As I drove down a neighborhood street one day, a sign announcing the relocation of a local church a few blocks north caught my eye. Its message got my attention. There was a directional arrow and this simple statement, “We’ve grown. We’ve moved.” The small, rather unpretentious sign made me think about the ways we grow and move forward in grief – away from the past, toward the vast unknown future without the one we love.
Over time I’ve found that one of the greatest hurdles of moving forward on the journey through grief is the active pursuit of redefining our individual self. That is, discovering who we are apart from the relationship with the one we love and now grieve. Some of us may be forced to individuate for the first time in life, especially if we’ve spent the majority of our adult life with a beloved spouse or partner. Because of our enduring commitment and devotion, often we continue to see ourselves more in the context of our loved one than as the unique individual God created us to be. When we individuate, we affirm our own identity, we recognize ourselves apart from the one now lost to us in death - husband, wife, partner, child, sibling, parent. We appreciate – perhaps for the first time in life - our personal, God-given qualities, abilities, and gifts, “So God created humankind, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NRSV).
Grief offers two possibilities. Either we grow and move forward in life, or we remain rooted in a physical and emotional past that no longer exists. It’s a choice. When we choose to grow, we move forward into possibilities we might once never have even imagined. If we resist, we succumb to the past and spend our life in frustration and self-pity. We grow and move forward spiritually as grief guides us slowly but surely toward the light of new life - away from the past to a new place that inspires hope and reinvestment in the future.
As I’ve struggled to grow, I’ve become more attuned to the momentum of moving forward. We know we’re on the move when the acquired habits of our grief – chronic sadness, isolation, negativity – begin to feel stiff and stifling. We need a breath of fresh air, we need to stretch our legs, we need to move around. And when we’re moving forward, we’re growing into the person of stand-alone value and worth that we are.
I admit the push/pull of grief is more than a little confusing, sometimes even conflicting. It’s tempting to hold on tenaciously to the past. To move forward we dare to let go of what once was - but will never be again - to clear some emotional and spiritual space and live more fully in the present with a view to the future. And when we do, we find that moving forward is the way through grief, “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 NRSV).
Empowered by the experience of life and death, we move forward in the confidence of our faith. We’re called to live the rest of the life we’ve been given in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s abiding peace and joy.
-and may your God be with you. Move forward!
2 Chronicles 36:23 MSG
Keep me this day, O God, in the confidence of your growth. Amen.