I had a friend who worked a job they could not stand. It was sucking the life out of them, it felt hard to get out of bed in the morning, and the environment of their work place was not safe or life-giving. But, they had to keep working there until they sorted out what was next. They hired on at a new place, one with a much healthier work environment, doing work that they love. They had one month between leaving the toxic job and starting the new one. They had one month to detox and get ready for this new season of life.
Yet, it in that month, they found themselves incredibly depressed. There was such immense fatigue in their body, they were surprised to find the tears still coming often after leaving that toxic job. My friend was confused why they felt so sad and riddled with grief when they wanted to leave that job. Eventually, they realized that, although they hated that job and were very ready to leave it, their body was releasing and expressing all of the tension, fatigue, and grief they had been holding from the years of working in that place. Even the leaving itself held some grief. The grief was confusing because they didn’t love the thing they lost, but still, they had lost it.
Loss comes in many forms. We often think the spiraling waves of grief will come upon us only when we have experienced a death. And it surely does when someone we love dies. But many kinds of loss precipitate the grieving process: losing a friend as you grow apart, losing a job, losing of a way of life, losing pieces of your identity, losing a belief system, loss of a home, a dream, a country, a relationship. Loss is loss.
Sometimes, when we feel a grief not associated with a death, we don’t allow ourselves to feel grief fully because we think “Nobody died, why am I so sad?” Well, something did die. Something was lost. So it makes complete sense that you feel grief. It’s important to let yourself ride the waves of grief.
When we’re in the midst of grief, it can be hard to see a way forward. It's hard to imagine a day when you won’t be pummeled by the overwhelming sense of grief, consuming sadness, and emptiness. Often, it can be hard to sense the presence of God. But know that God has not left you, even if you can’t feel it. It’s ok if you can’t feel it. The Bible tells us that our tears are not unknown to God. God keeps and counts them in a bottle for the precious things they are (Psalm 56:8). God is not far from you in your grief. God is with you and loves you with an unfailing love. Jesus promised his people he would never leave them until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
It can be hard to imagine a day when everything won’t hurt as badly as it does right now. But I promise you, it will. Days are coming when it will not be this sharp, when you can breathe again, when thinking of tomorrow will be full of hope instead of dread.
If you’ve ever been in big waves on the water, you’ve felt how they work. If you swim out to where the waves have force and can move your body, you know that, even if you try to stand solid and unmoving, the wave will knock you down, tumble you around, and send you swirling like clothes in a washing machine. But if you yield to the wave, set your body down into the water, and maybe even plunge into and under the wave to let the crest crash over you, it’s smoother, calmer, cleansing and even mystical under the water. You aren’t stronger than the wave. You must let it run its course. Grief is like that. The more we resist it, ignore it, deny it, refuse to let it have its way, the harder it will be to move through. Grief demands to be felt.
If you have suffered a loss, your very body cries out to let the loss be felt and expressed. Let yourself feel it. Don’t stifle it. Don’t resist it. Emotions do not store well in our bodies, they need to be felt and let out. The psalms are full of poets expressing their pain and grief to God. You are not alone in this. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. (Psalm 25:16-17)
If you are worried you will get stuck in the grief and sadness and so don’t want to let yourself start, set things in place to help you so that you don’t stay stuck.
Whatever thing you are loyal to that will help you move your body and get up and out even when you do not feel like it, that is a good thing to set up for yourself so you don’t stay stuck. Whether that’s a coffee with a good friend, a playdate with your grandchildren, a volunteer assignment where they need you to show up, or just going for a walk—find what will force you to get up or leave your house when you’re very very sad.
Take it day by day. Some days the waves of grief will have you submerged beneath the waters, and fighting it will only leave you tired and depleted. Let yourself be. Duvet days are duvet days for a reason. Sometimes the best and hardest thing we can do is survive and staying in bed is a survival mechanism when the world does not feel safe. Don’t judge yourself. Let yourself be.
Other days, the lightness will return and you will have energy in your heart and body and laughter in your mouth again. On those days, again, do not judge yourself. You are allowed to feel happy. These are the days to remind you of the hope and joy to be had in this life.
We begin to move forward after loss when we begin to make meaning of our loss, integrating it into the story of our lives. Meaning-making is intensely personal and for each individual to explore. It's now a part of you, part of what shapes your narrative. There is no prescription for this, no pithy phrases to neatly sum up why a loss has happened. It’s an internal, emotional, and spiritual process that allows a person to move forward after suffering loss. That is the culmination grief moves toward after the interweaving dances of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This grief process is not linear; one day or one hour you may be depressed, the next accepting of the situation, the next raging and back again. This is normal.
Talk to someone. Someone wise, someone kind, who can hold empathic space for you. Speaking of your loss is a part of the integrating process. A professional Christian counselor can help you name your losses and grieve them. Grieve them so you can heal and move forward with your life.
Take small steps. Be kind to yourself. Do little things that help you feel alive and like yourself. Eat a meal, take a walk, sit in the sunshine. Let yourself feel everything. Feelings are meant to be felt after all. Tune into God’s faithful presence. God’s Spirit even prays for us when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26). Rest in God’s presence and experience the comfort the Spirit brings.
God holds you in your grief. May you be able to sense and know the presence and Spirit of Jesus with you in your grief, knowing he’s known loss, and he stays with you in yours. And he walks with you as you slowly find the rays of light and meaning coming back into your life. You are so loved.
And remember the acronym for HOPE: Hold On, Pain Ends. Pain ends and the love of God endures forever.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema