Because someone dear to me has suffered a deep loss early in this new year – my heart is thinking about GRIEF. Besides, I am about to teach a class called ‘A GRACE TO GRIEVE’ as well. [CTK.church] So this blog is both caring and preparing, in my life at present.
These dear ones reached out to me for some ‘short, easy read’ resources on how to grieve. Of course, it makes no sense to throw at a griever, in the throws of navigating early loss, a big, thick book of ‘how tos’. One of my favorite reads on grief, because it is exactly that – short and concise, though thorough – is “GOOD GRIEF,” by Granger E. Westberg. (It’s in it’s FIFTIETH edition.) But since I am somewhat of an expert on the grieving process by now – not only because I basically lead people through their’s for a living… but have experienced a great deal more of it than I ever expected in my own life… I share some of my own thoughts with you today, as well.
My dear one whose lost much recently is an engineer. He likes formulas. So just for him, I am going to call this “A FORMULA FOR GRIEVING LOSS.”
It is found in Psalm 42.
It comes from David’s journaling, at a time of bewildering suffering in his own life. He starts out with foundational TRUTH, which is always so important when we are side-swiped by unexpected loss. Truth grounds us, and helps us not to be swept away in the midst of our pain, getting lost in our own losses.
OUR CENTRAL LONGING
PSALM 42 :1 declares that the foundational longing in all human lives is a deep thirst in our inner being for the living God. We may not know what it is, or it may have become covered over, or dulled, by life’s busy demands, pleasures or distractions, but it is there. (Just like water is our basic nutritional need, but our thirst will become dulled when we are dehydrated, making us less aware that we are thirsty.) David chooses a word picture he is familiar with from all his years of shepherding: “As the hart pants & longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for YOU, O GOD. My inner self thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
In GRIEF, we will feel deep longing for what we have LOST. It is appropriate that David begins by acknowledging the deepest longing of every human soul: Our LONGING for God. [It is as if we have ‘lost Him’ – and we want and need and long to find Him again.]
Verse 3 gives us the emotional context from which David is journaling; “My tears have been my food day and night.” He is in deep grief.
This is followed by an interesting statement: “While men say to me all day long “Where is your God???!!!!” I do not know a person, including myself, while grieving deeply, who hasn’t felt and asked this essential question: “God where are you???!!!! And WHO are You, that You would allow such pain; such loss?” This soul cry can be easily mis-directed toward bitterness, but is, in essence, “Deep calling to Deep” as we traverse ‘The Valley of Shadows” through which we weep. [Psalm 23, Psalm 84].
SUFFERING WILL BRING US DEEPER.
David expresses it powerfully in verse 7. “DEEP CALLS TO DEEP at the roar of your waterspouts! All your waves and breakers have swept over me!” This is dramatic, thunderous language – and those in deep grief will understand it. A waterspout is ‘a whirlwind over a body of water; a large tube formed of clouds by means of electric fluid, that is hollow within and attracts vast quantities of water, which it frequently puts down in roaring torrents upon the earth.’ The ravages of these ‘spouts’ were common along the coast of Syria and no doubt often seen by the psalmist.
The ‘base’ of these water spouts is actually at the top, and the swirling point reaches down deep into the sea, with a thunderous roar, from the clouds. In essence, this speaks of the Sprit of God reaching deep into the spirit of His children, with passionate longing to meet and know us deeply. But David expresses it from our side, “My deep calls out to Your deep, God!” And the thundering swirl from above is an analogy for God’s passionate reply to our cry.
Of course, we will resist this suffering that will bring us deeper. But if we will SURRENDER to the paths our pain will lead us toward, ALLOWING and EMBRACING the PROCESS that WILL ensue, we will be LED THROUGH. And surely, within us, our very sorrow will develop, in time, sweet pools of blessing that will refresh us and many others. [Psalm 84, again.]
There is truly something about grief, that, if allowed, will lead us to the very heart of our God. While we long for what we have lost, our sorrow puts us in touch with our deepest, truest longing of all. This process begins with deeply CONTEMPLATING our loss (not skimming it over) and honestly EXPRESSING our sorrow. Psalm 42:4: “These things I remember and pour myself out within me….”
The Psalmist explains this ‘path of tears’ in another place, already mentioned. Psalm 84. [Psalm 42 x 2 = Psalm 84 is an easy way to remember this connection]. This Psalm starts with the same expressed longing for God. Then it says: Blessed (happy, fortunate and to be envied) is the man who sets his/her heart on (this) pilgrimage, on which will be won pathways to God’s presence (Zion) within. [Your own heart will, in time, have an inner map that others can follow toward HIM.] And then, the journey through grief is made clear: you will traverse through the ‘VALLEY OF WEEPING (BACA)”….. until, in time, as you process your pain, it will be turned into ‘POOLS OF BLESSING’ that will be great gain for your own life, and great refreshment for many others.
May your painful longings,
bring you to their deepest source
and secure your depths
Now, for ‘the formula.’ It’s found in Psalm 42: 5. David faces his loss with 3 simple (not to be confused with ‘easy’) steps:
1) First he QUESTIONS himself (his own soul) and asks honestly:
“WHY are you downcast oh my inner self? Why do you moan; why are you disquieted within me?” This is a first and essential step in the process of grieving. And it is not a rhetorical question. We must answer honestly and deeply: “Why am I grieving? What have I lost? What does this loss mean to me?” This is the most painful and lengthy part of any grieving process. We will not pass through the valley of weeping and reach the other side, without honest contemplation and expression of our personal losses. This is the painful wrestle required…. that will involve deep emotions, many tears and several pens and journal pages… (or journals, if you write like me).
