Now and again, the imagine ifs we dread come true. There is a fraught phone call or a teary conversation, and all of a sudden, life changes. Everything slows down, perspective shifts, and we reel in shock. We long to go back to not knowing, to time before it was true. We wish we’d appreciated harmony when we had it. Old routines are abandoned and replaced by new ones, harder ones. As time crawls by, the new reality of our situation sinks in and we slide from shock into grief. The days are long and it feels like months since our world suddenly changed, though it’s only been a couple of weeks.
Grief is an unpredictable companion. Sometimes it sweeps over us like a tidal wave, and we weep hard, completely desperate and overwhelmed. Other times, it lingers, for hours, lying low like a mist over our minds, clouding our thoughts, making us restless and irritable. Sometimes it eases, and for a time we feel better, optimistic even, but then the night comes around again, we are alone with our thoughts and it weighs heavily on us once more.
But because of Jesus, Grief doesn’t visit alone. It brings some unexpected friends, and the first is Joy. Within the nightmare, somehow relationships are renewed, unexpected friendships form, priorities are realigned, wounds are healed. God is praised more frequently, relied upon more deeply, spoken about more freely. In his mysterious power and kindness, our God is able to bring great joy in the midst of suffering. And pain is a foghorn in the confusing mist of this life, reminding us to have an eternal perspective. It prompts us to look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:18) These unseen realities, our beloved Jesus, our eternal home in heaven, a world free of hurt and pain forever, bring us great joy in trials.
Alongside Grief, another unexpected friend is Peace. I have often feared the prospect of pain and suffering, and wondered how on earth I would cope if that happened. But I have discovered, from my own limited experience, that when that does happen, God keeps his promise. He really does give a peace that surpasses all understanding, and it truly does guard our hearts and minds. (Phil 4:7) It’s supernatural. God ‘moves in’, and despite our circumstances, we feel inexplicable peace. How wise and wonderful that He is able to give us peace within our circumstances, without changing them. It demonstrates that our peace is a certain mark of his presence and power, rather than simply the result of our situation improving. Of course, we pray for him to act and change and heal too, but I’m so thankful that he is able to give us peace that transcends everything else. And Peace also comes through being reminded of the truth. Jesus said, in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-3) We find peace by remembering that ultimately Jesus has overcome sin and death. Whatever we’re facing, the victory has already been won and nothing can separate us from Him.
But perhaps Grief’s greatest companion is Love. In fact, grief is so profoundly connected to love, it is difficult to separate them from one another. The deeper we love, the deeper we grieve when those we love are suffering, or we lose them, or they hurt or abandon us. And as we grieve, somehow our love deepens, or perhaps it is just uncovered, like a deep root in the ground that has been hidden until now. Loving deeply seems almost reckless, when it can lead to so much grief, but oh how it’s worth it. I am convinced that when we look back at the end of our lives, all we’ll see is whom we loved and who loved us. And perhaps in grieving for those we love, we taste a little part of our Father’s grief when he gave up His only Son for us. And I pray that glimpsing a tiny part of His grief would deepen my love for Him. Ultimately, it is only because of Him that I am able to love at all. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19) But in contrast to us, He loves perfectly, wholly, endlessly. He keeps no record of wrongs, always protects, always hopes. His love never fails, whatever grief we are facing. And I praise God that one day, only love will remain. No more tears, no more pain, no more death. No Grief, just Love.
For now, Grief will visit, and there will be weeping, dark days and sleepless nights. For some, that grief will be beyond my comprehension. But because of our Wonderful Saviour, Grief will not visit alone. Joy will come along, and Peace too. Best of all, Love will be there, and will remain long after Grief has gone.