On April 3, my family and I marked 14 years since my father’s passing. It’s a day that holds deeply difficult memories; the pain of which has softened over time. Each year around this time I can’t help but reflect on the journey of grief my family and I were thrust into and the meaningful lessons I’ve learned upon the way. The Lord has prompted me that now is the time to share that story, both as a way to honor what God has done in my life and as a way to reach someone in the wilderness of grief today.
I feel that it’s important to give you a bit of background on my journey. When I was 18 years old and a Freshman at Penn State University, I received a call from my father that he had some testing done and that he had received his results: he had cancer. And not just any cancer, a rare form of sarcoma that responded poorly to traditional cancer treatments. His prognosis was grim with doctors giving him just 3-6 months to live. And thus began my grief-journey. You see, grief came to me long before my father actually died. It came early in all of its force, prepared to teach me lessons I didn’t feel ready for.
But grief wasn’t the only thing that came. You’ll see, as I continue to share my experience, that when confronted with the spiritual truths grief had to offer, doubt, uncertainty, and mistrust were eager to play a role too. My journey was undoubtedly dark at times, but I’ve learned that it wasn’t my grief that was grim.
No, grief is okay, in fact I might go as far as to say it’s good, even. Grief is partnered and forever intertwined with love. Grief is as fine a teacher as joy and a powerful form of healing in loss. But as with many good things in life, the Enemy is eager to use it to bring destruction and death through lies and manipulation of our weakest parts. So, you’ll see that with every good lesson grief had to offer, I battled through many lies of the Enemy as well, and for a period of time, he was successful in halting my healing.
The first lesson from grief came in a matter of moments after receiving that call from my dad. The comfortable and predictable life I had been living was gone. I had never imagined a future without my father but the reality of one where he was not part of it was staring me in the eyes. I had to acknowledge that I was not in control. I could not control the outcome of my father’s cancer diagnosis any more than I could control the future I had once imagined.
I wasn’t in control and I never had been. And instead of leaning into The One I knew that was in control, I fell for the lies of the Enemy that God, who sits in control, had either not noticed the chaos happening in my family or that He simply didn’t care. Blame. Guilt. Anger. Overwhelming emotions were smothering me as I watched my father grow sicker and sicker.
He died nearly three months to the day after he was diagnosed. As my grief entered a new chapter, so too did the attacks from the Enemy. This time it became a raging sea with unrelenting waves that crashed over me. Random moments would steal my breath away and I’d begin sobbing over mundane routines, like driving past Blockbuster. Painful reminders of my dad lurked everywhere. The brief moments of blissful ignorance as I first woke in the morning were quickly stolen by painful physical reminders of my grief as if my body was saying that lest my mind forget, it would surely remind me of the loss I was living.
In this season, grief was teaching me the price of love. As I said earlier, I believe grief and love are partners. They exist entangled together in the same space. I’ve heard grief
described as the perseverance of love. And it’s true, isn’t it? Grief is the physical, emotional, and spiritual evidence of love that knows not where or how to express itself anymore. Grief reminds us all that love can have a cost, and sometimes that cost comes when you lose someone you loved.
The cost of love is a necessary spiritual truth. But the enemy attacked its foundation. He spoke lies into my heart that nothing good could come from grief because it was too painful, too void, too uncertain. He began assaulting my trust in God. I questioned how God could actually be good if He allowed my father to die. I wondered why I couldn’t see or feel the promises that other believers were speaking into my life.
I felt like it was impossible to mourn and have hope. They felt mutually exclusive. I didn’t feel God near to me at all. I felt alone, isolated and unseen. These things made me feel guilty and even less likely to turn to God. I knew what scripture said and I wanted to be someone who believed it, but I couldn’t trust it anymore. It was a vicious cycle.
That cycle continued on and off for nearly a decade. Even after my grief had subsided to more manageable waves, I was stuck living in the aftermath of the lies and attacks the Enemy had used during those initial months of my grief process.
My journey wasn’t clean, tidy or linear. It was up and down, left and right, hot and cold for years. And the thing is, there wasn’t some dramatic moment where my heart awakened to the lies of the Enemy. It was a process that took a long time marked by many small successes and equally as many failures.
