© 2020 Tracey Mann / Harvest City Church
I am writing this two days since we should have been celebrating our eldest son Tom’s 29th birthday. My husband and I marked the day by visiting his grave as we have done for the last four years since he died. As we laid flowers alongside his memorial, I felt the familiar wave of grief and sorrow wash over me, remembering all that he meant to me and how much I still miss him. But I knew that I was not alone. God seems so close in these difficult moments. His has been the still small voice of comfort, giving us strength to face this lifelong journey of loss.
Tragedy and loss come in different forms and guises, but few of us get through life without experiencing them at some stage. One of the dictionary definitions of loss is ‘the feeling of grief after losing someone or something of value’. Loss can be experienced in many ways; a loved one, a relationship, good health, a job. Sometimes we can even grieve over the loss of a dream unfulfilled, or the life we had expected, which has failed to happen.
Grief is a process, which is common to us all in its phases. It’s a journey where there are no short cuts and there is often no end point. We learn to live with loss, and for us there will always be a sense of sadness that Tom is no longer with us. However, I have come to realise that God can take our loss and use it to shape us – and actually enrich us – if we allow him to.
Don’t allow a Personal Tragedy to Become a Spiritual Death
Our pastor often says, ‘The greatest tragedy in life is not death, but living without a purpose’. These words have kept me on track at times when emotions were overwhelming. God gave us many comforting words during the early days of loss, but also a warning not to let our situation result in us falling away from Him. God has called us to live for Him, to lay down our own desires and will and keep an eternal perspective, even in the eye of the storm. Looking back there are some specific things that have helped me keep my grip on God.
- Church at the centre (Hebrews 10:25): It’s something we hear so often during our services, but just like hearing the emergency procedures at the start of a flight, when you are in times of crisis the words come back to you. Church life has been a refuge for us and brought us not only strength and comfort, but also wisdom and perspective. Sometimes we don’t always feel like being in church, but it’s in those times we need to be there most of all! When we join together, particularly in worship, God can touch us and bring a healing which we don’t experience elsewhere.
- Staying outward looking (Philippians 2:3-7): When we understand our God-given purpose, it stops us from becoming self-obsessed and introspective. God’s calling on our lives is to think of others and to serve in church, and doing so can stop us being overtaken by our own feelings.
- Being thankful (Ephesians 5;20): The incredible thing about our Christian faith is that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the darkest of days. A grateful heart helps us to see the things we still have, despite what we have lost.
- Finding strength in God (Isaiah 40:29): The support of our church family has been invaluable to us. Our pastors and friends walked with us through the most difficult of days, and provided practical support, strength and comfort. We need to remember, though, that however much people can help, they are not God! Only He can provide true healing, and we should take responsibility to seek Him and allow Him to minister to us. The danger comes when we expect people to ‘fix us’. It can lead to disappointment and a breaking of the very relationships that we so desperately need.
It’s easy to lose sight of God when questions overtake us. ‘Why has this happened to me, God?’ is a question that can eat away at us and bitterness can creep in. I love to read the Psalms as every type of emotion is written about and explored by the psalmists. They are so real and identifiable. They show us that even to question God is understandable:
O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? (Psalm 74:1)
The fact is God has already answered the big questions of life: Why we are here? What is our purpose? When we understand God’s calling and purpose we can let the smaller questions go. We are given a compass, a perspective that brings sense into seemingly senseless events. We know this world brings trouble and sorrow but Jesus has overcome them.
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
We also know that when we leave this Earth and spend eternity with Jesus every wrong will be made right. This is a wonderful hope!
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. (Revelation 21:4)
Shortly after we lost Tom, my husband, Ian, spoke at church. His title was ‘God Knows’. God knows and understands our pain. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus wept‘. As he stood by the tomb of His friend Lazarus, Jesus felt the sorrow of the human condition, our fragility and helplessness. He felt our pain, and even though He knew there was hope for Lazarus, He still felt grief. More than any person, Jesus knows and understands us, even in our darkest moments. We can cry out to Him knowing He fully understands.
God Heals the Broken Hearted
People often say that ‘time is a great healer’. This is true to some extent, as in time the rawness of the pain of loss subsides. However, nothing can substitute for God’s healing. Only He can perform surgery on our brokenness and put us back together.
‘He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.’ (Psalm 147:3)
I found it hard even to settle to pray in the early days of loss, but instead listened to worship songs almost continually. Despite the tears that fell, I felt God’s comfort, strength, and even joy as I was able to worship and praise Him. Spending time in God’s presence allows Him to bring healing to our lives.
The journey of loss and grief is a hard and painful one, but the sure hope of the believer is that ‘Joy comes in the morning‘ (Psalm 30:5). I feel incredibly grateful to see each new day and know that I am still walking with Jesus, and I’m part of my wonderful church. I am thankful God has kept us thus far, and know He will always be with us, faithful to the end.