Acquainted with Grief: Keeping a Soft Heart

05 Feb

This post is part of our series on walking with God in suffering. Learn why we are focusing on suffering in the introduction to the series.
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When we got the final word that we couldn’t have children, it didn’t come as any great surprise.  We’d been expecting the news for a while. I actually felt peaceful and content over our situation—God had done a lot to prepare my heart. But occasionally I was taken aback by a sudden onslaught of tears. Tears that came when I watched babies being born in a movie or in a TV show, for example. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I was feeling, though. It just hurt. I couldn’t resolve in my mind how I could so easily accept God’s plan and feel good about it the majority of the time and then sometimes still be overcome with emotion. I felt “stuck” somehow.

I voiced my confusion to an old college friend who knew me well. Upon hearing my predicament, she asked, “Debbie, have you ever let yourself really think about what it’d be like to hold your own baby?” I snapped back, “No way! I can’t go there. That would be too much.” She pressed further, “I think you need to go there.”

As much as I hated to admit it, I realized she was right. I did allow myself to go there, to really imagine what it’d be like to hold my own baby in my arms. It was painful to say the least! Even now, many years later, the thought sometimes brings tears to my eyes.  

But something else happened that day. As I faced the reality of my loss, I cried out to God and found that he was there, waiting. I experienced his comfort and love for me, a depth of love that I didn’t even know I was missing. I certainly didn’t like the pain and the tears, but I felt a whole new level of peace that day that came with relief and release. It was a turning point in my grieving process and “unstuck” me.  

I struggle with chronic pain from several illnesses. There have been many times over the years when I heard Jesus saying to me: “Be strong and courageous, yes, be strong and courageous.” But I remember a specific occasion when I was very ill and the message was different. I sensed Jesus speaking to my spirit very clearly: “I’m not asking you to be strong and courageous today. It’s ok to be broken and weak. Come to me and let me hold you and comfort you.” Immediately the tears flowed and I felt Jesus wrap his arms around me.

I had one of my most frank, real conversations with him that day. Out of my desperation came the deep cries of my heart. Cries of exhaustion and frustration. I told Jesus of my desire to be well, for my sake and for the sake of those who loved me. I wanted to be able to serve, to enjoy life, to do normal things. I knew that he heard me and my cries and continued to hold me. There were no answers, no solutions, but there was the very real gift of his presence. That was enough. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” That was his message for me on this particular day and it was exactly what I needed.

Through these and other difficult situations, I grew to see that it’s one thing to ask God for help, strength, and comfort, but unless I let myself feel the hurt, what am I really asking him to do? “God, I know I need you, but I don’t really know how and I really want to just get on with my life, so could you maybe put a big Band-Aid over all of me so I can be better?” Pretty ludicrous, but not too far off the mark for me! I realized that to truly receive comfort from God, I had to be willing to feel the fear and the loss. In order to do that, I had to slow down and stop trying to save the world for a few minutes! I had to allow myself permission to hurt, something that never has come easily to me.

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A picture came to me recently that I found helpful. I’m walking with a friend when the clasp on her bracelet breaks and it falls into the sidewalk drain, irretrievable. It was a treasured family heirloom. My friend looks sad, and I want to comfort her, but she immediately says, “It’s just a thing. Things don’t really matter. Only eternal things matter.”

She seems ok, which is hard to believe because I know how much she loved the bracelet. I want to hug her and comfort her, but she acts fine. And on a certain level, she probably is. But at a deep heart level, she needs to admit that she did love that bracelet and that she’s going to miss it. Once she does that, then I can put my arms around her and hold her while she cries.  

You may think that’s a total waste of energy! Why do something so painful? Wouldn’t it be better to just forget about it and plough forward? That certainly might seem more productive. But I think God has made us for more than “producing.” While it will look different in each person, he gives us all a certain softness and sensitivity that mirrors his own heart. He could have made us unfeeling robots, but that would not be an accurate reflection of who he is.

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I think of Jesus
when he heard that his dear friend Lazarus had died. Isn’t it strange that he wept even though he knew that he was going to bring Lazarus back to life? He also cried in the Garden of Gethsemane despite the fact that he knew his sacrifice was necessary and that he’d be resurrected. He didn’t want to experience pain any more than any of us do. He begged his father to accomplish his will in some other way. He sweat drops of blood as he wrestled with the feelings of dread about the terror he knew was coming.

On the cross, he cried out and asked his father why he had abandoned him. Jesus knew why these things had to happen, but did this lessen his feelings of pain?  We don’t see him putting on a stoic front, praising God for his perfect plan, and trying to be the courageous hero.  

I know we don’t always have the luxury of time for tears or grieving. We have responsibilities, important people or tasks that need to be taken care of. And of course I’m not suggesting that we always have to cry in order to receive God’s comfort. Not everyone is a crier. But tears can help more than we realize. As I said, I can still get teary-eyed thinking of what it would be like to hold my own baby. But those tears are nothing compared to my tears of 20 years ago. God did some deep healing that day with my friend. I wonder what might have happened if she hadn’t been so wise and bold with me. I might have become depressed, angry, or bitter.

You and I weren’t designed to ignore the stirrings in our hearts forever, even when they’re painful stirrings. If we do, we risk our hearts becoming hard. God’s heart is beautifully tender and soft.

It’s so much better to have a soft, though wounded heart. I want to feel, even if it means that I’ll hurt. No, I’m not a sadist—I want to avoid pain as much as the next person. Just as Jesus did in Gethsemane. How thankful I am for him! He became fully a man and vulnerable to great hurt. He could’ve protected himself, but instead he allowed the full force of the pain to hit him. He can truly comfort me because he KNOWS.

I thank God for how he made me. I’m capable of logic and reason, but also of laughter, gladness, and compassion. He gifted me with a soft heart that feels a broad spectrum of emotions, just as his does.  Yes, that means I’m also capable of being hurt. But I’ve discovered that avoidance and denial of the pain that is present in this broken world is not how I want to live. I know a suffering Savior who understands, loves me, and is always with me.  

Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debbie Booze and her husband Bobby served for 22 years in Budapest, Hungary and now live in Greensboro, NC. Bobby is the Operations Director for Ethne. Debbie's passions include research, refugees, and encouraging missionaries around the world.


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