In the depths of my despair I was an angry, selfish, untrusting person who felt unworthy of many things. But God. But God didn’t leave me in the pit of despair I had made my home. But God didn’t look at me and see a lost cause. But God was faithful to me even when I wasn’t to Him.
God showed me time and time again that He was indeed trustworthy, ever present, and always good. It’s amazing to look back now and see His fingerprint on nearly every part of the journey. In the chaos of the moment, I had missed so many opportunities to see God at work, but I see it now.
It was the unrelenting faith in God that my father had until the very end; a gift that I cling to now. It was an army of people in my life who acted as the Body of Christ to serve me in all of my needs. They offered me rides home on weekends so that I could be with my father in his final months. They’d come sit with me at all hours of the night to pray for my father. They’d miss exams and classes to mourn with me at his funeral. They tenderly spoke scripture to me even as the words fell flat in my heart. They never stopped inviting me to Bible studies and Sunday church even when I felt like a foreigner there.
It was the peace I remember seeing on my father’s face when the priest arrived to bless him in his final moments of this life; Jesus was surely in that room. It was the love of my mother who picked up the pieces to carry on even in the midst of her own grief. It was the tender moment when my brother approached me after my father died and promised that he would always be there to support me and would stand in my father’s place to walk me down the aisle one day, putting back pieces of the future I thought I had lost.
God in His great love and mercy never stopped pursuing me even as I ran from Him. He took the weakest parts of me in both my fear and my mistrust and built a testimony for His glory. He has gifted me with wisdom and discernment to look back now and see the light from the darkness. And so, it is my hope that if you’re reading this as a person who loves someone who is grieving today you would find encouragement.
Pursue them and serve them in gentle ways that the Spirit guides. Pray for them relentlessly. Remember that while there is real healing in grief, the Enemy is likely using this as an opportunity to prey on weakness and plant seeds of doubt. Encourage them. Speak Truth in their life. Share in their burden. Weep with them. Talk about grief. Acknowledge the loss. Say their loved one’s name.
If it is you who is walking in grief today, have mercy on yourself. Know that God can handle everything you are feeling. All the doubt, mistrust, bitterness, and anger does not dissuade His love for you. Everything you feel is real, but not all of it is true and that’s an important distinction I’ve learned– investigate the difference.
Grief is painful. It is unpredictable. It is extremely individualized. It is big. And because grief is so big, we can become so distracted that we miss the covert attacks and lies of the Enemy that come in and set up camp under the radar.
As difficult and painful as it might seem, draw closer to God. Even if you don’t know which direction to look for Him, know that Spirit is carving a path forward. Soften your heart to His kindness to you. Read scripture even when it feels counter to what you experience. Praise God even when your heart has forgotten the melody. Tell others when you need help. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. Ask others to pray for you. Grief in isolation feels like unrelenting punishment but seen in the light of the goodness and faithfulness of God, it is a powerful journey that serves a good and unique purpose.
Grief has taught me many things: I am not in control, but there is One who is; life is unpredictable, but God is unchanging; God is good even when our circumstances are not; love has a cost.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that last one. I loved my father deeply and when he was gone, I mourned his loss deeply. But the magnitude of that loss never outweighed the gift of that love. Yes, sometimes the price of love is indeed loss. It is a heavy burden and sometimes it seems like too much to overcome. But remember, we are not the first to pay the cost of love and we are not the first to overcome it, for it was God who went before us. In His great love for us, God gave His only Son to die on a cross for our sins so that we would be forever reconciled to Him (John 3:16).
I want to close with this final passage. In the trenches of my grief, I really struggled to see how God was moving on my behalf. My prayer life suffered greatly because I felt like I didn’t even know how or what to pray for anymore. I was lost. When I read this scripture, I could cry.
I know now that for all of those years that my heart wandered around wounded, the only reason I returned home was because the Holy Spirit never stopped interceding on my behalf. When I lacked the words to express what my soul was crying out for, He did it for me. Take a moment to picture this passage as if you could see it happening as clearly in the natural world as the supernatural world does. I hope it encourages you. His love for us is a truly remarkable and powerful thing.
“In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, HSCB)