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Friday is going to be rough. I just know it. Friday marks five years since I lost my dad to cancer right there in our living room. Some years it passes with nothing but a few tears and memories, and other years the loss feels so sharp and fresh that it almost takes my breath away. This year I have felt the wave of sadness building since I got back from Alaska. Each day I glance at the calendar knowing that day is coming and feeling like I just might not be able to keep it together this time. But you know what, that’s okay. God didn’t call us to always “keep it together.” He didn’t call us to not feel grief over loss. He didn’t call us to glaze over it and act like we’re fine. But I do believe He asks us to grieve in a godly way. Godly grieving is a topic I’ve thought about a lot. What is it? How do we do it? And in what ways is it different than grieving without faith? I think these are important questions and I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned to help me sort through and solidify it in my own mind before Friday.
Be Honest With God and With Yourself
I’m no expert “griever,” but I can tell you this, the first thing that comes to mind is that godly grieving involves honesty. We need to be honest with God and with ourselves about what we are feeling. For me, honesty involved allowing myself to cry. A lot. And in public sometimes. It’s glamorous, I know… but I believe in the power of being honest with God, telling Him how you feel and leaving it there with Him.
I was in college when Dad passed, which meant I had a full load of classes, a major office in my sorority and a hurting family to try to help through a difficult time. So you know what, whenever the grief or sadness or anger or confusion came over me, I cried. I let it wash all the way through me. And it was okay. People might look at you weird, maybe even stare but it is the most cleansing thing in the world. There may or may not have been a number of coats and sweaters that were taken to the dry cleaners later to clean the sleeves… and I may have been “that girl” who was always crying in the coffee shop at Hillsdale College, but I also graduated from that college, on time, with a cleansed heart and a soul laid bare to God. No bitterness. No lingering anger. Just real, raw, daily intimacy and honesty with my God. Plus, it’s scriptural (which always helps validate my babbling ): “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
Grieve With the End in Mind
The second part of godly grieving is grieving with the end in mind. I realize I kind of stole that from Stephen Covey’s habit, begin with the end in mind. I believe it’s completely normal and okay to sob. I mean really sob, like lose it for a minute or two. Sometimes life is hard and painful and cutting. The difference is that after the sting wears off, we must remember the hope that we have. Paul says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
We are supposed to be sad when we lose someone. What we are not supposed to do is get lost in it. I am allowed to miss my dad on Friday, but it is not okay for me to become bitter because of my loss. God has given me hope! I will see him again someday! It is right to grieve over the things I will not get to share with him in this life. He wasn’t there to see me graduate, get married or buy my first house. He won’t be there when we have our first child and I can’t pick up the phone and ask for his advice or run into his arms for a hug. There is a hole in my life. It is important that I acknowledge the hole, and then continue living the rest of this life that God has given to me. I have hope and I cannot be so focused on what I don’t have that I miss out on everything I do have. As Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).
The last thing I want to share today is that sometimes it’s really hard to be joyful in the midst of great loss. But it’s really important to do it anyways. Something I think God is trying to teach me lately is that because joy is a fruit of the Spirit I must learn how to have it. It is not optional. When circumstances in life are difficult, it must come from within.
More and more I am learning that joy is a choice. Sometimes it’s so easy I don’t even have to think about it, and other times I need to muster up the strength to put in a Brian Regan comedy DVD and just laugh—even when I feel like crying. It’s choosing to write someone a card when you feel low yourself. It’s choosing to get up and go for a walk instead of wallowing on the couch. Take a lesson from the wisest man who ever lived when he says, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). Sometimes it’s a battle but we must choose to be joyful.
Deep breath. Sometimes life is hard… but sometimes it’s really great too. I feel oddly prepared for Friday because I know in my heart that it’s okay to be sad and important to be grateful too. I will go to the cemetery on Friday and shed some tears. And then I will offer a prayer of thanks for the 20 years I had with him, get up and choose joy.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Oh and here is a link to Brian Regan, a clean comedian who has helped me laugh through seasons of sadness: http://brianregan.com
Editor’s note: This blog was published with permission by the author, who originally published it on her personal website on Oct. 9, 2013, at http://awisewomanbuildsherhome.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/godly-grieving/