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Grief: Heads Up, Hands Off

Grief: Heads Up, Hands Off

Grief doesn’t come with a handbook.

There are guidelines, of course — clinical scales that help determine phases of denial, anger, acceptance, and a few others.

And while a useful tool, serving in some ways as an emotional mile marker, these scales follow anything but a linear order. Grief invokes chaos, shuffling these “steps” and “phases” out of line and often leaving us disoriented and internally off-balance.

Acceptance is the one step in the five clinical stages of grief that felt impossible to me. Denial, depression, even bargaining seemed to take their places at different times on different days. Anger, though rare, certainly reared its head in moments as well. But I remember sitting on my counselor’s deep-cushioned couch, staring at the word acceptance written on her whiteboard and thinking, Impossible.

It seemed so final. So permanent. Like giving up my will to fight in the bloodiest battle I’d ever endured. I rarely concede, and I hate the idea of throwing in the towel. It feels so unnatural not only because it is grossly incompatible with our culture but also because it seems like a personal affront to my strength and fortitude and ability to survive. We live in a white-knuckle world with white-flag disdain. Surrender is weakness, defeat, and vulnerability.

Surrender meant admitting that Ben was really gone.

But in the wake of any kind of loss, we must eventually accept what we can’t change or control. We do this by consciously putting our pain in the hands of the Savior.

You see, in the Kingdom of God, submission is gloriously upside down. Getting low actually lifts you up. The power of surrender in Christ comes from knowing the one who has already laid everything down. Surrender takes every ounce of burden off of us.

Death + Jesus = life.

Sin + Jesus = salvation.

Heartbreak + Jesus = restoration.

And our job is to give it all to Him and get out of the way. Our job is to stop trying and keep trusting. Our job is to believe Jesus when He said, “It is finished,” even though we’re stuck in a nightmare that feels like it will never end (John 19:30). Jesus said,

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for Me, you will find it.Matthew 10:39

This was a tough truth for me to face — a difficult command in and of itself but unfathomable in the midst of grieving my husband. It wasn’t the answer I wanted. It also isn’t the answer the world gives.

  • Jesus doesn’t tell me to fight harder or stay busy; He tells me to give my sorrow to Him and be still. Give Him the hurt, the questions, the fear, and watch Him work.

But as the days slipped further and further from my last with Ben and everyone else’s lives marched on, I felt as though my only hope was to hold tighter, to cling with everything I had, so the world wouldn’t forget his memory and time wouldn’t continue widening the gap between us. I’d convinced myself that maybe if I held on tight enough, if I kept my life just how it was before the day he died, I might be okay.

The first thing I had to surrender was the grief itself. I thought I had.

My prayers and Instagram posts and coffee conversations with people said I had. I truly was doing the best I could, and I continued to praise God along the way. But as hard as I tried, I made plenty of mistakes. The world kept praising me for how well I was handling everything, but behind those praises, I felt like a fraud. I knew all the moments I’d snapped and yelled at my parents or sisters for no reason. I knew the nights I’d drunk myself to sleep because I was afraid to lie awake again in our bed alone. I knew all the people I’d avoided or lied to, pretending I didn’t get their messages because I felt too depleted to talk. I knew the ways and occasions I had handled grieving far from well, and they burdened me. That behavior wasn’t who I wanted to be, and it wasn’t helpful. My deep, unaddressed pain was, as my therapist put it, “coming out sideways.”

On top of the shame I was feeling because of these sideways behaviors, grief had also totally ransomed my memory. No matter how much I strained to remember or how reflective I was, my mind seemed to have taken a complete sabbatical. I simply couldn’t remember things! I couldn’t remember times Ben and I had shared, things he’d said, even intimate physical details about him. It was like my hard drive had been erased. I felt captive to my grief and frustrated that it seemed to be getting the better of me.

Then one bitter December day, I went to see my therapist. I shared with her about my struggle to remember and the regrettable “sideways” reactions.

I kept staring at the whiteboard and at that word: acceptance. I couldn’t imagine accepting everything that had happened, but even more than that, I didn’t want to accept that I had, at times, handled my hurt so poorly. I blamed myself for making mistakes and looking so faithful to the world when I’d failed on many occasions. I’d thought I was doing well, but maybe I couldn’t handle grief as well as I thought I could.
I started to cry with frustration, eyes on the floor. Then my counselor asked me two questions: “What would Ben say to you?” and “What would Jesus say to you?”

Excerpted from Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak by Mattie Jackson Selecman, copyright Mattie Jackson Selecman.

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Your Turn

Are you grieving? Give Jesus the hurt, the questions, the fear, and watch Him work. Heartbreak + Jesus = restoration. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily