Sometimes a new perspective on a single word or idea can penetrate our uneven grief emotions and get our attention in an unexpected way. It is the light bulb effect, the “aha” moment when we at last understand some deeper truth that gives us unexpected insight into the nature of God. When this happens, we are strengthened and inspired to move forward in our grief.
The psalmists paint some particularly vivid word pictures, often framed in praise and thanksgiving to God. When we grieve, sometimes it is difficult to feel grateful because it seems as though our entire world lies in ruins around us. Most would probably agree there is precious little that seems praiseworthy about death when one we love is no longer with us in this life. Yet the fact that we survive and God empowers us to grow into our changed life is sufficient reason to offer our unreserved gratitude to God. It is a sacred responsibility of grief to be grateful for the gift of life, even in the face of loss and sorrow.
“Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, ‘I am driven far from your sight.’ But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help” (Psalm 31:21-22 NRSV). If you follow media outlets that focus on world news, probably you have some impression of what a city under siege looks like. Usually the scene is utter chaos and complete mayhem. No less besieged and beset is a world invaded by a viral pandemic. Though with illness there may be little visible evidence of large-scale property destruction, the toll in human life is more devastating and significant than the loss of anything man-made or material.
When we grieve, for a while our life may seem like a city under siege. Our world is turned upside down, inside out by the death of one we love. We are confronted at every turn, beset by the forces of change. Rebuilding a city that is damaged or destroyed may progress over several generations. Some will never recover from the trauma and permanent loss of a century health crisis. When we grieve, it is impossible to make quick order out of the ashes of our lives after the death of one we love.
At the core of our grief, the presence and comfort of God are hidden in plain sight within each gesture of grace that surrounds us. God’s love defends our life. God’s love enfolds us in everlasting arms. God’s love assures us that God cares for us individually and personally, especially when we grieve. Though God’s love is invisible, it is visible everywhere around us if we will but lift up our head and heart to experience each manifestation of God’s comfort and abiding presence.
When we grieve, often we feel isolated from everyone and everything. We may feel alienated from God, “driven far from your sight”. And though it may be alarming to find ourselves in this unfamiliar place of heart and soul, God is never threatened by our emotions, especially the outpouring of a grief-stricken heart. God is trustworthy. God is infinitely patient. God understands our grief, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:1-3 NRSV).
We want help, we need help, but can we rely on God’s presence to us in our grief? Our assurance is that God hears and answers our prayers when we cry for help. We express our trust in God through prayer, even when there are no words except, “Lord, help me” (Matthew 15:25 NRSV). On a walk through the neighborhood one afternoon, I saw a little girl tangled in her bicycle and heard her small, anxious voice cry out in fearful distress. “Help me”, she said. I crossed the street, murmured a few words of comfort, then pointed her toward her nearby home. Like this small child, God comforts us in our grief, untangles our lives, and guides us on our way to spiritual safety and home.
Though we may suffer for a while, we are never driven from God’s sight. Rather, we take heart because we live in the assurance that the comfort and presence of God are with us everywhere, at all times, forever, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mathew 14:27 NRSV). Together we give thanks for the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, hidden in plain sight, “No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he’ll keep you safe and sound” (Proverbs 3:25-26 MSG).
Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. I had said in my alarm, ‘I am driven far from your sight.’ But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
Psalm 31:21-22 NRSV