2) Then, he INSTRUCTS himself:
David says in essence, “Soul, this is hard. So hard that you will be tempted to turn to your own ways and forsake any hope of recovery. So, soul, this is what you are going to do. HOPE IN GOD and wait expectantly for Him. All is not lost, though right now that seems untrue. Remember WHO is your anchor and hold onto what is TRUE through the depth of your ordeal.”
3) Then he DECIDES and DECLARES what he is going to do:
“I WILL YET PRAISE HIM, my HELP and my GOD.” These are not casual words – this is a desperate confirmation of WHERE and in WHOM his strength lies, that brings sweet relief to David’s soul in the midst of crushing heart break. And we can and must do the same, to secure our journey, no matter how traumatic.
is very near
to the broken hearted,
and saves those
who are crushed in spirit.
He rescues all
who cling to Him.
PERMITTING GOD TO DIRECT OUR PAIN
The thought of a ‘formula’ may seem, to some, to cheapen the deep process that real grieving entails. But while simple steps help guide us in a time of great and confusing emotional upheaval, honest grief is never cheap. Our personal journey through grief after loss is just that – very personal. David has shared with us a map (Psalm 84) and a general formula (Psalm 42), but finding your way after deep loss, will be your own heart’s pilgrimage. So I want to share one more essential scripture that has become a favorite of mine about the reality of all that grieving entails:
It’s found in II Corinthians 7:10 and I like the Amplified version’s expression the best. This has become, for me, the best definition I’ve ever found to describe “Godly Grief.”
II Corinthians 7:10
“For GODLY GRIEF,
and THE PAIN GOD IS PERMITTED TO DIRECT,
produce a repentance
that leads and contributes to salvation
and deliverance from evil
and it never brings regret.”
And it finishes with…
“But worldly grief
[the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world]
[breeding and ending in death].”
I have found this verse so helpful; so revelatory. It has come to inform my overall perspective on the grieving process. The way through grief that leads to LIFE in it’s end result is to PERMIT GOD TO DIRECT YOUR PAIN. This assumes a relationship with Him – which can be found, or deepened through any honest wrestle with loss. When God is given permission to direct our pain, it will produce LIFE instead of DEATH. It will produce REPENTANCE (a change of direction, a turning at heart – toward God, not away from Him). The process will lead and contribute to your salvation (your relationship with God in which your saving faith is strengthened and deepened in it’s final outcome) as well as deliverance from evil (permitting God to direct your pain will deliver you from all the schemes of the enemy that we most easily fall into when we are vulnerable and confused in our pain). And the ultimate promise here is SO VERY ENCOURAGING – in the end… pain processed well (with God directing)… will never lead to or leave us in REGRET. This means to me that it is possible to get all the way through the process, with an end result of great gain. Our deepened understanding and experience through personal sorrow will make us MORE, not LESS. That is the most precious promise for anyone in grief. We desire, most deeply, for some gain from all our pain. We wrestle through the meaninglessness of our losses – the deep WHYS in our soul… and come to our own personal ‘this is what my sorrow has wrought’ that is GOOD. Our own life journey has found a pathway that has created GOOD from bad, as we have partnered with THE REDEEMER Who alone can produce this.
So give Him permission,
“God, I give you permission
to direct my pain.
Show me the paths of life;
lead me through.”
“There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they cannot hope.
The hopers would feel slighted
if they knew.”
We love to turn to Job’s story (in the Bible) in the depths of our own grief, because honestly, few of us have suffered as deeply as him. So ‘how he made it through’ in a Godly way, that ended well, is meaningful for most of us. The thief did his very best to kill, steal and destroy – and a righteous man still prevailed! In the end result, Job was EVEN MORE BLESSED than before. THIS is what we can hope for when we have experienced great and senseless loss in our souls.
Job, whom only grievers become best acquainted with, says it profoundly:
“I seek Him
but I cannot behold Him.”
[This is so true, especially in our early journey through sorrow.]
“BUT He knows the way that I take
[He has concern for it, appreciates, and pays attention to it].
When He has tried me,
I shall come forth as refined gold [pure and luminous].
My foot has held fast to His steps;
His ways have I kept
and not turned aside.
For He performs [that which he has] planned for me,
and of many such matters He is mindful. “
Job 19: 25,27
“For I know that my Redeemer and Vindicator lives…
Whom I, even I, shall see for myself
and on my side!
And my eyes shall behold Him
and not as a stranger!”
And in the end of his grief journey:
Job 42:5 (42, again)
“I had heard of You [only]
by the hearing of the ear,
my [spiritual] eye SEES YOU.”
Job had reached Zion – a face to face relationship with His God. And He had gained some irrevocable personal knowledge of God’s faithfulness in his own life:
“I KNOW that You can do all things,
and that no thought or purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
His TEST became a TESTIMONY. His STORY became an essential recording in HIS-STORY. His sorrow and pilgrimage through the deep Valley of Baca became deep pools of blessing for millions of believers to follow – right up until today – right up to YOU and ME in all we go through.
God, make it so in my life,
in the life of my loved ones.
Through our deepest losses
may we find repentance,
salvation and deliverance
that leads us to YOUR PRESENCE
and SECURES us there
May the One Who sees each sparrow fall
and counts even the number of hairs on your heads
be very near
your broken hearts.
[Matthew 10:29; Psalm 34:18]
As you choose submission in your affliction,
may God allure you out of the mouth of distress
into a broad place
where there is no situation of perplexity or privation,
and may that which is set upon your table
be full of fatness.
[from Job 36:16]