As I’ve continued the final clean-out of my mother’s house over the past week, I’ve gone again and again to the toolbox for a hammer, a screwdriver, or some other task-specific equipment. There’s a bit of deconstruction – pulling out wall hooks, taking apart beds, unscrewing a few things permanently installed – that are usually part of emptying a space. Every time I open the box and reach for one of my father’s tools I smile and think of his strong conviction that everyone should have “a little tool kit”.
When we grieve we reconstruct our lives. Our effort may be haphazard and random – my husband called this the “by gosh and by golly” method - or intentional and specific. However we go about the work of reconstituting who we are without the daily presence of our loved one, we do it because first, God wants us to and second, our loved one would want us to.
In doing the hard work of grief most of us gain a different perspective on life. At some point we acknowledge that the one we love and now grieve would want us to live a rich, joy-filled life, whatever that means to us individually - today, in the here and now. And so we embrace the idea and effort of reconstruction to honor the spiritual and emotional certainty that our life is worth salvaging, that the structure of who we are is still intact, though altered by our experience of grief.
It’s a known principle that the most essential part of any structure is a sound foundation, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:25 NIV). When our life is assailed by the death of one we love we’re shaken. We feel at least for a while that our structure may be near total collapse. It seems we’ve lost everything as tremors of loss and sorrow test the very bedrock of our soul. Yet somehow we keep going, we soldier on through the blinding storms, the raging floods, the gale force winds of our grief. We stand on the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, the foundation that never fails.
Though most of us don’t know much about construction, as we grieve we have a first-hand experience of many engineering principles - we’ve found out just how much stress our heart and body can bear and how large a load our soul can tolerate. We’ve learned, too, a little about these practical guidelines:
- There’s a plan to follow – we envision some kind of design then follow up with the construction steps that must occur in sequential order. But as our new structure takes form, if the plan is altered by circumstance, we change direction, try again, and continue to build a comfortable emotional home, a place we want to live.
- Construction is hard work. Because we’re basically unskilled at grief – there’s no manual for rebuilding our life - the labor of reconstruction is emotionally and physically exhausting. Yet slowly, gradually we place one block of experience carefully upon the last until the improved structure of our life begins to look right and feel right. Grief is hard work.
- Construction is handwork. In construction, heavy machinery is used to clear, dig, and hoist. And in grief we turn to meaningful resources, grief groups, and other external support to do some of the heavy lifting of our own reconstruction. Yet construction is essentially the work of human beings - hands guide the power saw, the nail gun, the riveter, affixing and fastening into place one piece at a time. As we work at our grief we read, we pray, we think, we listen - we do the hands-on work of reconstructing our lives from the inside out. The work is labor-intensive, but construction is always productive.
- Reconstruction is the work of self-nurture. When we honor our body with proper care we ensure that our new structure is physically and emotionally sound. We eliminate self-destructive behaviors (did I really gain 5 pounds from sheer grief?) and affirm ourselves for who we are. We recognize the gifts and graces that are ours and offer them in service to God and others.
- Reconstruction is the work of faith. When we rebuild our lives, we build on the Rock. Faith inspires us to do the work of grief, the handwork of reconstruction. We look to God for direction and guidance and trust in God’s plan for what our lives will yet become. We hope for the future, we live forward in the new construction of faith.
I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built.
Luke 6:47-48 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the vision of new life. Amen.