Hopeful Grieving

Bereavement is the most common experience associated with grief and loss. We can all relate to a loved one no longer with us and the pain felt in their absence. For the Christian who dies in this life, there remains the hope of eternal life, thus the Bible tells us: “Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” 1 Thes. 4:13 Hopeful grieving precludes the grave having the last word over a life because Jesus conquered the grave. But what about “living losses” – bereavement of soul, deep wounds, dark deficits, confining emotional graves, stationary pressures of people and circumstances?

This stanza from a centuries old hymn, reveals our source of strength. “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” Hopeful anchors are fueled by the promises of God, His reliable Word. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Heb. 6:17-19 Hope is developed and maintained through a process, the clearest progression seen here: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame.” Rom. 5:3-5 Hope is securely set upon forged character.

“Pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us.” (AMP) I like the idea of having the habit of a joyful and confident hope. To use a baseball term, this is a “curve ball” that I’ve swung and missed on, tons of times. Rock solid, deeply rooted hope, is developed in the most “hopeless” of times, rooted in the rich soil of character, established as I stand steady in affliction! I get this answer correct, on paper, every time. Walking it out is another matter.

Rock solid, deeply rooted hope, is developed in the most hopeless of times, rooted in the rich soil of character, established as I stand steady in affliction. Share on X

While losing a loved one, and its resultant grief, is clearly understood, living losses, which I mentioned earlier, are more subtle and hidden. I’d like to briefly explore three of them.

Loss of purpose. What’s my life about? What am I accomplishing? Am I bearing fruit? A dark accomplice here, is comparison. We put ourselves in a “lineup” with others in our field and we conclude that we don’t measure up. You may have literally lost a job, been demoted, or simply be caught in an overwhelming perception of your life in the moment. Either way, it’s a deep emptiness. I found myself in this dark place recently, and the only illumination I seemed to gain was in times of prayer, reading the Bible, and writing. As I was praying about this, I clearly heard God’s voice saying, “Go where the light is.” I concluded that if He wanted me to find my purpose in spending time with him, renewing my mind in the Word, and writing, I hadn’t really lost my purpose after all.

Loss of significance. Closely related to the first, this loss is often rooted in childhood experience. As children, we first learned about significance by observing the reactions of our caregivers to our desire for visibility. “Look how far I can throw the ball.” “Come see the picture I colored.” The crux of the matter is, was my longing rewarded? Did I feel significant, or did I feel invisible? Over time, as a pattern, a resultant insecurity may develop, a striving to be noticed and important. Left unhealed, this living loss will potentially sabotage our joy and contentment and keep us enslaved in a performance mentality.

Loss of authenticity. Was I encouraged to be the unique person that I am? Or was I subject to the force of conformity that says, “Be like this or else don’t be.” “Why can’t you be like your brother?” “You just don’t fit in like the rest of us.” A deeper question is, Did I become someone else (false self, impostor) in an effort to gain a semblance of fitting in? Or did I hook my wagon to another life, to fill the void? If I find a person, or a cause, that really needs me, then I will feel better. Oftentimes the end product is what is known as “codependency.” This can range from a psychological and emotional reliance on another person’s welfare, to being an “enabler” of a person’s addiction, finding an identity therein. It can also manifest as an unbalanced attachment to a group of people or an organization.

If we don’t grieve our losses, or perceived losses, we risk stagnation. Everyone is prone to self-protect as well, to create a partition of sorts between the pain of loss and one’s present reality. A frequently enlisted “bodyguard” is anger. It’s a strong enough emotion, to keep other emotions in check. I refer to it as the “bouncer” at the door of entry. If you ask my wife, she will attest to her encounters with this phenomenon. By the grace of God, we are able to eventually own the emotion, ask forgiveness, and then prayerfully tackle the resolution. Left unresolved, anger simply takes on a different form – depression. It’s known as “frozen anger” and it remains “armed” though appearing to be docile. Spiritual “cover-ups” are the worst, a deadly and deceptive masquerade, leading us away from the very authenticity our heart longs for.

My most recent struggle, included the factor of my age, a feeling that I was “retired”, a very intense emotional “low” that wouldn’t budge. One breakthrough came in my daily reading, here: “‘Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord.” Isa. 66:9 Hope sprang up in my heart as God made this word alive. I came to a place of rest, that he has a purpose for my life and that I can trust him fully. The storm ceased; I was anchored by hope once again.

I encourage you today, to stay faithful in the Word, especially in times of affliction when hope seems distant. When the living Word of God seems lifeless, it’s time to set your face like flint even though it feels like there is no response from heaven. “The glorious mystery is that listening for God holds power whether or not anything is heard.” * Hope is growing in the hidden places; a Christ-like character in deeper formation; living losses will be transformed, into a living faith.

 

* Quote from “The Sacred Slow” by Alicia Britt Chole