I once wrote that there was something beautiful about picking up your broken heart and venturing to sit by the riverside with God. I did this on Tuesday, and as the rain collided with the tears rolling down my bruised cheek, my heart stood to plead only one question: what happens when it feels like the One you sacrificed everything to be with, the One who promised to always be there, is no longer there?
When we strip the word grief back to its roots of origin, it translates to the Latin word ‘Luctus’; meaning to mourn. Lutus derives from word Lūgeō. I opened Wikipedia to find the definition and origin of Lūgeō, I learnt that it’s verb is Lament and was taken back to see that beneath it was quoted: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.
God devoted an entire book in the Bible to the concept of grief: Lamentations. In His word, God tells us that those who mourn will be comforted, He titles them as blessed. I sometimes still struggle to comprehend how God could dare to call the suffering, ‘blessed’, or how those that suffer could be called to praise God in their suffering — But then again isn’t that what it means to suffer well? I’m smiling now because even though I really do wonder, I also deep down know that if for any reason the suffering could be called blessed, or called to praise, it is because God is with them; He is always with us. The book of Lamentations is compiled of a series of grief driven poems, the book was written by Jeremiah during a time where the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. During this period, the people of Jerusalem lived in a state of lament, of grief and sorrow; they mourned the loss of their home. In my own grief I too have mourned the loss of my home. But how does the lament of those in Jerusalem, compare to my own? Both our lament is driven from the displacement of our home.
During my final hospital admission God revealed to me that He is my home; ‘Abide in me, and I in you’ [John 15:4]. Whilst the grief of those in Jerusalem was real, their grief derived from a mourning for the loss of their city, their home.. I can’t help but wonder if the book of Lamentations would still look the same if those people had found their home in God alone? Where has my home been? Upon an almost cruel conviction and inner critique, I am ashamed to admit that my home has strayed from my Father. They say that home is where the heart is, but my heart has been unevenly poured into all the wrong places. I have poured my heart in the idea of what I thought my life should be like in this present season. I have poured it into the direction in which I planned for my journey to follow, into the relationships I’d hoped to invest in, into the career and future I am pursuing. Somewhere along the lines I began to divide pieces of my heart into everything other than God alone. Is this the deriving point of my grief; my lament? Would my own story look different if I too, found my pursuit and my home in God alone?
Tuesday was the day that my bottled up grief hit me like a tidal wave. I had barely been afloat over the recent two weeks but between Tuesday and Wednesday, God taught me what it truely meant to trust Him; especially when my feet couldn’t stand. I have often referred to the concept of God calling me out into deeper waters, into oceans of uncertainty; into a deepness where I am left with no option other than to rely solely upon Him. I think here of the song ‘Oceans’, its lyrics reading: ‘You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where my feet my fail, here I find You in the mystery, my soul will rest in Your embrace’. Is this not what God has done for me?
I cried my way through Tuesday; at my work desk, during my lunch break, shopping at Woolworths, I even cancelled my Pilates class because by the time the day drew toward an end, I wasn’t emotionally able to hold myself together any longer. My grief had reached a point where it began to rule over all aspects of my life. You see, that’s the thing about grief.. when we don’t allow the undercurrent to wash us up at the foot of the cross, we quickly find ourselves drowning no matter where we turn. My heart breaks at the awareness of the point to which my grief has driven me; no matter how hard I have fought to draw nearer to God, I have felt so far from Him, trapped and alone. I fear that the progress and miracles God has done within me, are at jeopardy because of how I am desperately trying to cope with my deep lament. But T was right when she told me that my recovery is still going well, I am still making progress and God is still in control; these are things I need to remind myself of more frequently and more consciously within my grief.
On Tuesday evening I put my body in my car and found myself at the beach. To this day, I don’t know how I got there but I now understand why I did. Upon arrival the skies were darkening and fully clothed, I began to wade out into the ocean. I quickly found myself swallowed by the one thing that terrified me the most; swallowed by the ocean, by my lament. Yet deeper I wandered, in search of something unknown to me, but met by Someone so known to me.
