Meeting God–in Grief
I’m enjoying reading (again) “Meeting God at Every Turn” by Catherine Marshall. Marshall was the wife of Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 until his unexpected death in January 1949.
Catherine relates her own two-year battle with tuberculosis, during which God taught her four significant lessons in her spiritual journey. When Peter died suddenly at the age of 46, leaving her with a nine-year old son, she relied on those lessons she had learned during her own extended illness.
Marshall shares that as she walked into her husband’s hospital room after his death, she felt both his, and another “Presence of transcendent glory, the Lord he had served through long years …” and she knew that “human life does not end in six feet of earth.”
That feeling of splendor didn’t last. At a certain point the two vivid presences left the room and Catherine saw death in all its ugliness. And death IS our enemy. I recall the moment my first husband passed from death to Life, and I knew he had left the room.
Catherine was given a message as she walked to the hospital room door–a message “with that peculiar authority I had come to recognize as the Lord’s own voice:‘ Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life’.“
The message I received after Jerry’s death, not audibly, but with great clarity, was Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.
About eight days after Peter’s passing, Catherine was once again in the “valley where salt tears and loneliness and the fear of coping alone with the problems of everyday life are all too real.”
My crash came about three weeks after Jerry’s passing, when questions and doubts assailed my mind and spirit. What if everything I believe is a lie and I’ll never see him again? What if death is the end and there is no eternal hope with Christ?
I’m not comparing my spiritual walk with Catherine Marshall’s. She has gone far deeper with God than I have. But I was reminded of some truths as I read this chapter.
1) Grief is a universal, but God has promised that in all, He will never leave nor forsake His children.
2) Death is ugly. It is our enemy and it is ok to be angry about death (as long as we move past that at some point). But death is also the window through which we must walk to reach the other side, where glory and peace and joy and worship and the physical Presence of our God await His children.
3) God encourages and comforts us through His people. While our natural inclination may be to hibernate, to be unwilling to cry or allow friends in during a time of grief, God has given us those individuals to rally ’round and help us in times of need.
I had friends and family who listened and wept with me, who didn’t try to fix me, and who helped bring our yard back to a semblance of order after I had been away from home for the nine months of our hospital stay in another state. Others sold items for me, prayed for me and for our families, welcomed me despite my being a wilted lump of clay as I groped my way through days and nights of agony, loneliness, numbness. As they allowed me to be only partially present with them, I needed to invite them into my grief.
4) We cannot sidestep the work of grieving the loss of those we have loved and held close in life. And yet, inconceivably, grief and joy can at times co-exist. Knowing my husband was with the Lord he had loved and served in a place of indescribable glory, I knew he would not want to return, not even because of his love for me. Why would anyone leave heaven to return to this world with its joys and sorrows, its beauty and its pain?
5) When we grieve, we experience a oneness with the rest of humanity, and we can encourage others as we ourselves experience healing.
Are you grieving? Look for someone else who has gone through loss, someone you can unburden yourself to honestly. It may be a minister, a priest, a counselor, a good friend, or a grief recovery group. (Check out www.griefshare.org for grief recovery groups across the country and possibly in your area).
And if you have experienced even some level of healing, I encourage you to reach out to someone else to share the help and love you have received.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.II Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV
Marshall says “Part of the process of setting us free (‘…He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the (haunting) fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives’) is reassurance piled upon reassurance in Scripture that at the death of the physical body, the real person inside lives on without interruption.” (p. 111)
When I questioned the truth of God’s promises, the resolution came as God brought to my mind the words of Peter, when Jesus asked if His disciples would leave Him.
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.John 6:68, NLT
And with those words, my doubts settled, my biggest questions answered.
At some point we will all experience grief, if we have not yet. Ask your questions–but find people you trust to listen and love you, rather than looking for those who would encourage your doubts. Our God is sufficient to handle our honest questions and fears.
Casting all your cares (all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you (with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully).I Peter 5:7 AMP