“I know that God has a plan for this,” I said, holding back my tears because Zoom calls don’t mask waterworks as well as old-fashioned phone calls. “I know he’s sufficient and that he has promised peace and grace….”
I was saying it more to myself than to my friend. She interrupted me gently.
“These are all true things, Mary, but it’s OK to feel the pain of your loss as well.”
Her words rolled across me like thunder, reverberating deeply across a dry soul that desperately needed to feel the sweetness of rain.
Some seasons are hard to live through. No one explains in children’s Sunday school how hard the Christian life is. No matter how securely you fasten yourself with the full armor of God, there will be trials.
Some of these will be run-of-the-mill struggles–disappointments at work or school, strained relationships, rejection and change, and long days that start with not enough sleep and end with a flat tire on the side of the road or a burned dinner.
Other trials will feel life-shaking. In a world that is sin-cursed, is it any surprise that heartbreak is real?
Marriages are ripped apart by sin. Sickness besets us and those we love, sometimes leaving us permanently encumbered. Friends die young. Our families grieve, and hurt ripples out like an unstoppable wave. Hopes for companionship and family seem not to grow, no matter how much we water them with prayer. Infertility. Infidelity. The shackles of our sinful flesh. We watch our friends and family leave the faith, or we feel ourselves drifting away. We watch the shadows of doubt and fear and disbelief close around us. We become unwelcome companions of loneliness, weariness, and the undefinable ache of a longing heart.
This pain is real.
Job’s words have felt so true for me this year: “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow” (Job 17:7).
Am I Allowed to Grieve?
I’m quick to look for a silver lining on a dark cloud, or a biblical promise in the midst of a trial. It’s not hard. God’s promises are many and great. He promises us a future and hope (Jer 29:11), he promises us a peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7), he promises that he has prepared good works for us to do (Eph 2:10), that he will gather us up and bring us home (Zeph 3:20), and that one day we will know fully, even as we’re already fully known (1 Cor 13:12).
So I was surprised when, in the midst of my own great trial, I found little comfort in these truths of God. I know that he’s sovereign over all my circumstances and that he works all things for good, so why don’t I feel better?
“It’s important to ground ourselves in the true things of God,” my friend told me, her video flickering slightly at the whim of my internet connection, “but they won’t erase the pain.”
Even a brief scan of the New Testament reveals these stings of loss: The conflict between Paul and Barnabas that caused them to go their separate ways (Acts 15:36-41), Peter’s bitter tears at the realization of his denial of Christ (Matt 26:75), and even Jesus–fully God and with a more complete understanding of the true things than any of us–weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
The Old Testament reveals even more. The Psalmists pour out their sorrows before God, Job spends the better part of 42 chapters sitting in ashes with a broken heart and broken spirit, and there is an entire book of the Bible called “Lamentations.”
God’s people have felt the curse deeply.
What Do We Do When God’s Promises Don’t Feel True?
To look past the pain of the curse by minimizing its impact is to misunderstand our need for the promises of God and what their purposes are.
“But what’s the point of knowing God’s promises if they’re not going to help?” I asked, tears rolling, heart aching.
“They’re just scaffolding,” my friend said softly. “God’s promises are meant to support us so that we can be built up in Christ despite the immense gravity of life’s circumstances. You’ll still feel the pain, but you can bear up under it.”
How often have we seen this proven true? How often do unbelieving friends wander about in darkness, finding no comfort outside of Christ, but we who trust in those promises–though traversing the same harsh seasons of life–haven’t been swallowed by bitterness and despair?
God’s promises have kept me anchored so that, when the storm passes, I’m not farther from the Almighty, but closer. That is where our peace and joy come from–not from temporal, earthly blessings, but from our redemption through Christ. And he is with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23:4).
So we walk the long, low valleys. We remember the true things of God, and we hold tightly to a Savior who has tasted our sadness and knows there is a time to mourn (Eccl. 3:4).