After my brother died, I grieved as best I could, but with my 3-month-old baby boy, any physical or emotional energy I had went to him. I would nurse my son in the middle of the night, tears streaming down my face, a surprising gift of hormones that releases emotional connectedness to my physical self. Keeping a small human well-loved and fed seemed to lengthen my intense grieving period because I was so focused on him, instead of the grief. I didn’t have much time or effort for self-care, so my emotions would catch up with me and then I’d be caught off guard with grief, crying in the most random of places. Apparently this is normal for grief (because what does “normal grief” even mean?), but I felt unknown to myself in that season.
Growing up, my mom had always told me that it didn’t matter if I was crying in the shower or living my best “Sunday School” life for God, He loved me just the same. I clung to that idea in my season of loss. God knew me, every feeling and emotion, and He was with me, despite what I was or wasn’t doing. In my state of grief and sleeplessness, I truly wasn’t capable of doing anything spiritual for months and months and months. My Bible was dusty. My prayers were tears, not words or coherent thoughts.
I remember whispering Jesus’ name in my bed, and that was all I could muster, and I knew that it was enough. He was there when I called. Someone wise told me, “His name is His presence,” and I truly believe that. Declaring that He is the Prince of Peace brings peace. Declaring that He is the Good Shepherd reveals his tender care. Like Hagar who named God, “You are the God who Sees me” (Genesis 16:13), I was calling out to Jesus, and all that He was to me, by just saying His sweet name. I was resting in who He is and His love for me, in His peace, in His kindness, and His care of my soul in that time.
Do you know what bubbled out of my heart in those late-night nursing sessions or when I was alone with my feelings? Old hymns, familiar worship songs, and scripture verses that I had memorized as a child. These songs that were like a native language to my soul when I didn’t have words of my own to create. And that’s all I had—these deep wells of thirty years of the Word inside of me giving me hope and strength when I couldn’t conjure up anything on my own.
Thou oh Lord are a shield about me, You’re my Glory, and the Lifter of My Head.
The Lord is my light and my salvation, I won’t be afraid of the darkness.
Jesus, your Name is like honey to my soul. Your Word is a Lamp to my Feet.
The Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are saved.
Is there anybody here like Mary a weeping? Call to my Jesus and he’ll draw nigh.
But more important than these words that tenderly reminded me of God’s love, was the Better Word, Jesus Himself. John introduces his entire narrative of being a disciple of Jesus by declaring Jesus as the Word. God’s Word to the world—The Word that was with God from the beginning, the Word of God in the earth, the Word that formed Life, that Word that became flesh and made his dwelling in us. (John 1)
Experiencing Jesus as the Word is my precious treasure from this heart-wrenching season, and nothing can take or explain that away from me.
It was Jesus that was written in my heart. He was sitting with me, walking with me, and sleeping with me, guarding my doors and my gates. It wasn’t me being busy, trying to do anything to impress or to please Him, I just was with him. Like Mary at the feet of Jesus, I had found the one thing. (Luke 10)
In my grief, I was receiving His life into the deepest parts of me. No truer time have I experienced the Lord as my strength than when I was weak, and I absolutely believe I was doing what I should have been. Resting. Receiving. Reclining into Him. Not pushing. Not proving. Not pretending.
After losing my brother, I had no idea how to love God with my heart, soul, and strength. All I could do was be in His love. At some point, to love God in all of those ways starts as obedience to a law. But to truly love God with your heart and your soul, it has to transition from a rote obedience of rules and checklists to something that comes from the inside out—a desire and response to him and his goodness, not a response out of fear.
My long winter-season of grief solidified something I knew in my head but hadn’t experienced in my heart. God’s love for me is not due to my doing. It’s not in proportion to my actions, my capacity, or impressive checklists. It just is. We all get to receive him and his love just by turning toward him, opening up our life and heart to his goodness and love. He is the one chasing after us with his loving kindness all the days of our lives, regardless of how fast or slow we’re actually moving.
I had wondered if my roots were deep or if my faith was real, not just the product of an easy life. It took a tragedy for me to experience that my life, my tree of my faith that I had been nurturing my whole life, was indeed deeply rooted and strong.
There is hidden life in the dark. Roots growing. Water moving. Life stirring. It’s not obvious up on the surface until the miracle of green growth quietly breaks through the soil. Then you realize that Something’s been at work, bringing light to darkness, bringing life to death, bringing wholeness to broken places. That Someone’s been loving you while you were asleep, while you were numb, while you were waiting, sitting, crying. The beauty of our With-Us God, Emmanuel, loving us exactly where we are. Hallelujah.
Special thanks to