This post is the sixth in a series called The Gap. Please click here to read from the beginning. I know I haven’t touched on this series for awhile, but this post has been a cautious work in progress.
Something about grief we don’t often talk about: I choose when and how I step out of it.
I write a lot about grief here. I do what I can to validate and illustrate because when I was fifteen and my mom died there weren’t too many that wanted to talk honestly about grief. There was no one to tell me what I was feeling was okay or normal or temporary. That experience shaped me; that grief carved an empathy from my heart that carries forward motion: as long as it remains within my power to do so, I will speak honestly about it because you never know who needs to hear it. Maybe a fifteen year old, maybe a fifty year old.
My fifteen and sixteen year old self did the only thing that made sense: I got mad. Good and mad. I didn’t understand how a God who claimed to be good and faithful and merciful could snap a teenage girl’s life in half and rob her of her mother. All the platitudes that rained down on me during those first six months fueled my anger.
“She’s in a better place now.” – Great. I’m in hell.
“God needed her in heaven.” – Say what now?
“Her job on earth was done.” – No. No, it wasn’t. I.am.sixteen. Sixteen!
And so, for a year and a half, I went to bed each night asking God to let me die and when I woke in the morning (still alive, obviously) I pulled my cloak of anger tightly around me and carried my way through another pointless day. When, in the summer of 1996, my brother broke his neck in a brutal car accident, I sat under a large tree in the back forty of the family home and God and I had a long talk about the rage that fueled me. I left my cloak there that day, though I had more learning to do, but He helped me step out of grief and allow healing to begin.
In retrospect, my brother’s accident should have left me furious. It should have been the jerry can of evidence that made my anger explode to a new level of hot rage. Instead, it broke me. It broke me enough to allow God to open my eyes to see a new perspective: gratitude. Deep, soul-shaking gratitude that my brother was still alive.
I look back on those years with regret. Those years informed (though not perfectly) the grief of walking through infertility. I didn’t make all the right choices. I still pulled away, sunk into anger and fiddled with the fringes of bitterness but my heart never forgot the mind-numbing grip of a grief that made no sense.
What’s all this got to do with infertility? With choosing to live a childless life if God is calling you there?
We can talk about calling and miracles and healing as things ethereal and unquantifiable. We can bandy them about and wait for that moment we feel something special that tells us we’re where we need to be. But ultimately? The thing about grief that we rarely talk about it is that I must choose when and how I step free of it.
Grief is real. Brutal. Raw. It carves deep wells of memory into our very being and leaves us changed. Sometimes we allow it the power to move in. We put on anger or bitterness or denial or bargaining on like a cloak each morning and we allow it to envelope not just our hearts but our lives.
At some point, however, we must trust that God gives us the courage to choose.
A few months ago, my father sent me this beautiful quote from Mike Mason’s book Champagne for the Soul:
Do you have a favourite chair, a place you feel most at home and comfortable? So does joy.
Joy’s favourite chair is your sadness, your weakness, your grief. Wherever your wounds are most tender, joy finds a soft place to settle. A lighthearted person may rejoice, but no one has greater capacity for joy than one who is like our Saviour, ‘a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering’. Joy loves our brokenness best.
Finally I saw that if joy does not arise out of the midst of tragedy, it will not arise at all. Christian joy is rooted in darkness, chaos, meaninglessness, sorrow.
Joy loves our brokenness best. Chew on that for a bit and remember this: joy is a choice. Stepping out of grief is a choice. The courage to make that choice comes from a God whose very character is goodness, faithfulness and mercy; a God whose grace is soul-shaking and gratitude-shaping.
I’ve written this series to shed light on the process of moving from the grief of infertility to the deep joy we have in living this life as a family of two. It’s not a guide book, it’s a story: our story. There may be similarities and shared sorrows to work through, but in the end, you must choose when and how you will step out of grief into life.
It’s not easy. Sometimes you need to make that choice many times in the space of a week, day or hour. It requires a personal honesty and a courage that, in the end, isn’t even your own. But God’s not in the business of leaving people buried in grief when their desire is to break free.
Grief may leave you broken, but joy must arise there. And grace? Well, grace cannot – will not – leave you there.
He is a mighty Savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
~ Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)