The Journey

     A few months after my beloved husband died, I went to a movie on a lonely Saturday afternoon. I was wearing my own self-styled version of sackcloth and ashes—a baggy gray sweat suit with a hood that felt like an anonymous cocoon. I sat down and headed south into a bag of popcorn, hoping to find some comfort at the bottom. Comfort food—well, there is really no such thing…

     As I waited for the previews to begin, I was struck by an ad for a well-known brand of luggage. As travel images flashed on the screen, the message unfolded: a journey is not a trip or a vacation. Rather, a journey is about discovery. When we grieve, the journey is about self-discovery, as we come face to face with ourself. On a journey, we see not only the world, but also how we fit into the world. Although I did not rush out and buy the luggage, the final teaser was both thought-provoking and powerful. The question posed was this, "Does the person create the journey or the journey create the person?" In less than sixty seconds, the ad delivered this answer, “The journey is life itself. Where will life take you?”

   In truth, grief is a journey we had rather not take. With the death of one we love, suddenly we are on a forced march through unfamiliar, uncharted, foreign territory. We find ourself on a trek as we walk through the hardships and difficulties of making sense of life without the one we love. Yet through it all, we trust that God is present to us, guiding us on our journey through the great unknown of grief. 

   When our journey through grief begins, we do not know exactly where we are going or how long it will take us to get there. There is no map that shows us a well-marked route that leads us through our grief toward an end destination somewhere beyond our grief. All we know is that our path must lead us away from the darkness of death, through the shadows of grief, toward the light of new life.

   To be sure, others have grieved before us. Others are grieving now alongside us. And somewhere, there is someone whose grief is even newer than our own. But no one has ever taken, or will ever take, our exact same path through grief, including those family members and friends who are grieving the same person we now grieve. Our journey is uniquely our own.

   On the way home from work one day I saw a woman on a walk. She was pumping her arms, striding along with purpose and determination in every step. Yet she was not really going anywhere—she was making a circuit through the neighborhood for recreation and physical fitness. When we grieve, we are going somewhere—away from pain and sorrow, toward comfort and hope. Yet there is only one way to go through grief—we walk, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4 RSV).

   Some of us imagine that we can “get over” our grief quickly—you may be in a hurry to “be done” with your grief. Yet there is no such thing as speed-grieving. It is impossible to race walk through grief. Though we may change the length of our stride—sometimes we take large steps forward in our grief—yet everyone goes through the same motion. We put one foot in front of the other and walk, though sometimes only one small baby step at a time. 

   When a baby learns to walk it teeters, wobbles, and occasionally falls, most often in place, squarely on its bottom. Yet a baby usually gets right back up—it tries again and again until it finds the balance and equilibrium needed to stay up and move forward. In grief we do the same—we fall down, “we get knocked down…” (2 Corinthians 4:9 NLT). Yet we get back up and walk forward again with the same tenacity and courage of a small child. 

   The journey through the valley of the shadow of death is the most profound walk of faith imaginable, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NRSV). In truth, grief can be the most honest and faithful place we will ever stand to find the true measure of our faith and our deepest experience of God. Through the power of our faith, ultimately we prevail over grief and triumph over the death of one we love, for in the promise of our faith, we know that death is not the end. When we grieve, God leads us faithfully on our journey through grief, slowly directing us toward spiritual safety and home. And so, we walk…

I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
Psalm 116:9 NRSV



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