Near the closing of the film Forrest Gump, Forrest is standing alone at the foot of the grave of his dearly beloved Jenny: “You died on a Saturday morning. And I had you placed here under our tree. . . . Momma always said dyin’ was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.”
A few months after his son’s tragic death, my friend told me that people who had been close were now avoiding him and his family. He said it was as if people no longer wanted to be around them. I asked him why he thought the poor comforters were acting this way. His answer troubled me, for I knew it was the hard truth: “When people don’t feel they can fix a situation, they try to pretend it’s not there. They feel embarrassed.”
The Bible is not propaganda. Unlike some governments that share only positive reviews, Scripture records the words of people who are frustrated with God. Psalm 44 begins by remembering conquests that inspire trust in Him. “O God . . . our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day. . . . You crushed their enemies and set our ancestors free” (Psalm 44:1-2). The psalmist concluded, “You are my King and my God” (Psalm 44:4).
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
Have you felt the crushing weight of despair? Perhaps a performance review was negative, a cancer screening was positive, or your spouse wanted a divorce. Suddenly, your life seemed pretty much over.
Lord, he was so young . . . married less than a year. My heart broke for the wife and extended family of the young man—grieving his loss as fellow mourners met with them. A familiar question came to mind: God, why him and not me? I had the same disease, and went through the same bone marrow transplant treatment. Why did he die and why is my cancer in remission? In that moment, God reminded me once again that He alone is sovereign.
One of my favorite songs is the 1993 Grammy award-winning Tears in Heaven. It’s an intimate song that Eric Clapton wrote to help him heal from the loss and pain of the accidental death of his 4-year-old son. Rooted in tragedy and grief, Eric expresses the hope of seeing his son again. He wrote of a place beyond this world, a place beyond tears—heaven. This song has touched me deeply. Like Clapton, we face painful, heartbreaking moments in life—times that make us long for the day when we’ll cry no more.
Two years ago, I held my father’s hand as he drew his last breath. Since then, as I’ve struggled to figure out what a world without Dad looks like, I’ve learned and relearned a few things about grieving.
When people become comatose, one of the many concerns is to keep their muscles from degenerating. Atrophy sets in quickly when there is no movement. On the other hand, most exercise trainers will tell you that muscle grows after it has been under stress. Strenuous exercise makes small tears in the muscle tissue. As it heals, the muscle grows stronger or larger than it was before the ordeal. Some pain is necessary for our bodies to retain vigor.
Have you ever felt as if no one was there for you when you faced a difficult and trying time? Perhaps King David’s words reflect what you were feeling: “I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit what happens to me” (Psalm 142:4).
God’s royal family in Genesis was a bit seamy. Consider Abraham’s family. He slept with his female slave and later consented to his wife’s desire to banish the woman and his son by sending her into the wilderness (Genesis 21:14). What family could be worse than that?
As any couple trying to have a child knows, every 28 days you’re looking for signs of success. For many couples, this expectation is met with disappointment for a few months until conception occurs. But for others, this monthly cycle of raised and dashed hopes can last for years. Proverbs 13:12 describes such an experience well: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”