Grief is as common a human experience as love is, for if we have loved we have grieved. Nobody loves that does not also lose in some way. Loving is about receipt and whatever can be received can be taken away. This is captured in Job:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return... the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away...”
~Job 1:21 (NRSV)
The linking of these two concepts—what we get through love and what we lose through grief—are polarising realities that, as human beings, we need to grapple with. If we don’t, life swallows us whole.
If we don’t risk for love we don’t rise to our potential. If we do not journey through our grief when we’ve lost at love we as good as die. But grief also feels like we’re dying. Both love and grief involve copious courage. Both these involve journeys walked alone—with only the intimacy of God as our companion; usually as later discovered.
And even though grief is a journey walked alone, there are usually significant others that help us through stages of deeper despairing. The point is, the entire journey is ours and ours alone. Only we can take the fullness of it. Nobody else can experience all we can experience.
Not all grief is difficult, just like not all stages of love are ecstatic. Sometimes grief is an inert, nonchalant acceptance. Nothing much changes. We don’t like the reality we’ve been placed into, but there’s no growth expected from us just now either.
But then there are blips on the radar of pain. At such blips we need reconnaissance. We need love and support at these times; if not from trusted human contact it’s from God. Generally, though, we find our help through a caring and compassionate person we trust. They listen and hold us. They say the right thing at the right time. They ever so gently encourage.
Receiving help in the depths of the abyss is a strange, even rare, wisdom. Many people would rather deny, choosing what seems as an easier route, but one that just makes the journey tougher because healing is pushed away. They say they don’t have the strength for it, but what else is strength for? There is always strength through faith. And faith is just a decision.
Maturing Occurs Alone
Just as anything is transformed, it is transformed, alone, via the processes of God. We never notice the growth of a plant in the garden because it happens too slowly. But that growth that nobody notices is just as certainly happening every minute of the day.
Likewise with us in our grieving, as we wonder when the process will be complete, we don’t very often notice the milestones taken toward healing. Much of it occurs by stealth. But if anyone is to notice and acknowledge important truths about this grieving it will be us.
Maturation through grief occurs when we accept there’s work to be done alone—just us and God. This is when our identities are forged, resourced, and fortified. If maturity is anything it’s the soundness of identity—one that can attest to the truth. We must work that out alone, with God.
Important movements to the new self are made alone. These are valuable discoveries that only we can appreciate. If grief is anything good it’s in solemnising the union between us, alone, and God.
Notwithstanding vital help from others, the overall journey in grief is traversed alone, but oftentimes we feel the strange presence of God as he walked with us through the valley of the shadow of death. God’s faithfulness ultimately gets us through.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.