When my husband died in the dark hours of a hot July night, I felt God’s powerful, unmistakable presence in that dim, dingy hospital room. In a bright, shining moment I am certain that God transported Leighton’s soul to eternal life. And yet his body, emptied of his spirit, breathed on for another two long hours. When at last my beloved took his final breath, I felt abandoned—by him and by God.

During my husband’s relatively short illness, I experienced the extremes of hope and despair every day. My hope was entirely of the moment—tethered to surgery, drug treatments, and the long odds of healing and a cure. After he died, I questioned whether I could ever trust anyone or anything enough to experience real hope again in my life.

After months of soul-searching, I knew that I must claim a whole life for myself, whatever that might be. I thought that if I could reassemble the one million pieces of my shattered soul, somehow my life would be restored. Though this futile, self-appointed task was a folly of my grief, I knew that I did not want to live a diminished half-life, somehow “less than” because of the death of my husband.

By trial and sometimes painful error, I soon learned that it was impossible to put my life back together and replicate what it once was. When one we love dies, there are abysmal gaps in our life that simply cannot be back-filled or paved over. We must circumnavigate the gaping holes and find the solid ground of life yet unexperienced on which to rebuild.

And so, I gathered the shards and remnants of my broken heart into a pile, which needed some serious sorting. Tender reminders of a great earthly love were tucked into a special corner of my heart, so that I might revisit the joy we shared at any time. Pieces with particularly jagged edges—slivers of failed relationships within a fractured family—were disposed of with regret, genuine sorrow, and some personal accountability. Other small fragments, the nuts and bolts of daily life, that had no emotional investment were simply consigned to the past without too much thought or ceremony.

I shopped for a while at Whole Foods Market after the first one opened in our area, curious about what it was selling. What, exactly were whole foods? I wondered about the alternatives—half foods, incomplete foods, inferior foods? The premise of the store is to offer consumers organic, or so-called “natural” food. My experience, however, is that organic fruit picked prematurely has the same empty taste as that which is farmed less sustainably. By systematically removing most of the fats and some of the nutrients from manufactured food—whether it’s labeled “natural” or not—the cause and effect is usually that we eat more, in search of some non-existent flavor. And while this particular grocery marketing concept has a certain upbeat, contemporary appeal, for most, wholeness is usually more subjective than absolute. 

Over time, the growing desire for a whole life caused my spiritual focus to shift away from the easy fix of self-help toward a more absolute trust in God. I knew that through faith, I must hope again in life, “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV). The logical sequence in this powerful syllogism of Scripture demonstrates how God’s perfect plan is worked out in our lives, especially through the life-altering loss of death, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts”.

Wholeness, then, is evolutionary. It is a work in progress, so to speak. As our lives continually evolve, different pieces, new pieces—acquired either by default or design—slowly mesh until they fit snugly together to create our whole life. Wholeness enables us to compartmentalize the past and live in the present. Wholeness allows us to claim the promises of the future, whatever it may be. Wholeness inspires a willingness to hope, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” Lamentations 3:21-24 (ESV).

We grow spiritually through the experience of grief when wholeness inspires not greater self-sufficiency, but rather deeper dependence on the faithful presence of God. Wholeness, then, is a by-product of trust that inspires gratitude and affirms without question or reservation God’s abiding presence in our lives, “I give thanks to you, O LORD my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Psalm 86:12 NRSV).

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:23 NRSV