Besides the Scriptures, author Elisabeth Elliot’s writings have influenced much of my thinking about suffering and grief. In her no-nonsense approach to life, she’d read this blog title and retort, “Of course grief doesn’t play fair, foolish woman! Don’t you understand the depth of brokenness in this world?”
I continue to learn that boxing up grief or suffering and stashing it under the basement steps sounds tidy and finished, but fails to stay contained, just like unexpected rampaging flood waters that run the courses they choose and leave devastation in their wake.
Grief so often reappears without warning or provocation. I expect, and even try to anticipate, certain things to tilt my emotional world off its axis: photos, smells, calendar dates, or certain traditions. But I can go about a number of totally mundane tasks, and grief deals me a wicked blow from behind.
Consider Elliot’s experience in a grocery store after her husband and four other missionaries were murdered in Ecuador in the 1950s. Jim and Elisabeth, married on the mission field, had never shopped together in a grocery store. Yet when Elisabeth and her young daughter Valerie returned to the US after Jim’s death, Elisabeth headed to a super market to purchase a few items. In one aisle, she saw a young couple shopping together. Suddenly, Elliot realized this simple task represented an act she and Jim would never do together, and she left the store in tears.
So how do I cope with grief when it levels me in body, mind and spirit? When I cry, and I do lots of that, I cry hard. But I do make some effort to do a couple of things:
1. I look to see what grieved(s) God, often my thoughts as well as actions.
As early as Genesis 6, God regretted forming people, grieving that He had created us. Genesis 6:6
2. I look to see what caused(s) grief, often my anger and/or rebellion to events that affect me, or pleading for reasons why something occurred, or was not addressed as I wanted.
King Saul’s behavior grieved Samuel, and God regretted having named Saul King over Israel. I Samuel 15:35
Jonathan grieved for his friend David after Saul disgraced the shepherd who would become king. I Samuel 20:24
Job grieved for the needy. Job 30:25
In Psalm 35:14, David speaks of the way he wanted to treat his enemy: “I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning.”
Taking inventory of what grieves me, and what grieves God, helps me sort through my motives and beg for insight into the heart of the matter. More importantly, my heart reaches to the One I know as Father, or Daddy, the One who holds me — even as I fall apart.