You can heal after a child’s death. Or any loss. Your path is grief, messy grief.
Did you know that the world’s way of grieving leads toward hopelessness, while God’s plan for grief brings healing and draws you closer to him?
This is the fifth of eight posts in the blog series “Mending a Broken Heart.” My prayer: You’ll experience hope and healing as we journey through the pain of tough stuff like abuse and divorce and addiction and the death of a child. You can read the first four posts here. Please contact me with any questions, comments, and prayer requests. I’m here for you.
My Facebook buddy Kc Christman Hutter, author of A Broken Heart, grieved the death of her son Cam, who died of acute leukemia at age 32. See what happened during his last seven days on earth before he entered glory.
Grieve but How?
You’re familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five-stage model of grieving, based on her research into how terminally ill patients handle the news of their illness:
from denial (“this can’t be true!)
to anger (“why me? why my child?”)
to bargaining (“God, if you heal my child then I’ll be the best mom ever”)
to depression (“yes, me. . .yes, my child”)
and finally acceptance (“life goes on but how?”).
Is this the best way to grieve?
The widely accepted model of grief is world-based, not Word-grounded. It describes how people typically grieve; it fails to prescribe a better way. It’s normal to hurt when a child or other loved one dies. It’s normal to hurt when you face any loss: a job, a friendship, a pet, health. It’s necessary to grieve.
What is this Word-grounded grief, this godly grief? How do you begin?
The apostle Paul knew hurt and grieve and he shared candidly with the believers in Corinth. Listen for his honesty. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
The First Two Steps of Godly Grieving
Paul expressed truth of suffering and grief. No sugar-coating. No denial.
Kc Hutter didn’t fake it either.
I needed to grieve. My heart demanded it. The first night after his death, I took a sleeping pill and had a horrendous nightmare. In the vivid scene, I was myself being sucked out into the ocean. No boat, no Cameron, only a wooden plank. I grabbed the plank and hung on until my muscles hurt and my red, bloody fingers ached. Finally my body numbed. Blackness enfolded everything. . ..I knew I could drown in my sorrow. This grief for my son seemed never ending. I wanted to die. But as a Christian, I felt ashamed of those feelings. Rest came for a few minutes and only when I put myself under the wings of my heavenly Father. I have hope. But how can I make it though each day?
1. Candor. This is the first stage of biblical grieving, says Robert Kellemen in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. If you’re stuck in grief, I highly recommend you read Kellemen’s book. It renews your thinking about suffering and guides the reader from hurt to hope.
I remember when I learned my mom died. A phone call. Horrid, blackened news from a police officer. My first response: “Is this some sick joke?” Once I grasped the truth — and this took several days, for others it may be weeks — I felt crushed, my heart heavy like boulder.
Kellemen invites us to honestly voice our pain like the psalmist David, fearless facing the facts: “I hurt.”
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
Denial doesn’t work. Candor does.
2. Complaint. Did I just write complaint as though I recommend you scream, “God, how could you allow this evil, this suffering, this horror?”
Biblical complaint is a lament, complaining to God not about God. As Kellemen says, “The Scriptures are clear–God invites lament, complaint. The Bible repeatedly illustrates believers responding to God’s invitation with honest words that would make many a modern Christian shudder” (God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, p. 32).
Can you guess Satan’s counterfeit to biblical complaint? Unhealthy, destructive anger, the type that accuses God of evil-doing, of lacking goodness.
I confess that after my mom died, I told God he made a mistake. My audacity!
What should I have said? What should you? What does a biblical complaint sound like?
A biblical complaint is honesty with God and expresses not only your confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering but also your trust in him. You hide nothing from him. You tell him my pain. I wrote in journal after journal after journal.
I ripped up those journals because I never wanted anyone to read them. Ever.
My words, raw. My emotions, splattered, messy.
Kc voiced her pain too. She asked God for reassurance.
After I finished work one night, I walked into Cam’s office and fell on my knees with my face on the floor, pleading, ‘God, here I am again, needing a word of wisdom. Where did my darling son end up at the end of his earthly voyage? Tell me again, God, that he’s with You.’
Godly grief sidesteps bargaining and depression. Instead you and I cry to God for help and receive his comfort, ushering us to trusting with faith, groaning with hope, and engaging with grace and love. This grief is crazy-messy. Two steps forward, stumble, trip, fall flat-out and get up. And we choose.
As we grieve God’s way, we choose to entrust ourselves to God and to his larger purposes, this eternal perspective that gives hope.
Kc was brought up in the church but did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until after her second divorce. She told the Lord in prayer, weeping and clutching her uncle’s Bible: “I’ve made such a mess of my life doing it my may. I forgot how much you love me. Forgive me.” God gave her the strength to pen a memoir and the hope to guide those who are hurting and without hope to the Mender of Broken Hearts.
Kc is married and lives in Washington State. She is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom died of cancer and is now with the Lord, and a grandmother.
A Few Questions
1. When grieving have you tended to draw near to God or pull away? Why?
2. After a loss do you tend to shut down, lash out, or talk with God?
3. How have you handled the question, Why does a good God allow suffering and evil?
Hope for You
Save me, O my God. The floods have risen.
Deeper and deeper I sink in the mire;
the waters rise around me.
I have wept until I am exhausted;
my throat is dry and hoarse;
my eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to act.
(Psalm 69:1-3, TLB)
Hope and Blessings!