the top of the little incline, practicing putting the skis on, allowing myself to walk/ski forward, trying to make my way to the opposite side with the goal of stopping in an upright position – whereby I would take the skiis back off, walk to the top and do it again. I did this back and forth around 10 times. I ‘yard saled’ hard – several of those times. I hated the ‘out of control’ feeling every single time. But I was able to make it from point A to point B several times – fully upright. And I was SO incredibly proud of myself. I looked over and saw my kids zipping by on the slope beside me. I heard them calling out ‘aren’t you going to come over to the big mountain’. And I was overwhelmed because I had conquered a big mountain – big to me, but conquered nonetheless. Yes, we know that grief is something God allows. We know that He gives us encouragement in how to process it, but He also is gracious in ultimately providing us a way through it.
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
While grief is universal – the process through it is unique. We can’t compare our grief to others. We can’t look at someone else’s timeline or their process as the measure of what we have to do and how quickly. The Lord may have a completely different time frame in mind for you. The timeline may be short, may be easy and may be filled with few obstacles. The timeline may be long and unending this side of glory, and filled with nothing but obstacles – but it will come to an end. The guarantee that we have is that it has purpose, He will walk through it with us and bring us to a place of hope and healing. For whatever you are grieving, for what you may come to grieve, for the grief that still tries to rear its head know that “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8
Praying for you friend!