We all love a good underdog story. Where against all odds, the hero manages to pull off the impossible, save the day, and ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Crisis averted!
But when our own stories take detours we never expected – into the darkest of places, the deepest of pain, and there is no way to truly fix it, we are left struggling to connect the dots. Our brains work overtime trying to make sense of it all, yet there isn’t a way to fix it.
It’s been ten months since we watched our son’s small casket be lowered into the ground. There is no un-do button. No way to make our missing him not hurt. Though this has been the hardest part of my life, it has refined me, shaped me, and grown me. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that I pray will help you, too:
Press into the pain, don’t run away from it. It sounds counterintuitive because you instinctively protect yourself from pain. But to begin to live again, you have to work through it. Ride the emotions as they come. Journal through the trauma. Bring others into your processing. Face the triggers one at a time as you are able. It takes bravery and it takes community. It’s a long difficult process that will be life-long. If you know someone going through grief, ask them questions about the hard things they are processing through. Be willing to enter into the mess. No solutions are needed, just listen so they can get it out. This will be so very helpful to them, and you will learn from it, as well.
It’s hard to be vulnerable and needy. But it is OK to not be OK. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” To a person who can’t sleep because of the recent trauma… and the sleep that finally comes brings nightmares… this is a precious promise indeed. He invites you into His presence so you can acknowledge what you’re struggling with, to feast at the table of His goodness and faithfulness, to remind you of His love for you, to comfort you with His promises, to rest on His strong shoulder. This is how to get the strength to keep going through the next wave. Moment by moment, you and Jesus together. You are not alone. The Comforter is always there. You can try it alone, or you can cling to Him, and He can empower you to do the next small step. When you start living this way, you realize that you never want to go back to an attitude of sufficiency.
Ask God where He was in the middle of your trauma. Ask Him to help you visualize it. It takes real work and painful processing to relive it in detail, but doing this was a turning point in my mental health. My brain naturally goes to the trauma… still trying to make sense of it. There is nothing right about watching my child decay before my eyes. But now I see Jesus there in the room too. I see His overwhelming love, and deep care for me in those moments. God whispered to me that He knew firsthand that exact pain. This literally changed the chemistry of the neurons in my brain of those memories. The pain is still there, but my perspective went from being a helpless victim to a beloved daughter. Satan wants you bound up forever in the victim loop, but God wants to set you free in the identity of who He created us to be.
The “should have, would have, could have” is a road that leads to nowhere good. It’s not based in reality. It won’t change things. Regrets are real, and they have to be acknowledged, but retreat when you realize you are heading down this road. There is a continual measure of grace and forgiveness needed here.
Grief tethers your heart to heaven. This broken earth marred with the effects of sin – pain and death – is not your home. You are here on temporary assignment. I knew it in my head before, but now I feel it to my core. The pleasures of earth fade. It’s temporal. The glitter is revealed to be a fake veneer that can never deeply satisfy. The kingdom of God grows in brilliance and importance. People become more precious than ever. Simple moments that I glossed over before now hold tremendous beauty and value as they happen. Scripture says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I have two children in heaven. It’s no wonder my mommy heart longs for there, too. This is a good re-orientation for my heart.
Thank you, God, for anchoring my heart so much deeper to you as we journey together down this road called grief.
By Katie Bollinger