A few days ago, someone was praying for me, and she thanked God for hearing our prayers, loving us, and caring. That third verb stood out in my brain like a neon sign: God cares.
We recently passed the two-year mark of when most of the U.S. received stay-at-home orders and began a modified way of life. Even though I’ve weathered it relatively well, I think, each day I’m realizing new ways I’ve been impacted by the events of the past year.
Recently a friend of mine talked about how in January she had purposed to just put 2022 behind her and move forward. “I’m sure there’s some baggage I’ll have to circle back to and readdress at some point, but for my mental health, I just need to move forward.”
In many ways, I think that has been my approach too — (quickly) grieve the losses and move on. As Dory the fish would say, “Just keep swimming.” But as I evaluate areas of my life in which I’m most dissatisfied, the negative emotions boil down to an underlying feeling of loss. This past year, I’ve lost experiences, familiar rhythms, relationships, health, opportunities and peace of mind.
I’m well-aware that I’m surrounded by people who have all lost something, including many who have suffered greater losses than I have. My first reaction can be to minimize my losses, count my blessings and move forward. The thing is, I’m realizing that those losses, and the resulting grief, are not so easily overcome. They affect (and infect) every area of my life and emotions. Even if I will myself to rise up and “just keep going,” on the inside I’m still hurting. Karina Allen talks about this in her article, “The Holy Gift of Lament”:
For the most part, I’m a happy girl. I smile. I make others laugh with my wickedly funny sarcasm. And when seasons [of loss] hit, there’s intense pressure to still be “on,” to respond to these trials with grace and strength and joy. But I don’t want to be “on” all the time. Sometimes I need to be “off.” And when I am, it needs to be okay. In fact, it is okay.
But we continue to put this pressure on Christians to behave a certain way when hardships come. There’s this unspoken expectation for us to be happy all the time, in all things to be “content.” But right now I’m not happy and smiling, and God doesn’t expect me to be. He doesn’t expect you to be either.
I relate to the pressure Allen feels to rise above pain and loss with “grace, strength and joy.” As a Christian, it seems like the right thing to do. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” right? That outcome actually is promised to those who are in Christ and is one of the things that makes us different from those who don’t know Him. In any circumstance, we can receive God’s sufficient grace and be filled with the joy that only comes from Him. The problem arises when we skip the lament and attempt to jump straight to the joy in our own strength. And that’s something I’m realizing I’ve been guilty of.
In seasons such as this, I may remember that God hears my prayers and even that He loves me, but sometimes I forget how intensely He cares for me in my lowest moments. He sits with me in my pain. He is grieved along with me. A mentor recently reminded me that when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha mere moments before He rejoiced with them that their brother was alive. Jesus knew the joy that awaited the women (after all, He raised Lazarus from the dead!), and still He cried with them. That is the kind of Savior we have. He sees our pain and understands it. Perhaps most remarkably, He cares.
I think of the times I lamented over my singleness or a medical diagnosis or a heartbreaking loss. Each and every time, Jesus, the “man of sorrows,” was right there with me. He cares about my sorrows big and small. That sounds audacious to say, but Scripture supports it. He is wildly sympathetic. He knows when and how healing will occur, but He also sits with us in our pain.
The other day I told someone I felt a little “worn around the edges” from this past year. But I think that statement concealed how deep some wounds go. Karina Allen describes lament as a “rest stop, not our final destination.” Praise the Lord for that!
Whether you’re experiencing a season of loss or simply feeling a little worse for the wear, take some time to sit with Jesus and tell Him what you’re feeling. There is no truer friend or Savior. He doesn’t expect us to jump from grief to joy through some self-induced “attitude adjustment.” Instead, He invites us to bring our sorrow to Him and allow His Spirit to turn it to joy in His perfect timing.
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin