Life is messy and hard and none of us will go through it without experiencing times of great sadness and confusion - especially when we lose somebody we know and love. Emma is writing for us today about grief, about how we don't have to feel ashamed or guilty when we feel overwhelmingly sad - and how Jesus is our model of someone who lived, loved and hurt.
We're praying that today's post will comfort you if you are in a time of sadness or confusion, if you are still processing how to deal with loss - or if you are trying to be a good friend to somebody who is. In her own story of how she came to know God more fully in a time of great sadness, Emma reminds us that God is always good, that He is faithful, and that He loves.
It was Saturday at the start of May half term, 2006. I was 16 and half way through my GCSE exams, revising as if my whole life depended on it. I loved the feeling of ticking the exams off one at a time and was looking forward to a day off from my overly detailed revision plan.
That evening, my Mum took a phone call that would change my perspective on life from that moment forward. She didn't tell me straight away what had happened, but eventually, she sat me down and told me she had some news. A friend of mine, who was 19, had been on his way home from university for the summer. He was stabbed whilst he was on the train. He hadn't survived.
In the days that followed, I experienced a level of grief and sadness that I have never experienced before. The fact that the story was splashed across the news inevitably made it harder, along with the emotional comparison story that the journalists ran: the student who had everything to live for, killed by a man who had reportedly been released from prison only weeks before.
The weeks that followed were the most exhausting weeks I have ever had. Getting out of bed each day became a battle. I didn't feel like eating, or sleeping or seeing anyone. The thought doing any revision for the rest of my exams didn't even enter my realm of thinking.
The range of emotions we feel when we lose someone is overwhelming. There is the initial shock, and feeling that it can't quite be true. There are feelings of guilt - why wasn't I kinder to them? Why didn't I look after them better? Why didn't I make more of an effort to see them? Then there come feelings of anger - and I managed to be angry with pretty much everyone. I was angry at people who didn't even speak to me or acknowledge what had happened, and at the same time was angry with people who tried to talk to me too much about what had happened.
I can't even begin to scratch the surface of the topic of coping with grief as a Christian, so I will just mention a few things that God taught me personally. My prayer is that some of it might be helpful for you or someone that you know who is grieving at the moment.
Firstly, it is ok to grieve. In the Bible, there is a moving, beautiful passage that shows Jesus grieving for his friend Lazarus:
When Jesus therefore saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said, 'Lord, Come and see.' Jesus wept. And so the Jews were saying, 'Behold, how He loved Him! John 11:33-36
Here, we see Jesus' great compassion, we see his love for others and we see him hurting - so we know that it is totally ok for us to cry and feel sad. It is a natural human response, and it shows that we too love, care and hurt - just like Jesus.
Sometimes it can also feel like we ought to have permission or a good enough reason to grieve, but I don't think this is the case. It doesn't matter whether it was your closest friend or someone you met once, whether they had lived a long successful life or a very short one, whether their death came as a sudden shock or you had some warning that it might come soon, it is ok to be upset. Grieving in itself isn't sinful and we shouldn't feel that we have 'man up' or put on a brave face.
Secondly, one of the most difficult aspects of grief is the feeling of being so alone. I remember desperately wanting to talk to someone who had been through a similar experience to me but I just couldn't find anyone who might understand. When we are grieving, it can be really hard to talk about how we are feeling, either because we don't quite know how to express our feelings in words or because we don't feel like we have anyone we can be totally honest with.
As Christians, we can remember that we are never alone.
God promises that He is always with us. His Holy Spirit lives in us. God also gives us the gift of the church whose job it is to love in the way that Jesus taught us to love. We should lean on our church family when we are grieving. That's what they are there for, and it is ok to be proactive and ask them for help. Similarly, we should make ourselves available to be leant on by others who are grieving or suffering in other ways. (Sometimes it can be hard to know how to comfort someone. Knowing how to be still and listen is so valuable - and saying "I'm sorry" is a great place to start.)
Finally, run into God's arms
When we are hurting that much, and we cant explain why something happened, or why we are feeling so emotionally raw, all of the usual resources we rely upon - like our ability to control things, our emotional strength, our energy - are stripped away from us. There is only one place for us to go. It is in times of grief and pain that we have no option but to look to who we know and trust God to be.
Our heavenly father is totally loving. He is overwhelmingly kind. He is perfectly good. He is always just. He will never abandon us.
If I'm honest, there are times when I was grieving when I found it hard to believe some of those truths, and it was several years before I had even realised the effect that grief had had on my faith. The journey that God took me on to learn to live having lost my friend is continuous. There are days when it still makes me really sad. But when push comes to shove, I believe that God exists and that in His mercy, he loves me and made the biggest sacrifice ever so that I can be called His daughter. Everything else follows from there.
As someone who has a tendency to shed tears at almost every opportune moment (it's just the way I'm wired!), there is one Bible verse that really speaks to me and shines a light into the darkness of grief:
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ Revelation 7:17
This verse is talking about Jesus. He is leading us to a perfect eternal life. We are heading towards this day where there will be no more pain, no more guilt, no more anger and no more death. Ask God to help you to grab hold of this promise, and not let go.
Emma graduated from Cambridge two years ago, having studied law. She now enjoys working in finance, which comes as a surprise to those who know her. Emma lives in Cambridge and loves being a member of Christ Church. She loves music, food, Jesus, her friends and since her wedding in April this year (!) is loving the adventure of marriage!