Category  |  Grief

Everywhere and Nowhere

A family friend who, like us, lost a teenager in a car accident wrote a tribute to her daughter, Lindsay, in the local paper. One of the most powerful images in her essay was this: After mentioning the many pictures and remembrances of Lindsay she had put around their house, she wrote, “She is everywhere, but nowhere.”

Although our daughters still smile back at us from their photos, the spirited personalities that lit up those smiles are nowhere to be found. They are everywhere—in our hearts, in our thoughts, in all those photos—but nowhere.

But Scripture tells us that, in Christ, Lindsay and Melissa are not really nowhere. They are in Jesus’ presence, “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They are with the One who, in one sense, is “nowhere but everywhere.” After all, we don’t see God in a physical form. We certainly don’t have smiling pictures of Him on our mantel. In fact, if you look around your house, you may think He is nowhere. But just the opposite is true. He is everywhere!

Wherever we go on this earth, God is there. He’s there to guide, strengthen, and comfort us. We cannot go where He is not. We don’t see Him, but He’s everywhere. In each trial we face, that’s incredibly good news.

Everlasting Hope

The week before Christmas, two months after my mom died, holiday shopping and decorating sat at the bottom of my priority list. I resisted my husband’s attempts to comfort me as I grieved the loss of our family’s faith-filled matriarch. I sulked as our son, Xavier, stretched and stapled strands of Christmas lights onto the inside walls of our home. Without a word, he plugged in the cord before he and his dad left for work.

As the colorful bulbs blinked, God gently drew me out of my darkness. No matter how painful the circumstances, my hope remained secure in the light of God’s truth, which always reveals His unchanging character.

Psalm 146 affirms what God reminded me on that difficult morning: My endless “hope is in the Lord,” my helper, my mighty and merciful God (v. 5). As Creator of all, He “remains faithful forever” (v. 6). He “upholds the cause of the oppressed,” protecting us and providing for us (v. 7). “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (v. 8). He “watches over” us, “sustains” us (v. 9), and will always be King (v. 10).

Sometimes, when Christmas rolls around, our days will overflow with joyful moments. Sometimes, we’ll face loss, experience hurt, or feel alone. But at all times, God promises to be our light in the darkness, offering us tangible help and everlasting hope.

Powerful Baby

The first time I saw him, I cried. He looked like a perfect newborn asleep in his crib. But we knew he would never wake up. Not until he was in the arms of Jesus.   

He clung to life for several months. Then his mother told us of his death in a heart-wrenching email. She wrote of “that deep, deep pain that groans inside you.” Then she said, “How deeply God carved His work of love into our hearts through that little life! What a powerful life it was!”

Powerful? How could she say that?

This family’s precious little boy showed them—and us—that we must depend on God for everything. Especially when things go horribly wrong! The hard yet comforting truth is that God meets us in our pain. He knows the grief of losing a Son.

In our deepest pain, we turn to the songs of David because he writes out of his own grief. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” he asked (Ps. 13:2). “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (v. 3). Yet David could give his biggest questions to God. “But I trust your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v. 5).

Only God can bring ultimate significance to our most tragic events.

The Ministry of Mourning

In 2002, a few months after my sister Martha and her husband, Jim, died in an accident, a friend invited me to a “Growing Through Grief” workshop at our church. I reluctantly agreed to attend the first session but had no intention of going back. To my surprise, I discovered a caring community of people trying to come to grips with a significant loss in their lives by seeking the help of God and others. It drew me back week after week as I worked toward acceptance and peace through the process of sharing our grief together.

Like the sudden loss of a loved one or friend, the death of Stephen, a dynamic witness for Jesus, brought shock and sorrow to those in the early church (Acts 7:57–60). In the face of persecution, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (8:2). These men of faith did two things together: They buried Stephen, an act of finality and loss. And they mourned deeply for him, a shared expression of their sorrow.

As followers of Jesus, we need not mourn our losses alone. In sincerity and love we can reach out to others who are hurting, and in humility we can accept the concern of those who stand beside us.

As we grieve together, we can grow in understanding and in the peace that is ours through Jesus Christ, who knows our deepest sorrow.  

 

From Grief to Joy

Kelly’s pregnancy brought complications, and doctors were concerned. During her long labor, they decided to whisk her away for a cesarean section. But despite the ordeal, Kelly quickly forgot her pain when she held her newborn son. Joy had replaced anguish.

