Grief, Loss and Hurt Feelings

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I read the excerpt below from Lysa TerKeurst’s book “Becoming More Than A Good Bible Study Girl” My first thought was “Has she been spying on me?” Of course, this is ridiculous. Lysa TerKeurst doesn’t know me from Adam. However, the Holy Spirit knows me and knows what’s going on in my heart in this season. This spoke to me on so many levels, personally, emotionally and spiritually. I related to Lysa saying,  “Sometimes God hurts my feelings”. And sometimes, He makes me weep. 

When God Hurts My Feelings by Lysa TerKeurst, from the new revised edition of Becoming More than a Good Bible Study Girl

I don’t know another way to say this, so I’ll just shoot straight.

Sometimes God hurts my feelings.

Now, hear me out. I don’t mean this in an irreverent way. I very much know my place, and I very much have a holy reverence for God. But tiptoeing around my gut reactions and pretending to be just fine-fine-fine with everything that comes my way doesn’t pave an authentic connection between my heart and God’s.

So, I’m honest in my conversations with Him because I know He can handle it.

Of course, when I’m completely honest with God, I have to prepare myself for His honest response back to me. Not that God would ever be dishonest.

It’s just that the bolder I am with pouring out my heart to Him, the bolder He is with His responses to me.

Bold Is Beautiful

I like bold. And I like bold responses from God because they help me know that it is His voice speaking to me and not my own. My own thoughts tell me to curl up my pity-partying self next to a big tub of chocolate ice cream and eat until I feel better. Or to arm myself with my credit card, head to Target, and throw caution to the wind. Sound familiar?

Though God has been bold with me many times, the situations I remember most are those when I’ve been disillusioned by a life circumstance — often a conflict with another person — and have taken my frustrations to Him. I would pray for God to change the situation and just make it better. But time and time again, God wanted me to learn how to look at things from His vantage point rather than my own self-centered perspective.

Deep Grief

Sometimes when hurts and disappointments come, they cause a temporary panic that rises and falls in a mini-tidal wave.

Like the event I just shared. The hurt feelings escalated, crested with some hand-wringing and mind-racing, and then slowly ebbed away. In the end, I could see how God grew me through it, and I wound up being thankful for that growth.

But other times the hurt comes in the form of a loss that cuts into your heart so viciously it forever redefines who you are and how you think. It’s what I call deep grief. The kind that strains against everything you’ve ever believed. So much so you wonder how the promises that seemed so real on those thin Bible pages yesterday could ever possibly stand up under the weight of your enormous sadness today.

I once stood beside a casket far too small to accept — the one containing my baby sister, Haley. Pink roses draped everywhere. And I watched my mom as she lay across the casket, refusing to let go. How could she? Part of her heart was sealed within that casket, so quiet and still.

Just days ago we were laughing and doing everyday things, assuming that all of our lives stretched before us in spans of many, many years.

And then suddenly everything stopped. I was paralyzed.

In the flurry of funeral plans and the memorial service, we operated on automatic. People were everywhere. Soft chatter filled the gaps that our stunned silence could not. And enough food was brought in to feed the whole neighborhood.

But eventually people went back to their own lives. The soft chatter dissipated. The food stopped coming.

And we were forced to carry on. Except that our deep grief was still wrapped about us, strangling our throats and setting our feet in thick mud.

I remember I tried to go to McDonald’s to order a Happy Meal. But I couldn’t. I sat in the drive-thru with the speaker spouting words at me I couldn’t process. The woman in the speaker kept asking if she could take my order.

Yeah, I had an order. Take away my bloodshot eyes. Take away my desire to hurt the doctors who couldn’t save my sister. Take away my anger toward God. And then take away my guilt for being the one who lived. I’ll take all that with no onions and extra ketchup, please.

I drove away sobbing. How dare they offer Happy Meals. No one should be happy today. Or tomorrow. Or next year.

