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.
Life can be difficult. At times, burdens, disappointments, and uncertainties can seem too difficult to bear. Poet Annie Johnson Flint poignantly captured the struggles of life in her poem “One Day at a Time”:
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.
Standing near the body of his older brother, his pain was visible. Adding to the weight of death was the knowledge that their relationship had been the closest thing he’d ever known to that of a father and son. His brother had always said, “I love you,” whenever they parted. But the differences in their lives, the jagged edges of their arguments, and the absence of true intimacy left this grieving man wondering if his love was real.
When grocery store owner William Straw died unexpectedly in 1932, the family of this man from Worksop, England, was devastated. In their grief, they chose to leave William’s red brick house precisely the way it was the day he died. Over the years, Straw’s two sons lived there, keeping the house in immaculate condition—leaving their father’s coats and hats by the front door, his soap in the bathtub, and unopened cans of sardines and beans in the pantry. In 1991, the last surviving son died, leaving the house to the National Trust. The Trust now allows visitors to view William Straw’s house as an example of English life from 80 years ago.
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.”
I know a couple who have just had their third miscarriage. In two of those painful losses, they’ve held a perfectly formed, lifeless little body in their hands. While there’s much light in this world—beauty, goodness, joy—there are also the shadows of sadness, evil, and suffering.