To help you prepare your heart for the New Year ahead, we are re-posting by permission a two-part reflection on grief by Heidi Sadler, the daughter of Gary and Cheryl Schwarz. She and her husband, Ben, serve together in a new ministry of teaching and worship called Chasing Ebenezer. Please visit their website to learn more about their ministry and find other helpful resources.
Heart racing, adrenaline surging. Wide awake in the middle of the night. In one dream, memories that had been surpressed for years came rushing back. The easy thing would be to ignore the pain, to push it back down and move on. But that would just delay the inevitable.
This past year, I have defied my habitual practice of stuffing pain and have been on a journey to embrace the gift of grief. Grief over past decisions, grief over what will never be.
During this gift-giving time of year, grief isn’t the first present that comes to mind. Grief is not a pleasant concept that we clamor to discuss. In general, people go to great lengths to avoid pain. We generally do everything we can to minimize our grief, whether that be entertainment, exercise, food, shopping, etc.
Even though we don’t like to discuss it, we acknowledge that this is a difficult time of year for many people. Holidays often conjour up negative feelings. Rather than being a time of joy, of celebration, we experience sadness. Regret over the past. Despair over our current circumstances. The ugliness of relational rejection, abandonment, betrayal…
This holiday misery is often due to unresolved grief that we have experienced.
The tragedy of our attempt to reduce grief is that it doesn’t work. The more we pretend it’s not there, the longer it brews and simmers until some stimulus brings it boiling to the surface. We joke about holiday stress because it is a common trigger in our families.
What I’ve come to realize is that minimizing grief prevents us from fully loving.
If we don’t fully experience grief, we can’t fully experience healing. What is encouraging, though, is that when we allow ourselves to fully experience our grief, it opens us up to maximum healing. When we receive healing, we can fully love others.
A vital key to loving others is loving ourselves.
We often harbor so much resentment against ourselves that we are incapable of freely embracing others. We can’t adequately love others fully until we have fully embraced our own messy selves.
Embracing our grief is foundational to living wholeheartedly.
Controlled grief either makes us stoic, or it brings about chaos. What would happen if we took the time to fully experience grief and recognize it as a gift to our emotional healing?
This Christmas, I’m thankful for experiencing my grief. This makes me able to acknowledge and appropriately lament over what has happened, over what will never be. By doing so, I release the past, accept the present, and hope for the future.
The mockery continued. It had been going on for years. The relentless comments, the shameful gossip. Some days she could bear up under it. Ignore it. But today, as her husband’s other wife degraded her, the words sent Hannah to a place of no return. She could no longer contain her grief.
Hannah was an Israelite woman who was barren for years. Not only was she missing out on the joy of being a mother, but her husband’s other wife tormented her. Her inability to conceive was constantly thrown in her face. The humiliation she lived with on a daily basis was chipping away at her tender spirit.
How should we grieve?
The last thing we need this holiday season is to sit around in a stagnant pool of pain. The purpose of grieving should be to move towards healing. If we’re going to experience our grief, how do we do so in a manner that facilitates healing?
- Acknowledge the grief.
In 1 Samuel 1, we see Hannah in the temple, pouring her pain out at the altar. She has come to a place of complete honesty and confidence before God.
- Identify specific feelings and disappointments.
When something grieves us, there is a loss – a consequence. Our emotions are affected. Hannah told God that she felt afflicted. We should be specific when we express our sorrows.
- Call out to God and lament.
When Hannah grieves, she is not subtle. Approached by Eli the priest, she is so distraught that he thinks she is drunk. She assures him that she has been pouring out her soul in anxiety and vexation. This tells me that honest acknowledgment of pain is an acceptable act of worship before God.
Years after Hannah’s lament, we see another outpouring of grief. Jesus Christ Himself calls out to Father God in the garden of Gethsemane. In Luke 22, we find Him in such agony over His pending crucifixion that He prays “more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” While Christ’s lament does not change His situation, He fellowships with the Father in the midst of His grief.
- Give thanks for your grief.
It seems a bit crazy to thank God for pain. Why would I thank God for the opportunities lost, the relationships ended? What I thank God for in my grief is who He is in the midst. He is the Comforter, He is the Faithful, He is the Revealer of Truth. He is Available. The possibilities are endless.
My grief also reminds me that I care. By feeling pain, I know that I still have a living, loving heart. And that’s a good gift.
- Invite healing into your situation.
Sometimes it does not occur to me to even ask God to heal my grief. I generally want Him to change the situation. But I have come to recognize that asking for His presence and His healing is of more value than a change of circumstances.
Some of you may be attending church services this week. Some of you might be alone. The amazing truth of God is that wherever you find yourself, you don’t have to come to Him in a composed manner. Whether you are by yourself this Christmas or spending it with others, your grief is welcomed by the Father so that He can give you the healing balm of Jesus Christ.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)
Michael Card’s Lamenting is Worship (1 of 9 videos on YouTube)