Confronted with Loss
Last summer, as we were driving through Glacier National Park, marveling at the views, I unexpectedly found tears streaming down my face. Not tears of joy for the beauty, but rather those of deep-seated grief and loss. I stared out the window, trying to hide them—the pain was raw, a never-healed wound that had ripped open yet again.
It all started as my husband and I were listening to Margaret Feinberg’s Fight Back with Joy on audio. In Chapter .005 Margaret, who reads the audio version herself, describes how she used ancient Jewish mourning rituals to express her grief as she fought breast cancer. At first my tears were for Margaret as I tried to imagine her experience. They turned into tears for a friend who was fighting cancer. But then Margaret’s words hit me where I live:
What do you need to grieve? . . . Sometimes we sweep away opportunities to grieve by convincing ourselves the loss is no big deal . . . sometimes the quieter losses prove to be the most important . . . the unmet expectations you’ve never said aloud, the unrealized dream that haunts you when you can’t sleep.Margaret Feinberg
As she talked about how these ancient mourning rites invite “mourners to voice the unspeakable to God” I realized that the loss that continually confronted me was the one that I had never really grieved. It was one of those quiet losses of unmet expectations and unrealized hopes. It was the loss that in some ways I had never taken to God: our younger son Mischa’s genetic disorder.
Worshiping in the Dark
If Margaret’s words challenged me to be honest with myself and with God, the keriah ritual she described took me back to Job. As Job talks with his friends, he demonstrates honesty with a vengeance. But the words and actions of the keriah ritual echo Job’s initial response. Job had lost almost everything. Only his wife and his health remained when
Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.“Job 1:20–21 (NRSV)
With these words, Job submits himself to God and worships (1:20). Before Job rages against God (chapters 3–31), demanding an audience, an explanation, and justice, Job acknowledged both God’s sovereignty and his own dependence on Him. Job worshiped the One that he held responsible for his loss.
Speaking the Unspeakable
When Job was afflicted with sores and his wife encouraged him to curse God and die, Job responded that we must receive both good and evil from God (2:10). But after Job’s worship, his refusal to curse God, and finally his silent suffering, Job becomes bluntly honest, saying exactly what he thinks and feels. He “voice[s] the unspeakable.”
I cried quietly that day in the car, but I wasn’t brutally honest with God. That only happened a month later as I talked about daily life with Mischa in a small group from church while we were discussing Rom 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
One of the women gently and kindly commented that it sounded like my husband Casey and I were living this out. I replied—actually, I think I snapped—that it didn’t count because I hadn’t chosen this path. And suddenly I could breathe. I’d finally been honest and stopped trying to put a brave face on it. My words weren’t pretty and I wasn’t gracious. But as I looked in her eyes, I felt understood and accepted. She got it. She knew. She hadn’t chosen her path either. She was a cancer survivor. And kind of like Job’s experience before his friends spoke, in that moment I knew that I wasn’t alone. She too had walked a difficult path that she hadn’t chosen and that many would never understand. God may have taken my dreams and expectations, but He had gifted me with understanding and compassion. In my mourning, He provided comfort.
What about you? What do you need to be honest with God about? Or do you need to be the understanding ear for someone who is finally ready to be honest? You are welcome to share a word or two, or perhaps someone’s initials if you need prayer. But even if you don’t, I’ll be praying this week that you will come to a place where you can allow mourning to lead to joy, saying with me:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.(Matt 5:4; Job 1:21)
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All Scripture citations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.