I'm glad to see the month of September go. It has been one of the hardest months for me since the year after my dad died. September 9th would have been my 20th wedding anniversary. It was a mark I always dreamed of as a little girl. How differently life has turned out than I expected! Strange that although I've been divorced for seven years, it still hurts. I still have many days when I think to myself, when will it stop hurting? The truth is, that it won't stop hurting until I get to heaven.
I don't think I would have understood that a decade ago, in fact, I know I wouldn't have. Our western culture has such strange notions about grieving and loss. Once the customary couple of months are over, it is implied that it is time to start fighting the grief and move on with your life. "Make lemons out of the lemonade." Get on medication for a while until you get over the loss. Take on a hobby or new responsibilities to empower you so you will be able to take charge of your future. In truth, after the first several months you truly start to grieve. The loss becomes less surreal and more real, depression and anxiety become constant enemies, and getting out of bed seems like progress each day. To make things worse, people around you have moved on, and you often feel as if you are left to wrestle with ongoing grief alone. As odd as it is, even though there is a cultural expectation of "bouncing back," we are intuitively aware that the grief goes on. After all, who of us doesn't understand a parent who never recovers from the loss of a child? Who expects a widow to forget her husband? Who would lose an arm or a leg and not expect to always struggle with the feelings of loss and insecurity that such an amputation would create? It puzzles me then why as a people we are so unable to sustain our compassion and assistance to the brokenhearted. As a culture we don't know what to do with death and loss, especially once the funeral is over and life resumes.
From my experience, I suspect that responses are a little different to loss by death and loss by divorce. When I went through my divorce, I felt not only as if I had lost him, but as if I had died. I lost much of my sense of identity. I was no longer "his wife," and I wasn't sure what I was. Although over time I have built new experiences to draw identity from, the part of me that loved being wife, helper, lover, and best friend are still gone, and I miss them like I would miss an amputated arm or leg. Although my heart has toughened in small ways, I still have phantom pains that hit me frequently, and I find myself crying for no reason because I feel alone and rejected, and my "not-so-new life" seems overwhelming and lonely. Until you have been through a devastating loss, this ongoing grief, and the hole left in your soul are hard to understand, and sometimes hard to be compassionate toward.
I've also noticed that ongoing grieving is hard for children. Although children are very resilient, and can withstand a lot of disappointment and grief, an overwhelming loss or a series of losses can leave them wrestling with grief for years, even into their adulthood. The emotions tend to dive below the surface for a while, and the kids look fine, only to resurface later, particularly during adolescence. As much as they might try, a grieving parent is struggling through their own grief, and it is hard for them to help their children through theirs also. I can remember times after my tragedies when I was fighting to get out of bed in the morning and keep my kids fed, clothed and working on schoolwork, much less have conversations to draw out of them how they were feeling. Furthermore, I learned mostly by trial and error how to process and manage my pain; I was at a loss how to guide them through theirs.
That's not to say that ongoing grieving is a completely bad experience. Does that sound odd to say? In the last seven years, I have seen more clearly how evil, heartbreaking, devastating, and miserable our fallen world can be. I have learned to appreciate the complete wasteland that sin can make of a life, and I have come to understand that no one is guaranteed shelter from its effects. I was a "good girl." I made "good choices," was kind to other people, went to school, ate my green beans, and tried to live by my convictions. Yes, I was still with flaws and weaknesses and sins, but I followed the rules, and "life" still ran over me. Or did it? I don't believe that my losses were accidents or without purpose. In addition to the greater understanding of the evil that has corrupted the world, I am more sensitive to people who have been trampled. I'm less likely to say stupid or meaningless things to them, and more likely to find ways to really comfort them. I don't minimize pain, even when it is appears that the pain someone is wrestling with is something I would gladly exchange my pain for. I've discovered that our pain is designed for us, to expose our weaknesses and draw out our strengths.
Most of all, I've come to realize I have true hope within me. Without it, the pain would have overcome me a long time ago. I would have given up trying to get out of bed, or would have been sucked into the illusion that I was "better" by burying my grief in a flurry of activity and self-help mantras. Instead, I've come to realize that the "cure" for the depth and destructiveness of sin is Jesus. I've learned that all of the things that my heart cries out for in grief are the very things He stands waiting to be for me. I've come to know Him as everything I want and need in my life, and honestly, I've come to long to be with Him in heaven even more than I want to stay on this earth. Grieving losses, like being homesick, has made me aware that I don't belong here. Instead I belong to a different place, where all that my heart cries for is available and abundant.
Within the church, we need grieving, broken people. We need to minister to them, and we need them to teach us and remind us of the lessons they are learning. If we as Christians are going to enter the devastation of a fallen, broken world, we must learn from our brokenhearted brothers and sisters how to show compassion to such needs. We need to discover how to make ourselves vulnerable to the hurting, how to enter into their hurt in a way that compromises our own hearts and shares the pain. We need to know how to communicate hope in a winsome way that neither belittles their suffering, nor presents the Gospel as a trite, easy answer or a guarantee that they will not hurt anymore. Those in our midst need us. They need us to call often and ask if they are getting out of bed. They need us to know whether they have family or other support people to remember birthdays and holidays. They need us to love and spend time with their kids, and to take on some of the burden of shepherding their children through grief. Most of all, the world around us needs to see us caring for our wounded in a radically different way than they do. If our love is demonstrated in the way we care for our weakest members, it will be hard for the world to dismiss our Savior. And He will draw us closer to him for having his heart for the wounded.