Good Grief

Grief is a peculiar process that life takes us through when we lose someone or something in our lives. It can be through death, divorce, addiction, separation or even choice. We could grieve the loss of a loved one or a job, unmet expectations, or unfulfilled goals and dreams. Thankfully, God is very familiar with grief. He experienced grief when He cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, when the Israelites continued to return to their sins, and when He had to turn His back on Jesus as He sacrificed Himself as atonement for the sins of the whole world in His death on the cross. God’s grief was deep, and it is real.

Because of this he understands our grief, meets us in our grief and helps us through our grief, and he shows us this in the Bible:

  • Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” encourages us that God is very near while we grieve.

  • Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” shows us that there will be healing in our grief.

  • Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” allows us to turn to Him in our weakest times during our grief.

  • Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.,” is a promise of the comfort God gives us in our grief.

Knowing all of that allows us to lean into Him during times of overwhelming grief.

I wasn’t expecting to be a single mother for nine years. But, once I accepted the fact that I would be raising my son without the consistent presence of his father, I worked hard to follow what I had been taught that Proverbs 22:6 meant, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” I truly believed that if I was praying, reading my Bible, attending Sunday school and church, disciplining my son when his behavior demanded it, and exposing him to positive, male influences, Christian school and appropriate music that he would grow to become a believer and live a life reflective of the scriptures. I named him after a strong Biblical character and claimed the verse Joshua 1:9 for him, praying it over him many times.  

I believed that checking off that list of things regularly would cause a spiritual change in my son…and at a young age he became a believer and was baptized. But I was checking off that list for my own holiness, locked in legalism, not living in a way that was stirring my son to desire a relationship with Jesus. Instead it made him believe that performance pleased God, not presence; that he wanted our sacrifices more than our obedience.

My heart broke the day my friend called to tell me that my son, J, had stolen from her son. When I questioned him, he admitted it and returned the money. I was desperate to make an impression on my 8-year-old son that what he had done was wrong, that I did not want him to end up a statistic or a cliché of a single parent home. So, I drove him to the police station. I sat with him in the car as he cried, and I asked him if he wanted to end up in jail and disappoint me, his grandparents and God. Of course, he didn’t and promised that he would not ever steal again, but this was the beginning of many repeated thefts.

Thefts that involved more money, more expensive things and greater consequences. By this time, I had met and married my husband and we were navigating being newlyweds and parents of three children in our newly blended family. We sought counsel from our pastor and elders, doctors and judges. Community hours were served and more promises were made.

When drugs became part of the reason for the theft, there was no remorse, no more promises and nothing that could stop J from climbing out of his second story bedroom window to sneak out to a party we forbade him to go to. When we finally got in contact with him 48 hours after he ran away, we begged him to come home. We told him that he could home, no questions asked, and we would do whatever it took to get him clean and the help he needed, but he only had 24 hours to decide. He said he didn’t need 24 hours. He was never coming home. He was 16.

My depression set in almost immediately. I felt a grief so deep as my hopes and dreams for him were shattered. As an educator I mourned that he would never walk across the stage as a high school graduate. I blamed myself and guilt swept over me like a crashing wave, making it hard to function, making it hard to breathe. I questioned every decision I had made, including my decision to have him at 18 as a single mother and trying to raise him in a Christian home. I thought I was powerful enough to stop J from making poor choices. I thought wanting him to do right and live right was enough.

I started to go through the motions of mothering my younger children and being a wife. My depression was the hardest at night when the house was quiet, and I was alone with my thoughts. I tried to pray, but my prayers were more inaudible cries or questions of why and how could this happen. Many times, I felt better and started to make sense of my grief, to only find myself grieving again with every phone call from jail. It was a cycle that left me feeling angry and confused.

The Text that Opened my Eyes

The stages of grief are different for everyone in that some of us stay in some stages longer than others. I stayed angry for a long time. My anger was misplaced and misguiding. I allowed my anger to become a comfort, a safe place and an excuse. Being angry kept me from having to be truthful with myself and others. I didn’t have to be vulnerable. I could be righteously angry, and I justified my feelings and actions in the cloak of angry grief. But it was paralyzing me and keeping me from processing my grief and allowing myself to properly heal.

One night I got a text from J after another theft and drug charge with another court date looming in the future and he wrote, “I just want you to know that you did nothing wrong. My actions and my decisions have nothing to do with the way I was raised. You did the best you could. I chose this path even though I knew it was wrong. It is not your fault.” It wasn’t until I read his words that I felt free from the guilt and shame of what J’s life had become. I realized that I was not powerful enough to be the Holy Spirit in his life. That God would have to do the redemptive work in his life and it was time to stop asking God why and start asking Him what He wanted me to learn from this heartache.

Leaning into God

I started to pray for changes in my life, in my parenting and not focus on changing others. I discovered that praise and worship music was a balm to my soul and convicting when I needed it to be. I talked to friends that I knew had been through what I was going through and had seen their children through the other side of sobriety and rehabilitation. I joined a grief and loss connection group where I was able to be vulnerable and once again open God’s word and let the Truth wash over me, allowing me to breathe and begin to function again.

Most importantly, I clung to the promise that God loves J more than I do—and more than I ever could. The things I grieved for him, God did, too. And the things I grieved as a parent, God knew and understood. I was also reminded as I prayed for J that his story is not over that it is just a part of his story, a story that God is still waiting to redeem.

Leaning into God allowed me to give myself permission to continue working through my grief and not put a timeline on the process. I needed time to grieve the loss of my son’s childhood, not having him present at birthdays and holidays, and my expectations for his future and the lost time with his children. Once I allowed myself to begin to do that and allow myself time to be sad and miss him now, it freed me from being angry.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” I now believe this to be true. God is still working and when He is finished it will be good.