By Steven Clark Goad
We are daily surrounded by sorrow and grief and pain. Sometimes it seems unbearable. But we are forced to develop methods of coping with what often is unspeakable. Jean Paul Richter mused, “Joys are our wings—sorrow our spurs.”
A preacher’s wife who developed Parkinson’s one year and the next year discovered she had breast cancer was numbed at first by the revelations. Someone asked her if she was tempted to question God. Her response was encouraging to others. She said, “Why not me? What makes me so special that I should escape what so many others must endure?”
A 14-year-old boy would lie in his bed at night, hearing the moans of his mother in the next room as she struggled with a rare form of cancer. He said his prayers as usual, those pleas to the Father of lights his mother taught him early in life. He prayed with tears for God to heal his mother and renew her former vitality. As Tevye asked in “Fiddler On the Roof,” the young lad wondered if it would upset some “vast eternal plan” if his mother could just return to her health. At the age of 16 he finally lost his beloved mother, who was only 43. Not yet launched, he would find it challenging to put together God’s infinite love with his allowing such a wonderful human being to be taken at such a young age. This episode in my life has haunted me and challenged me over the years as I have learned to trust even more in the merciful grace of God.
Why Does It Hurt So Much?
When trauma rushes in on us unexpectedly, tears, sleepless nights, and constant questions envelop us. Jesus wept. We weep. There is no escape. Grief presses upon us too often and sometimes at the most inconvenient of times. Isaiah wrote these positive words: “Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). They are encouraging words that give us hope. But how do they help us cope in this present chaos?
Human suffering is a challenge for us all. Some must deal with more misery than others. The wretched dilemmas of life seem not to be evenly distributed. We believers are saddled with how to manage what feels like Satanic invasions into our peace. When I get into a weekly pity party mood, I try to recall my blessed Savior’s tenure on the planet: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). Hallelujah, what a Savior. Even he did not escape the grinding hardship of a grief-filled life.
As my days in Flint, Michigan, during the winter months of permafrost tempered me in dealing with the high temperatures of the desert southwest where I now reside, the agony of heartache and sorrow are able to give me perspective that I would otherwise miss. The promise of no more sorrow and pain gives a glimpse of what God has in store for us and renews the faith that sustains us, no matter what fiery arrows Satan may hurl our way. I am reminded of John Vance Cheney’s words: “The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” Tears lubricate our eyes, whether they are tears of joy or sadness. The tear duct glands need to be flushed now and then. Grief allows that.
Sorrow Upon Sorrow
A minister had been praying for his son who was deployed in the Middle East. “Keep my boy from harm’s way, O Lord,” was his prayer. While that concern was a constant visitor to his mind, the preacher’s wife decided to run off with his best friend. There was no warning. There was not even a hint that an “affair of the heart” was brewing between the two. Not only was a scandal created for the fellowship of which the minister was a part, but the crushing heartbreak that such desertion creates was numbing. He prayed, “Why me, Lord?” How could this have happened? What makes a dear woman of God betray her vows? The church embraced their minister and affirmed the love they had for him. He would get through this somehow.
I suppose we should never ask, “What else could possibly happen now?” One week after the horrific desertion by his wife of 35 years, a knock on the door presented two officers in military dress, one a chaplain and the other a Colonel. They bore insufferable news. The son was lost in battle. The once strong man of great faith collapsed in the arms of those who bore such sad news.
We could list countless episodes of sorrow-inducing tales. But how will that help us overcome the emotions that are involved? It is almost impossible to describe the intensity of such feelings of the heart. So how does a child of the Most High recover from such life encounters?
1. Be aware of the stages involved in the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Realize that whatever stage you are in, it will not be permanent, even when it feels like it.
2. Learn to lean on close friends and family. They hurt right along with you and are willing to extend empathy and comfort that can only be given by them.
3. Stop focusing on a timeline. What you are feeling today will at some point give you strength in the future. Though in the heat of sorrow it seems unlikely, remember that healing can present itself in time.
4. Realize that not everyone deals with grief in the same ways. If you feel like weeping, do so as often as needed. If the numbness has a grip on you and keeps the tears from flowing, that is OK too. Sometimes the shock of grief can act as novocaine to help bear up under the emotion.
5. Don’t force yourself to be strong. There is no necessity for a stiff upper lip. It isn’t unmanly to weep. The first time I saw my father weep was at his dad’s funeral. I was 10. It reminded me that my knight in shining armor was also human.
6. Understand that grieving is not irrational or illogical. It is tied directly to our God-given emotions. We are created in the image of God, and he possesses every emotion we have.
7. Do not attempt to ignore your grief. It has now become a part of you and will aid you in recovery. The old and threadbare cliché is still true: What doesn’t destroy us will make us stronger.
Above all, keep reminding yourself that God promises never to leave or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5); he is with you through your pain: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Stevven Clark Goad is a minister, author, and freelance writer in Blythe, California.