Grief to Gratitude
I think in my twenties, I came to realize that I must take risks with my heart. I remember beginning to realize what the possible outcomes, good or bad, of investing all my heart into something or someone might entail. I began to imagine the heart ache when something inevitably might go wrong. I began guessing what that might feel like. I began to weigh the cost of guarding my heart to avoid pain, yet limit the fullness of life, or to swan dive into the deep end with my heart on my sleeve. I remember choosing the latter. I remember taking a huge leap of faith to trust God with my tender heart. “Life to the full”. I heard those words rattle around my brain for so many years. For me, it meant trying not to hold back, trying not to protect, trying not to play it safe. I remember twenty something years ago discovering how terrifying it felt to take those risks, but I did it anyway. Always scared, but rarely choosing security over deep end swimming.
Then, things started to hurt. Regular, grown up life things that everyone encounters if they live any amount of adult life. I kept waiting on God to make me feel better. I kept waiting on Him to comfort me in a way that I heard about from other people. I kept asking and waiting for Him to take the pain away. As the years went on, there were more and more opportunities to love and get hurt. Not just people, but seasons of life, jobs, identities, places, smells, little voices, tender touches, familiar drives, specific emotions. There were so many things just…gone. Gone just because of the natural order of life. All of those choices to love hard, seemed to bring too many chances to hurt. Everything was just sad.
I tried to begin looking for ways to be in the moment and appreciate all the wonderful things that were constantly happening all around me. For several years, I went about my days working to stay positive, to be thankful, to not dwell on the sadness that I always felt lurking in the background. It was as if my forty something year old self couldn’t get right with my twenty something year old self. It’s not that I would have changed anything, I just wished I could have explained some things to her. Not put so much pressure on her to feel certain ways. I just don’t think people were very forthcoming about all the pain associated with love. And I don’t think people were very honest about the comfort that they feel from God. No one told me about grief. No one mentioned that I might grieve all the things that I love. I thought grieving was reserved for losing a loved one to death. Certainly no one told me what to do with grief, other than ask for God to heal me and receive His comfort. Maybe my memory fails me and I heard all the right things, but didn’t know what they meant. Like when someone tries to explain childbirth or what becoming a mother is like. It’s impossible to understand until it happens. Maybe a twenty-two year old just can’t comprehend life until she has lived some.
I have had a lot of time this year to let my mind wander a bit and time to think deeply. A sacred gift from 2020. Someone asked me to talk about some of the things I have poured a lot of love into, so they could get to know me some. I began to tell the stories from my first job that loved and grieved so much. Stories that weren’t just stories anymore, but rather, they were moments that shaped me into who I am. The listener responded saying that it sounded like that was a really special time to me and how beautiful that it is a part of me. I am not sure what happened in that moment, but it was if God plunged His hand right through that grief and replaced it with gratitude. Something that I have been grieving for fourteen years now, was now in an instant a beautiful, joyful, precious part of who I am today. All of the cliches about rather to have loved and lost…blah blah blah…now made perfect sense. And it didn’t stop. Memory after memory of all the things that I threw so much heart into, that were now either gone or not the same, didn’t feel only sad anymore. Now they are part of who I am, part of my life story. And the one thing I can’t seem to feel enough of is gratitude. I am so very thankful for each of these hurts. For each and every twinge of pain, for it tells my twenty something self, “it was worth it”. It shouts, “you were right, it hurts so bad, but it is so, so beautiful.” These things are writing my “life to the full.”
I still can’t articulate what the comfort of God feels like, because I don’t know if it’s something I know how to feel. I don’t think it feels like my mom’s hug or my husband’s voice or all the many ways I find comfort on the earth. And maybe the fact that I have so many earthly comforts is part of the reason I haven’t felt that tear-wiping hand of the Holy Spirit before. The people who love me get there so quickly. And isn’t that a reason to praise. But I do know that in that moment that God flipped grief on its nose and turned it to gratitude, I have never felt so comforted in all my life. It told me that there is beauty from pain. I’m sure I have heard that a million times, but if I’m honest, I’ve always found that to be a pile of crap. But it’s not. Not only is it not a pile of crap, it is the most beautiful, wild, scary, thrilling, overflowing life that I think is possible. And also sad, but I think I have more to learn about grief, and I think I am not so scared of it anymore. Most of the time, I just need to know the answer to this one question: Can I trust Jesus with my heart? I love it when I can answer this with a resounding “yes”. Today, yes.