As I was listening to the choir sing a verse of “Silent Night” this morning in church, a tremendous feeling of peace washed over me. It was instantaneous, pretty awesome, and in fact, I swear it felt like the Holy Spirit was thumping me in the forehead and saying, “PEACE, DO YOU GET IT, C’MON!?” I felt myself take a deep, deep breath and just soaking up that amazing moment. In an instant, I was relaxed and just breathing, not something I do very well, ever. I wish I could bottle that feeling because it was I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. Then, as if I didn’t really get the message, I came home and read this in an email. . .
“Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.” ~Henry Nouwen
Powerful, powerful words. In our weakness, we find peace. . . and Lord knows I am weak.
As we hustle and bustle our way through the next couple of weeks of the Christmas season, my wish for you is that you find at least a moment of peace. May you find it through your brokenness, your insecurities, your agony, your “to-d0” list, and your fears. Let it wash over you like a gentle breeze and soak it in.
A friend and colleague shared an article recently about the things grieving people often experience. More specifically, the stuff nobody tells you, the messy stuff. You know, the stuff you really need to know that isn’t always in the neat little pamphlets that you get. It’s straight-forward, easy to read, and brilliant. The entire article,”64 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Grief,” can be found here–http://whatsyourgrief.com/64-things-about-grief/ and it is WELL worth five minutes of your time to read, whether you are grieving or not. Any human being on this planet that lives long enough will experience loss and the subsequent grief that ensues. I highly recommend taking a look. You can never be too prepared to enter into the world of grief, trust me on that one.
So often society seems to get caught up in the “if onlys” and the “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s” when it comes to grieving. For instance, “You should, be over that by now” or “You would be over that by now if only you would _____,” or “You could be over that by now if only you could just let go.” And while most people are not ill-intentioned when trying to offer help, to a grieving person (well, me for sure) those comments often sound like the adult voices on Charlie Brown, you know, “whah, whah, whah. . .” (Sorry to digress, but humor now and then is essential when grieving. Here’s the link to check it out if you aren’t sure what I mean or just want to reminisce http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss2hULhXf04.) Grief is simply not that simple. You don’t just get over it. You don’t just let go. Closure doesn’t automatically happen because a socially allotted amount of time has passed or because a perpetrator goes to jail. Everyone grieves in their own time, in their own way. Grief cannot not be put into a neat little box. We each have to figure out a way to weave the pain of our losses into the tapestry of our life stories, even if it is only one tiny thread at a time. Then, we need to figure out how to move forward or as #58 on the list says “get used to it.” I couldn’t agree more with that terminology because “getting used to it” is about all we can do some days. In fact, there wasn’t a single thing on the list that I couldn’t relate to or agree with on some level. . .
#2- Stop avoiding and be present. Being present is ABSOLUTELY one of the hardest things to do when you are grieving. Being present means you have to acknowledge your pain and quite frankly, that sucks! BIG TIME. Unfortunately, healing can’t take place in the past or in the future, it has to happen in the now. FYI: This one becomes harder to do as the numbness of early grief wears off. Work on staying present in small doses at first because it is difficult. But, keep trying. Work on it. I make staying present an intentional part of my day, every single day.
#9- Death and grieving make people uncomfortable, so be prepared for awkward encounters.People will avoid the subject and maybe even you. I am ashamed to say that I have done this in the past to others when I should have reached out. It is totally okay if you don’t know what to say. Most times just a simple “I’m sorry for your loss” and a hug will do.
#16 and #17- There is no such thing as closure. There is no timeline for grieving. You can’t rush it. You will grieve, in some form, forever. Not much to add here except that, it’s okay to not close that door. Loss is part of life. We don’t expect closure on the good things in life, so why do we expect it when life’s difficulties arise? We don’t need to worry about closing those doors, we need to figure out how to make our losses part of our story without continually living in the past. It’s SO hard to find the balance between the memories and moving forward. It takes work to arrive at some form of acceptance. Do it in your own time.
#23- Grief doesn’t come in five neat stages. Grief is messy and confusing.LIFEis messy and confusing. Why would grief be any different?
#27- However badly you think it is going to hurt, it is going to be a million times worse.All that I have to say to that is AMEN! Wowsa. So true.
#33 and #34- You grieve your past, present and future with that person. Big life events and milestones will forever be bittersweet. The word bittersweet has become a regular part of my vocabulary. It’s these bittersweet moments (graduations, holidays, and wedding planning currently in my case) that have proven to be difficult to navigate with grace.
#63- You will never go back to being your old self. Grief changes you and you are never the same. And that is totally okay! So don’t try to be the same person you once were because that would be impossible. That very moment that your loved one was lost, you were forever changed. It’s okay to be your “new” self, whatever that new self may be, as long as you are not being self-destructive. (See #60.)
It seems every time I read this list, something else jumps off the page at me. In a nutshell, whatever you are experiencing as you are journeying through grief, is quite possibly normal— even if it seems weird at the time. If you feel that what you are going through isn’t normal or if you have questions, seek help from a professional. It’s totally okay to do that (see #53). We aren’t meant to walk through grief alone.
“As I started to picture the trees through the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that stand up strong and straight are the ones that break.” ~J.B. Hill
For all of you reading this that are desperately trying to fight your way through a difficult situation by “being strong,” please, STOP IT NOW. By saying this I don’t mean that you should give up the battle, I mean that you should give it up to God. Let it go. Let it go to Him. It is only through surrender that we find our true strength. Trust me on this one, I’ve learned the hard way too many times.
There have been some desperate and terrible periods in my life when I mistakenly thought being strong was my only choice. You know the sayings, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option,” or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” Although there was a time where I would have been all “hell yes!” to those sayings, I now call bullshit. The only place being strong has ever gotten me was down hard, to my knees, crying out in desperation to God to fix my broken life. Being strong is never the only option we have and we are never strong enough alone to make it through all the difficulties that life will throw at us. Being strong is so overrated.
My biggest lesson in surrender came about five years ago. Life had been difficult for a long time, on many levels. I had been the poster-child for what “being strong” was supposed to look like and I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was pretty obvious that my way wasn’t working and life could not continue the way I was trying to make it be. Something had to change. I had to give it up, which I eventually did–in a screaming, crying, desperate fit.
I was driving to work one morning when the tears began to uncontrollably flow. It was through these blinding tears that I looked to the heavens and screamed out loud (yes, literally) for Him to fix the brokenness that had become my life. I swear He was waiting for that moment because as soon as I let it go, a feeling of calm enveloped me. I knew immediately that things would work out–maybe not the way I thought they should–(obviously not working for me anyways) but that things would be okay. I also knew in an instant that I had been foolish in thinking I could just “be strong” and things would work out. Being strong for so long had blinded me to accepting the truth of my situation and kept me from reaching out to others that could help in my times of need. Being strong kept me from realizing that the things we often think are most important in this life, really are not. Being strong had kept me from pursuing an authentic and courageous life. Being strong kept me from taking care of myself and had kept me from turning to God when I needed Him most. Being strong had gotten me absolutely nowhere. Besides, I was SO tired of “being strong.”
I’d like to say that I immediately learned the the lessons that my big surrender brought. It took me a while longer to figure it all it out, but thankfully I did. I can’t imagine living through the last 15 months without leaning on God every single moment, of every single day. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had tried to “be strong.”
True strength comes only when we have the courage to give it up to God continually, not just when we are forced to our knees in broken surrender. And even though I still occasionally try to do it my way, it usually doesn’t last long. Strength comes when I am simply being patient, listening for the whispers, and learning to accept that life is the way it is. My strength comes from learning to bend in the storm. My strength comes from my surrender.