And then with all my might, I ran. I ran against the current, against the naturally engrained flow of the ocean and in that moment, I was a child running away from the world. I ran from my grief, from my past and present trauma, I ran from my relationships and the rawness of all God was doing within me, from my anxieties and shame; I was running from everything and only once I stopped, did I realise that I had run straight into the embrace of my Father. My body had come to a halt, now drenched, in the pouring rain I stood, stok styf, with my bare feet planted in the sand. I felt an anxiety arise within me as I was unable to see through the murky waters, but then I heard His gentle whisper: ‘be still my child, and know that I am God’. I closed my eyes and what I physically felt beneath me, left me mute; unable to speak or comprehend what I had encountered, or perhaps rather Who I had encountered. In the most tangible and profound way, I had encountered the undercurrent and there, I encountered my Father. With my own flesh, I experienced how the waves crashed over one another, the strongest current flowing onto the shore and underneath the gentle current pushing its way back into the sea; back into the unconditional love of my Father. My heart broke because standing there, my spirit was met with all I had been unconsciously searching for within my period of deep grief: a gentle beckoning toward my Father, toward the undercurrent that would lead me through my deep lament and into His unconditional love. I’m covered in goosebumps and as I write this, my heart physically pulls with a longing for more of my Father.
I remained in the ocean as the skies darkened even more and as I looked to the heavens, I saw only clouds of grey; thunder and storm. The waves around me nearly tripled in height and strength, turning from ripples to white capped giants, each one threatening to pull me under. Inside I felt my heart begin to withdraw from the encounter with my Father, in feelings of doubt and betrayal my grief began to take hold of my heart once again. As I wrestled with the raging sea, I began to question: Where was the sunset? Where was the warmth of my Fathers love for me? Where was His provision? Where was the prosper promised to me? Where was He amidst my lament? Where was He within my brutal storm? As I went under, grief stung the rawness of my heart, the way salty waters sting an open wound.
In a loving but awe provoking and authoritative wrath, God challenged my questioning; who was I to dare question my Fathers presence? Almost immediately He reminded me of a movie I watched years ago: “Unconditional”. Within the movie there’s a story told about a bird who learns to take a walk on the clouds. This little bird loved to fly but during his first winter, he had barely learned to use his wings. It rained all day and all night, the wind howled and he cried to his mother, asking why God gave the storms power to take away the sun. His mother told him that the answer to all his questions was waiting for him, just beyond the brutal storms; he just needed to be brave enough to venture out into the unknown, to take a walk on the clouds. One night the little bird flew out into the biggest storm he’d ever seen, he feared the winds would tear him apart but still he flew in search of answers. He was about to give up and turn around, when it happened; he flew through the clouds and there it was: the sun, more beautiful than ever. And in that moment it all became clear to him; no storm could take the sun away, the sun was always shining, it was as constant as his mother’s love. You see, whilst the skies above me physically and metaphorically raged with a brutal storm, behind them, nothing could stop God’s presence and light. The sun still set regardless of whether I could see it or not. In this same way, regardless of my brutal lament, no amount of grief can stop God from being there for me, nothing could remove His love for me; it’s as constant as the sun that rises and sets each day.
Here I am vaguely remined a bible verse that reads along those same lines. I turned to google and wasn’t prepared for the verse God showed me; “And God promises that with each morning sunrise, He offers mercies anew and love unfailing” – Lamentations 3:22-23. I found myself so taken back by the fact that the verse came from Lamentations, even the people of Jerusalem, in their grief were reminded of the consistency of God’s love and presence.
As I stood in the waves, I pondered what God was telling me and He reminded of a conversation we had not too long ago. I remember trying to take a photo of the sunset and being frustrated by the photo not perfectly capturing the beauty and awe of the colours. In my frustration I felt God liken Himself to the sunset; because in the same ways that no photo could perfectly depict the beauty of the sunset, so no words can articulate or depict the fullness of God’s beauty. Is God not like the sunset? Is His creation not a reflection of His image? There are no words deep enough or profound enough to describe who He is or to accurately retell an encounter with Him.
I cried the whole way home from the beach, reaching out for prayer and wrestling between wanting to be both near to God but also as far away as I could be in shame. Grief has a way of isolating its victims, convincing them that they deserve to feel the hurt alone and enslaving them to a cycle of lament and misery. That night I didn’t sleep, I tossed and turned, pacing up and down my room in distress. Before I knew it, my alarm was going off for Pilates and honestly, the last thing I felt capable of doing was pulling myself together enough to go to the studio. I tried to hide throughout the session and realised that whilst my body was there, my mind and heart were still on the battlefield. At the end all I wanted to do was crawl in a ball for the remainder of the day, but God had other plans for me; He had more to say and over the rest of the day, He would continue to find ways to speak to me in direct answer to my hearts plea: an unplanned coffee with my loved one, a hike by the riverside, an email out of the blue, gentle whispers and conversations that only He could have with me.
During this period of grief, God has been stripping me back down to a state of raw vulnerability and dependency upon Him. My heart ached on Wednesday until then, none of my feelings had been said aloud. Over the last two months I have endeavoured to give God everything, I sacrificed everything I held dear to me and I laid it all on the line for Him. All my decisions were made so that He could become everything for me, so that my alignment with God would place Him at the centre. Because when all else is stripped away, it is He that remains. Yet here I have been, in a deep lament, broken and confused. I struggle to understand. Why has God been allowing me to become so raw again? Why has He been stripping away everything once again? Have we not been through this process enough times? Doesn’t He understand my pain? You see, the more I have tried to understand God, the less I have been able to make sense of the shattered pieces around me.
Throughout Wednesday God ever so gently convicted my heart with a sense of authority. What He does and what He allows, is not for me to understand. He is not for me to understand and nor is His plan for me. My only job is to love and trust Him, nothing more and nothing less. I was asked who would want to worship a God that they understood? Would understanding not immediately remove all the awe and wonder of who God is? How could we marvel at our Creator if we no longer wondered about Him? One of my biggest challenges in my faith, is overcoming my need to know and understand. My heart thought that it had everything figured out, I thought that once God was first, everything else would fall into place. However, I am beginning to realise that I lost sight of the fact that yes, everything will fall into place, but it would fall into place within God’s timing and it may not always look the way I anticipated it would; But this doesn’t mean that God’s abandoned me or changed His mind.
I’ve always been remined that the relationship I have with God is the one that matters most, anything more than that is overflow and to be counted as a blessing. I have needed to learn that yes, I did sacrifice everything to gain God, but He doesn’t owe me anything in return. Somewhere along the line I created this image of how I thought things would look; my recovery, my career, my life, and most of all, my relationships. But this is where the seeds of grief were first planted; where I began to place my heart, my home and my hope in things that I thought I deserved, things that I thought God would bless me with or that I thought He ‘owed’ me. Do you see how I unknowingly set myself up for grief?
The reality is that I do not have the right to write my own story, I can not write my healing into existence, I can not write my relationships into restoration; I just can’t. Only God can write my story, He is the only One who knows my beginning and my end. What I see is so vastly small, in comparison to what God sees. In my grief I see only mess and confusion, heartbreak and trauma… But God sees beauty, He sees healing and unconditional love; He sees the bigger picture. This concept was recently best likened to embroidery; In life we often fixate on the mess of threads underneath, we are unable to stand back far enough to see the view from the top, the finished masterpiece. God is writing and interweaving our stories and threads into a work of art, into a life that reflects His majesty. Who am I to try change my story? To conjure up plans of what I longed for? Who am I to question? I’ll say it again: There is no need for me to spend the hours of my days, trying to figure out what God is doing… All I need to do, is spend the hours of my day pursuing and falling in love with Him; especially in my deep lament.
As I drove home from the riverside recently, I had worship music on shuffle and God played a new song that sang; “You’re still God in the waiting, You’re still God in the storm, You’re still God in the silence, You’re still God when it’s hard”. My heart didn’t know how deeply those words would penetrate through to my core rawness; because no matter what, He is still God.