Scripture affirms this truth: “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” (John 16:21). Jesus used this illustration with His disciples to emphasize that though they would grieve because He would be leaving soon, that grief would turn to joy when they saw Him again (vv. 20–22).

Jesus was referring to His death and resurrection—and what followed. After His resurrection, to the disciples’ joy, Jesus spent another 40 days walking with and teaching them before ascending and leaving them once again (Acts 1:3). Yet Jesus did not leave them grief-stricken. The Holy Spirit would fill them with joy (John 16:7–15; Acts 13:52).

Though we have never seen Jesus face-to-face, as believers we have the assurance that one day we will. In that day, the anguish we face in this earth will be forgotten. But until then, the Lord has not left us without joy—He has given us His Spirit (Rom. 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8–9).

Two Portraits

Clutching two framed photographs, the proud grandmother showed them to friends in the church foyer. The first picture was of her daughter back in her homeland of Burundi. The second was of her grandson, born recently to that daughter. But the daughter wasn’t holding her newborn. She had died giving birth to him.

A friend approached and looked at the pictures. Reflexively, she reached up and held that dear grandmother’s face in her hands. All she could say through her own tears was, “I know. I know.”

And she did know. Two months earlier she had buried a son.

There’s something special about the comfort of others who have experienced our pain. They know. Just before Jesus’s arrest, He warned His disciples, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.” But in the next breath He comforted them: “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20). In mere hours, the disciples would be devastated by Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion. But their crushing grief soon turned to a joy they could not have imagined when they saw Him alive again.

Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (Isa. 53:4). We have a Savior who doesn’t merely know about our pain; He lived it. He knows. He cares. One day our grief will be turned into joy.

The Land of “What Is”

Even all these years after losing our seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa in a car accident in 2002, I sometimes find myself entering the world of “What If.” It’s easy, in grief, to reimagine the events of that tragic June evening and think of factors that—if rearranged—would have had Mell arriving safely home.

In reality, though, the land of “What If” is not a good place to be for any of us. It is a place of regret, second-guessing, and hopelessness. While the grief is real and the sadness endures, life is better and God is honored if we dwell in the world of “What Is.”

In that world, we can find hope, encouragement, and comfort. We have the sure hope (1 Thess. 4:13)—the assurance—that because Melissa loved Jesus she is in a place that is “better by far” (Phil. 1:23). We have the helpful presence of the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We have God’s “ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And we often have the encouragement of fellow believers.

We all wish to avoid the tragedies of life. But when we do face hard times, our greatest help comes from trusting God, our sure hope in the land of What Is. 

Jesus Wept

I was engrossed in a book when a friend bent over to see what I was reading. Almost immediately, she recoiled and looked at me aghast. “What a gloomy title!” she said.

I was reading “The Glass Coffin” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the word coffin disturbed her. Most of us don’t like to be reminded of our mortality. But the reality is that out of 1,000 people, 1,000 people will die.

Death always elicits a deep emotional response. It was at the funeral of one of His dear friends that Jesus displayed strong emotions. When He saw Mary, whose brother had recently died, “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Another translation says, “a deep anger welled up within him” (nlt).

Jesus was troubled—even angry—but at what? Possibly, He was indignant at sin and its consequences. God didn’t make a world filled with sickness, suffering, and death. But sin entered the world and marred God’s beautiful plan.

The Lord comes alongside us in our grief, weeping with us in our sorrow (v. 35). But more than that, Christ defeated sin and death by dying in our place and rising from the dead (1 Cor. 15:56-57).

Jesus promises, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). As believers in Christ we enjoy fellowship with our Savior now, and we look forward to an eternity with Him where there will be no more tears, pain, sickness, or death.

A Widow’s Choice

When a good friend suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack, we grieved with her. As a counselor, she had comforted many others. Now, after 40 years of marriage, she faced the unwelcome prospect of returning to an empty house at the end of each day.

In the midst of her grief, our friend leaned on the One who “is close to the brokenhearted.” As God walked with her through her pain, she told us she would choose to “wear the label widow proudly,” because she felt it was the label God had given her.

All grief is personal, and others may grieve differently than she does. Her response doesn’t diminish her grief or make her home less empty. Yet it reminds us that even in the midst of our worst sorrows, our sovereign and loving God can be trusted. 

Our heavenly Father suffered a profound separation of His own. As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet He endured the pain and separation of crucifixion for our sins out of love for us!

He understands! And because “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), we find the comfort we need. He is near.