My journal from January, 2012 contains only two entries. The first is a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that reads, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply says, “I can’t write.”
In the days following my brother’s suicide, grief paralyzed me in body and soul. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But after Jay took his life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.
Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound isgaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.
My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. A lot. She says, “Suffering is a seed we’re given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.
In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, on many nights, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
I believe Paul. I really do. It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away. When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away. On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.
When I used to write essays and articles, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution. But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy. It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing. There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.
Grief makes a writer ramble, but I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over: I have no prescription for this pain. Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill. I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.
The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up. Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added).
By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth. And so, that’s all I know to do.
I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word. I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds. I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours. And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing, a tiny bud bursts through the dirt: What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark? What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced? What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering? And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)
God only knows what the seed of suffering might become. And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough, redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.
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