In my grief I have felt so overwhelmed because I wish my problems were simple. I wish that they didn’t extend past having to only navigate my treating team, or the loss of well loved friendships, or past and present trauma, or the impact on my recovery. However no matter how hard I try to change things, I’m painfully aware that my lament extends so much further than that. I’m grieving for more than I can find words to describe. On Wednesday I tried hard to find the courage to speak over coffee, about even just some of my deeper mourning but I couldn’t even muster the strength to go to those places in my mind; let alone to find a ways to articulate.
I have learned how to sit with the silence. I have learned how to sit in faith on the battlefield, believing wholeheartedly that no matter how alone I felt, I was never alone. God has stretched and pulled me in all directions, He has moulded and shaped me into His hands and His feet; but He is not done yet. The painful truth is that He will never be done, there will always continue to be periods of deep grief, of lament that engulfs and drowns everything in it’s path. But it’s there, in the pits of the battlefield that God meets us. He does show up Christelle, He shows up, each and every time. I need to hear that, my Father consistently whispers those words to me until His voice is a bellowing echo through my being; ‘I show up my Child, I show up, each and every time’. God meets us where we are. Whether that’s taken in a physical manner, or an emotional/spiritual manner. We can be in any state of mind and regardless, He will meet us there. It’s this truth, that I know I sometimes lose sight of.
As I sat in the rain on Tuesday, I felt a like a poppy; as have I throughout this period of grief. As I smelt the smell of rain, so fragile and faint, I recognised within myself a heightened sensitivity: something so fragile that even the slightest flicker of touch, might cause a total unravelling. I haven’t been a strong poppy, I have waivered and crumbled, I have become bruised and wilted. Over these last few days my Father has been teaching me how to plant my roots within Himself, how to allow the waters that drown me to instead water and nourish my faith in Him. Because whilst yes, my grief is real, I am still able to find comfort in the shelter of my Fathers arms; my home. I don’t need to carry my grief alone; the grief for my life and my childhood, for past and current traumas, for my circumstances and self, for my dreams and hopes, for relationships and connection; this grief can be shared with the One who loves me unconditionally. Like the people in Jerusalem, so I too can find peace in knowing that my Father is as consistent as the sun that continues to rise and set, His love will never fail me: He will never fail me.
Despite all that God had blessed me with on Wednesday, I still cried myself to sleep that night but I wasn’t alone. I grasped at straws to hold onto a hope that God with there with me, that people who loved me were praying alongside me. God had given me the answers to my hearts plea, yet my grief remained. You see, just because God is there and because He had blessed me with relationship, reassurance, insight and truths, it doesn’t mean that things will suddenly be okay again. But that within and of itself is okay, is it not? God doesn’t call us to hide in shame of how we feel, He doesn’t call us to be perfect; He calls us to be genuine and broken, to be mouldable and teachable… perhaps this is why He continues to strip me back until I am raw and vulnerable; so that I can forever be dependant upon Him, so that I can forever be His hands and feet?
In bed that night, I put my phone on charge and in the process I saw that Ann Voskamp shared the following on her Instagram story: “Living from a divided heart, is what breaks your heart. But a heart knows wholeness when it lives for God wholeheartedly”. As tears ran cold over my swollen cheek, I prayed in broken sobs. I spoke to God about the divisions of my heart, about the areas where I have placed pieces of my home and I asked Him to help me find my home in Him alone. My hearts home is beginning to once again find its rest in the safety and security of my Father; in this season of deep grief, I continue to seek out the One who keeps His promises to me [Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 65:24, Exodus 14:14].
God had begun planting seeds in my heart on Tuesday, and by Wednesday night, He had found ways to say to me all He needed to say in order to answer my hearts pleading question. As this week draws to a close, God continues to speak to me and reveal more of Himself to me. I remember thinking that it would be easier to be mad at God if I couldn’t see Him in my grief, but because I am close to Him, I can see Him, even when I don’t understand. Because the truth is that I will never fully understand, and that’s okay, I’m learning how to trust instead. With each passing day, my Father is teaching me how to enter into the undercurrent. I am still grieving, I am terribly sad, but I am also still healing, and my recovery journey continues to reflect the glory of God. Like anything in life: this too is a journey within and of itself. And even still, He meets me here.
– c x (28.01.2022)