During my husband’s relatively short illness my hope was entirely of the moment, tethered to the long odds of healing and a cure. After he died, I questioned whether I could ever again trust anyone or anything enough to experience real hope in life, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 NRSV).

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 could not 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 backfilled 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 particular 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 my 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 or not it is labeled “natural”—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 street level 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, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NRSV).

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 a whole life, our life. Wholeness enables us to compartmentalize the past and live in the present. Wholeness allows us to claim the promises of the future, whatever they 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