Delicious Despair 201

ANN MAREE GOUDZWAARD|CONTRIBUTOR

My entire backyard burst with the colors of spring. Everything bloomed. It was a perfect, 70-degree day and the landscape showed off. I looked out my window and saw the wicker chairs scattered under the pergola and balloons dotted on the boulders strategically situated throughout the yard. When we invested in landscaping last year, I had visions of hosting joyful events. The picturesque backdrop was perfect for a tea party or bridal shower. In fact, we planned to host a “baby sprinkle” for my daughter that very day. (A “sprinkle” is a baby shower for couples who already have children.) Cori and Brett had all they needed for two kids, but then they found out they were expecting twins. So, we planned a sprinkle to help them provide for multiple babies.

We hosted a memorial for the twins (Deacon and Hallie) that day instead.

In 2020, the pandemic reminded us to preface our plans with “if the Lord wills.” Everyone’s agenda hit a “hard stop,” and we realized how precarious goals are. For our family, 2021 ushered in the opportunity to experience that truth in real time. My husband and I planned for chaotic bliss in adding a twelfth and thirteenth grandchild to our already bustling family. Together with our other children, we coordinated our calendars to support Cori and Brett at her due date. God had another plan. The Lord willed something different. Something more difficult. An accommodation we had no idea we would need to make. And so began my education in grief.

What’s essential in the grief process is to try and grasp God’s redemptive plans. This takes time. It may even last indefinitely. In Delicious Despair 101, I wrote that Martin Luther fully expected the pain of suffering to result in a transformation.[1] For instance, in opposition to the “first step” of grief (denial)[2], candor looks suffering in the face and says, “Yes, that really happened.” Candor acknowledges devastation, but it also asks, “Now what do I do?” Wallowing in self-pity over the events God ordains is antithetical to biblical grieving. In 1 Thess. 4:13, Paul instructs mourners not to grieve as those without hope. So, we must keep moving through our grief and actively seek wisdom to reinterpret what happened as perfect and good.

Feel the Feels

Recently, a friend asked me to pray. Her family received devastating news and she didn’t want to break down in front of them. “Pray that I don’t cry,” she asked. For some reason, my friend thought crying was less than supportive. Where did we learn this? How did stoicism become a way to share comfort? Paul has a slightly different take on emotions within crisis: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use themweep with those who weep,” (emphasis mine Rom. 12:1, 6, 15). What if God used my friend’s tears to knit her family together? What if sorrow was his means for healing? (Ps. 126:5)

Emotions are a gift from God. Emotions are incredibly effective and important instruments. Sam Williams writes, “God gives emotions for a specific purpose. They are necessary for us properly to know and relate to and glorify God.”[3] Granted, emotions (like everything else) are subject to the effects of the Fall (Rom. 8:22-23). Emotions require sanctification. But isn’t sanctification what happens when we grieve? We wouldn’t “shake off” a particular sin issue, why shake off anguish? Or hopelessness? Or despondency? If emotions can usher us into the throne room to be cleansed, purified, and made holy—why would we ignore or stuff them down? Yet that’s what we often do.

I say, “feel the feels.” Feel every current of emotion that comes your way. These feelings are real. They’re raw. They reveal what we believe. They lead us to do something. Taking the time to examine feelings and why they exist is so that we can reinterpret rather than be ruled by them. This points us forward to the next point.

Reinterpret the Circumstances

My thoughts as I took in the scene of the memorial were corrupted. Yep. Sinful me—blaming God for hurting me “on purpose.” It sickens me to think what that reveals about my belief regarding my heavenly Father. Apparently, I see him as a cruel taskmaster, one who willingly smites his children. Deep down, I probably had that same feeling when Deacon and Hallie didn’t survive. Scripture calls us to reinterpret from God’s perspective. It doesn’t discount our experience, but it does call us to walk in a different direction. Think about it like this:

When our Lord meets Paul (then Saul) on the road to Damascus, he commissions him as the messenger to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light.” God provides the means for turning from the power of Satan. They are “the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear” (Acts 26:16). The cross is where we’ve seen him most clearly. And when we gaze upon him as he performs the ultimate sacrifice, he removes blinders, and we are empowered to turn from darkness to light (see also 2 Cor. 3:18).

