My boys have four cousins, two on my side of the family and two on Lee’s side. Two of those cousins were born the same year as James, one just ten days later.
Over Thanksgiving I was texting with my sister while James was in the bathtub. He was playing with little PlayMobile people and we were working on which was boy and which was a girl . “This is a ____? Boy! Good! And James is a ____. Mommy is a _____?” The conversation I had going via text with my sister was a little different. My niece, six months older than James, wants to go to Harvard. At eleven-years-old she’s already working on this goal. We texted about her French lessons and volleyball games and everything else she’s doing. Then I got James out of the tub, said “bye bye water!” with him, wrapped him in his towel (he picked yellow instead of blue), got his diaper on, and put on the outfit he wears every single day he can (red shirt and navy shorts).
And I was fine until I stopped for the night and climbed into my own bed. Harvard? Is that really what other kids James’s age are thinking about? And I’m still putting diapers on him? It launched me into that cycle of grief we all experience at surprising times.
C. S. Lewis’s words are true for many of us: “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.”
The stages of grief take time to move through and hit again and again, but not even time heals like God Himself does. When I run up against the wall of grief, I open to the Psalms. Psalm 107 is my favorite. Look with me at the hope it presents:
- For those who are lonely and have no place to call home, He “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (v 9).
- For those in darkness, in the shadow of death, He “brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart” (v 14).
- For those who were fools and suffered affliction, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (v 20).
And the one I relate to most, to those who were going down in ships (those of us on a ride we didn’t know we had signed up for!):
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.”
We can follow this pattern when grief threatens to engulf us. We can cry out. We can experience the peace He brings to our circumstances (even if the circumstances don’t change). We can thank Him for His love. We can praise Him with others.
It’s not just grief that sneaks up on me this time of year. Other emotions do as well, like jealousy when I see pictures of friends or other family members having what looks like the best Christmas ever by the smiles in their picture around the tree. There are two truths I remind myself of at times like that:
- God ordained my path for me and their path for them. And because this path is from Him, it is for my good because He loves me. Jealousy says to God that I don’t trust His love in my life but I see it in someone else’s. I have to repent from that and remind myself of God’s love for me and each member of my family.
- Everyone is fighting battles we can’t see. Ruth Graham wrote a book years ago and I’ve never forgotten the title—In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart. Your struggles may not be the same as someone else’s, but they aren’t without struggles. They may not be as obvious in Facebook pictures, but they are there.
There is no shame in the emotions you feel, but we do need to meet them with biblical truth. Pastor Pete Wilson writes, “I think for those of us in the midst of a Plan B we’ll discover that one of our idols all along has been a picture of the way life should be. Our idol was an expectation or a dream.” Trust that God is better than any idol, even the idol of the ideal family Christmas.