This is the reality of deep grief. I’ve already mentioned how I walked away from God at that time. That is how many people process loss.

Disillusionment can break people.

It’s understandable, really.

We are told from an early age that God can do anything, and we’ve read the stories about Jesus helping people. But how do we process such beliefs in the face of loss?

Trying to come to grips with the fact God could have prevented this grief but didn’t is a bit like trying to catch the wind and turn it into something visible. It’s an answer we could chase our whole lives and never get. And sometimes this chase just simply wears people out. They turn and walk away, whispering, “I tried, God, but You just didn’t work for me. You hurt my feelings and I don’t want anything to do with You anymore.”

Asking the Right Question

Looking back on my chase after the loss of my sister, I can see the reason the answer seemed so elusive. I was asking the wrong question. I was asking why. Why did this happen? Why didn’t You stop this, God? Why were my prayers not answered? Why?

Asking why is perfectly normal. Asking why isn’t unspiritual. However, if asking this question pushes us farther from God rather than drawing us closer to Him, it is the wrong question.

In most situations, nothing positive can come from whatever answer there might be to a why question. If God gave us His reason why, we would judge Him. And His reasons, from our limited perspective, would always fall short. That’s because our flat human perceptions simply can’t process God’s multidimensional, eternal reasons.

God describes it this way:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. — Isaiah 55:8–9

Isaiah 55:8

We can’t see the full scope of the situation like God can; therefore, we must acknowledge that His thoughts are more complete and that He is more capable of accurately discerning what is best in every circumstance.

In the case of losing a loved one, love skews even the most rational parts of us. Our love for the person we lost would never allow God’s reasons to make us feel any better or to understand any more fully. We would still feel as though God had made a terrible mistake.

So, if asking the why question doesn’t offer hope, what will? The what question. In other words: Now that this has happened, what am I supposed to do with it?

Good can come from any loss if we make the choice not to resist the birthing process required to bring this good to life.

Good did eventually come from Haley’s death. I can stand here twenty years later and assure you of that. And I can assure you that good still comes in small, unexpected ways. Just last week my mom and I had the most amazing conversation we’ve ever had about Haley’s death. We both experienced a spiritual breakthrough I thought might never come.

I shared with my mom that Psalm 139:16 tells us every person has a certain number of days assigned to them: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Nothing we do or don’t do can add to or take from that number. She was finally able to let go of a lot of questions and guilt surrounding the medical problems that eventually caused Haley’s death. And I was able to see the beauty of God reaching my mom in a new way. But that conversation was twenty years in the making.

It Takes Time

Even when you love God and believe in His promises. Even when you know without a doubt that you will see your loved one again. Even when you know hope is still there. It takes time.

It takes wading through an ocean of tears. It takes finding a possession of your loved one that you thought was lost and realizing God did that just to comfort you. It takes discovering one day that the sun still shines. It takes being caught off guard when you catch yourself smiling, only to realize it’s okay.

It takes prayer. It takes making the decision to stop asking for answers and start asking for perspective. It takes telling people to please not avoid saying her name — you want to hear it, over and over and over again.

Then one day you take off the blanket of deep grief. You fold it neatly and tuck it away. You no longer hate it or resist it. For underneath it wondrous things have happened.

The why questions have been replaced with truths from God’s Word. Verses that stung to read at first have now become the very lifeline you cling to. God’s presence has fallen softly upon you and helped you see that good can come and will come in you and through you.

Yes, in time things have happened. Wondrous things. Things that could have only come about because divine hope still intersects with our broken world. The secret is letting God’s Word get into you to achieve the purpose He intends.

Then you can lift up your despair, your doubts and questions, your feelings of being hurt by God. And with open hands held high, you let the wind blow them all away.

And, finally, you will see years stretching before you once again. Hope stretching before you again. New perspectives even when others hurt you again. Possibility stretching before you again. And more honest conversations with God stretching before you again.

 

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