What this means for our sanctification is that we recognize; we can’t repent until we see. In grieving, we also begin with recognition. For instance, in feeling the feels (“God is cruel!”), God opened my eyes to the darkness I believed. I could have just ignored it. Or deadened my pain. Or even applied band aid Scripture. But the awareness of such darkness in my heart revealed the need for a heart transplant. My sin required radical surgery. Intentionally turning dark thoughts toward what Christ did on the cross uproots a sinful point of view. Reinterpreting the circumstances is found in a perspective of the cross.

Keep Moving (even if it’s backwards)

Alright, here’s (another) harsh reality. Grief is sticky. It’s like working with a hot glue gun; floating filaments cling to everything, everywhere. If you’ve ever worked with a hot glue gun you know you need to swirl the point in a circle in order to keep the glue from traveling. This is how we live with grief. Our emotions constantly spin from the devastation to the cross; from the sinful responses to those that glorify God.

In one sense, the process is frustrating. Grief creates a tension of devastation (the original event) and lingering devastation (the reliving of the event). We long to be done with the memories. We want to “get back to normal” (whatever that means). But days, weeks, months, years will never be the same. Denial and candor, anger and complaint, bargaining and wailing, depression and isolation[4] all stick around indefinitely and appear seemingly out of nowhere. These are our new “forever friends.”

In another sense, continual processing can be comforting. I don’t ever want to forget those happy months of anticipation when Cori was pregnant, and the babies were healthy. I don’t want to forget hearing the twin heartbeats on the monitor when she was in labor. I don’t want to forget the hope we had when we left her hospital room as she started pushing. I don’t want to forget that first sight of seeing my children hold their lifeless babies. I don’t want to forget meeting Deacon and Hallie. I don’t want to forget holding them in my arms. I don’t want to forget how it felt that day to be held in the bosom of our Father. It’s all I have. Those moments are all I was given.

But grief also calls saints and sinners to look forward. Our Lord will return. He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). He secures our tears in a bottle (Psa. 56:8) and will one day cause them to completely disappear (Rev. 21:14). Suffering, and pain, and death, and devastation feel like they will last forever but they are temporary. Our home, our eternal home is safe from all of that. And, while if feels like forever when we are in the midst of grief; it is but a heartbeat (2 Pet. 1:8). We will be home with God so very, very soon.

[1] Ann Maree Goudzwaard, Delicious Despair, 101, enCourage, May 24, 2021.

[2] There are no rules for grief, however generally speaking people tend toward denial when suffering first occurs.

[3] Sam Williams, “Toward a Theology of Emotion,” Southern Baptist Theological Journal 7, no.4 (Winter 2003):66 as quoted by Brian Borgman, Faith and Feelings (Wheaton, IL: Crossway 2009), 27.

[4] Categories from an excellent resource for grieving; Bob Kellemen, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, (Winona Lake, MN: BMH Books, 2010).

About the Author:

Ann Maree Goudzwaard

Ann Maree is the Executive Director of Help[H]er. She served as the project manager for the training series Help[H]er: A Churchwide Response for Women in Crisis, based on the book she co-authored (CDM, 2020) and project manager and contributor for the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship’s Domestic Abuse Observation Series and for its joint project with Shepherd Press, Intro to Messy Care & Discipleship. In addition, she trains counseling at RTS Charlotte, Eternity Bible College, and PeaceWorks University and blogs regularly for enCourage and the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Ann Maree is a biblical counselor with an MDiv/counseling emphasis and a DMin candidate. She is married to Bob, she is the mother of three, and grandmother to thirteen.

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