Practically pursuing Christ in our grief
Have you ever experienced a moment that was so deeply painful that you thought, “This can’t even be real”? That was my experience this past December.
Now, my life has been no stranger to pain. From the trauma of church hurt to my pastor husband’s frightening period of deconstruction to the near-death of my daughter Nora on more than one occasion — I have known soul-crushing pain. And every single time, God has shown me His steadfast love and trustworthiness.
Yet here I am. Writing to you. Surprised by how my heart has responded to this current season of suffering.
One minute, I was on a spiritual mountaintop. So hungry for God and His Word that my feet and sleep couldn’t keep up.
The next minute, I was numb. So devastated by hate-filled words that I genuinely wondered how God could love me when someone who should so obviously didn’t.
“You’re a disappointment.”
“You’re a fraud.
Almost instantly, I began to rewrite the narrative.
“GOD thinks you’re a disappointment.”
“GOD thinks you’re self-righteous.”
“GOD thinks you’re a fraud.”
As automatically as breathing, I received this shame and condemnation as truth. Since then, I have run the gamut of denial, anger, anxiety, depression, isolation, and vulnerability to sins that have never tempted me. And I’m just gonna tell you, pursuing time with the Lord in His Word has felt like driving through fog. I just want to park my car and give up.
Praise God for His Spirit. He perseveres in us. He doesn’t leave us stranded in the fog. But He doesn’t necessarily lift it either. Instead, He takes the wheel and drives us through it.
So, how can we pursue quiet time with the Lord when the noise from our pain is so loud? From my heart to yours, I want to give you some steps to keep you anchored in God’s Word, in pursuit of His still, small voice when the chaotic noise of grief attempts to paralyze you and drown out the truth.
Feel with your Father. You know what I love to do when I feel something I don’t like? I put it in a box, burrow to the center of the earth, deposit that box, and never speak of it again! Super helpful, right? Wrong. Ignoring what we feel, joking about what we feel, intellectualizing how we feel — all of these approaches are disingenuous ways to process the very real pain we experience in this life. And, frankly, when we do this, it only creates more shame. Jesus gives us a moment of humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane that is truly breathtaking as he talks to his Father about what He’s feeling. Matthew 26:37-39 “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”
Jesus doesn’t drop a trite, “I’m fine.” He doesn’t quip about calling the angels for backup. He is laid bare in the presence of His Father. All the while, submitting His feelings to His Father’s will.
Sister — we don’t have to choose between sitting in the discomfort of our grief AND entrusting ourselves to God’s plan in our grief. In these moments, your quiet time probably won’t look the same. Don’t forget that tears shed in prayer as you remind yourself of God’s character and seek His will is as noble a “quiet time” as the moments where you are comfortably sitting in your chair with a hot cup of coffee while journaling through the Scriptures. He wants your heart. Not your process.
Don’t White-Knuckle It. There is, perhaps, no greater display of “white knuckling it” than this scene on the water in the gospels. Matthew 28-30, “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
I’m telling you what, you just have to LOVE Peter! Here are the disciples, terrified that they see a ghost, and Peter makes this declaration, “Guys, guys, guys. I know how we’ll prove it’s Jesus. I’ll tell him to ask me to walk on the water to Him! BOOM.”
Like, how did this thought even enter Peter’s brain? I would have picked the safest litmus test possible. “Jesus, if it’s you, stop the wind again! Or, how about more fish? That was really awesome last time!” I certainly would not have chosen an option that put me in imminent danger should it NOT have been Jesus. But, Peter does something bold. Peter waits on the Lord. To wait on the Lord means to hope, anticipate, and trust Him. To wait ON the Lord requires faith IN the Lord. And Peter demonstrates great faith at this moment. But then Scripture tells us he notices the wind and begins to sink.
You know what fascinates me about this? The wind was there BEFORE Peter got out of the boat. Verse 24 tells us the boat was “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” Why was Peter more afraid on the water with Jesus than in the boat with the same wind? I’m forced to ask myself a similar question. Why am holding on for dear life more in my current season of suffering than I did in those that were exponentially harder? Jesus gives us our answer in verse 31, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.’You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
Sisters, this is where I have let the Scriptures be a mirror from which I cannot hide. When I choose to white-knuckle it, I am actively rejecting the belief that God is in control. For Peter, this rejection was but a moment. But, if we aren’t careful, a moment turns into moments. And moments turn into days. And, before we know it, we have made a habit of looking to ourselves for control rather than humbling ourselves in God’s presence. Let your quiet time be fueled by an expectant heart rather than a fearful one. And because He is good, He reaches for us even when we choose fear.
Ask for a willing Spirit. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. What if you just don’t FEEL like spending time with the Lord? What if, in your pain, you have pulled the parachute and are now floating far away from your devotion to studying His Word and spending time with Him in prayer? This is the part where I wish I could look at you eyeball to eyeball and tell you what I must tell myself every single day. “I am not loved more by God on the days I get it right. I am loved by God, period.”
Sister — your time with the Lord is not an achievement or performance capable of earning more affection from Him. In Christ, you are loved, and you are His DAUGHTER. As one of my mentors, Cheri, puts it, “He is not LIKE a father. He IS your Father.” Hold on to this truth with all of your heart. That being said, we still must prioritize our obedience to Christ over our feelings. How do we do this?
David gives us the quintessential prayer for this moment in His confession to the Lord after sinning with Bathsheba in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing Spirit.”
My sweet friend, it is really that simple. Every day. Every moment. You can ask Him, “God, would you give me a willing Spirit?” I can tell you this because I’m asking Him, too. And I know this is a prayer He will answer and is answering because it’s a prayer that is aligned with His kingdom.
Choose time with Him today. Let His presence be a balm over your pain knowing that you are loved, you are forgiven, and you are being made new.
|Ashley is pastor’s wife and worship leader at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Together with her husband, Justin, she is also a worship leader for the New City Collective. Ashley is a homeschool mom of four with a passion for the local church, discipling children through the entire Bible, and teaching women to think critically and Biblically as they engage culture.|