Being present with grief, grace, and gratitude.

being present with grief

As autumn gives way to winter, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on being present with grief, grace, and gratitude. I don’t know what it is about this season that creates such melancholy in my spirit, but as the holidays approach I have all the feelings. And it’s not new, I’ve experienced this most of my adult life. As the season shifts, stripping the trees bare, bringing shorter and colder days, and presses toward dormancy so does my soul.

I know many people, who love this time of year. I mean, really love it. All the fall colors and flavors seem to ignite an excitement unparalleled to any other time of year. Perhaps that’s you? I watch with open curiosity because, at the very core of my being, I cannot relate.

 My heart appreciates the beauty of the golden yellow, rusty orange, and crimson reds splashed across the mountains from my home in the valley. I love driving through farm country, seeing the cornfields right before the farmers cut away the dead stalks. Heck, I even love the taste of hot apple cider and pumpkin spice along with everyone else. But none of that evokes an uncontainable excitement and enthusiasm for all things Fall. To be honest, my appreciation for this season has evolved because I’ve chosen to cultivate it. 

So, what does the season have to do with grief, grace, and gratitude, you ask? Well, where there is death and loss, there is grief. The way autumn gives way to winter here in the northern hemisphere is the very picture of death and loss, and for me, that creates a whole mixed bag of emotion. But, here’s the thing, grief has two helpful companions, named grace and gratitude.

Being present with grief

One of the things that have become clear to me over the years regarding grief, grace, and gratitude is that you cannot ignore what you’re feeling. Being present with grief is hard because it’s painful. I’ve spent most of my adult life pushing aside emotion that I can’t name because I didn’t want to give it power. I mean, I’ve seen my fair share of situations that spiraled out of control because the emotion was allowed to lead, and that’s scary. Truthfully, I’ve been afraid to give my feelings too much of an audience, and sitting here today, I realize that has come from my upbringing and the culture of my generation. 

Grief is tough, right? I mean, it’s a special kind of hard. No one wants or would willingly choose to walk that particular road, yet we all find ourselves there, at one time or another. 

The impact of grief has forever changed the way I see and think. I mean, initially, it felt like I would never be okay (whatever that means), but I’ve learned that isn’t true. I am, however, different.

We must learn how to be present. Grief is confronting and sometimes it feels downright mean, but the truth of the matter is that grief can be a gift. Oh, I know that doesn’t sound true, but stay with me. 

You see, grief confronts the heart and with that, there is always an invitation to healing.

The problem is because grief is so unbelievably painful, the knee-jerk reaction is to stifle it and push through. When we refuse to be present with the pain, we skip past the invitation to process and heal with the Father. 

But how do we do that? How do we resist the temptation to numb the pain?

Looking to Jesus

“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.”

John 13:3

I’ve been reading about the last supper, in the Gospel of John, specifically the part where He tells Judas to “Hurry and do what you are going to do.” (John 13:27).  I cannot imagine the grief Jesus experienced at that moment. 

There they were, Jesus and his disciples, all gathered in the upper room. Emotions were high as they prepared to celebrate the Passover and as Jesus looked around the room he knew what was coming. He’d been trying to prepare these beloved people but they struggled to understand. 

This would be the last supper; the last time they’d break bread. Have you ever thought about how you would react in this context? Jesus was present, not just in body, but in emotion and mind too. And so, he took up the basin and the towel, methodically and calmly washing the feet of each disciple in the room.

When Jesus was finished, they broke bread and he predicted his betrayal. His time had come and still, these followers could not grasp the gravity of what was happening. I wonder if they sensed the atmospheric tension as the activity of the spirit realm amped up? One thing is certain, even with all that Jesus said to prepare them, they still didn’t expect the cross.

Looking at this passage, we see grief in betrayal, loss, and ultimately in death as we finish the story. Yet, the example of Jesus, all the way through, demonstrates what being present with grief looks like. Jesus didn’t lean on his human understanding, He listened to God and did what God said. 

Grace Breaks Through

As a Christ-follower, I want my life to be marked by the attitude and heart of Jesus. That’s what we all want, right? Yet, the issue of loss in this broken world creates such a quagmire of yuck. Walking it through feels impossible, yet with Jesus, there is life and truth found along the way. Being present with grief doesn’t mean giving up. It actually allows for grace to breakthrough in the most unexpected ways. When we are alert and present it is the gift that lifts us up.

(Deep Sigh)

Are you still with me? 

I want to be clear, I’m not saying that grief is good, but Jesus is. In the middle of the yuck, Jesus is still very, very, good. The idea of being present with our pain is the invitation of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him. Being present with our grief helps us to stay with Jesus, who brings light in our darkest moments.

I mentioned right off the top that autumn evokes melancholic grief for my soul. I’m a gut person, meaning I see life through a gut sense of intelligence. When things change I feel it, sometimes without any way or words to describe it. So, all around me, the leaves are dying, falling from the trees making them look scarce and naked, and I feel the loss keenly.

Each day we move closer to the holidays, trading the barren landscape with glitter and lights. I wonder if it’s an unconscious attempt to disguise the wretchedness of death? I don’t mean to sound morbid, but all the merry-making cheer doesn’t diminish the grief. Yet, it does offer respite. While some may seek to numb the sorrow, the light of Jesus offers grace. 

When grief, grace, and gratitude come together there is a breakthrough; a way out of the bog.

What about gratitude?

If you’ve ever walked with acute grief then you know well the difficulty of this holiday season. Even after all these years, the waves still hit hard enough to take me to my knees. This year we will mark the 8th anniversary since my father went home to be with Jesus. Holidays are tough when marked with grief anyway, but Dad’s birthday is Christmas Day and He passed away on January 1, 2014. 

It may sound strange, but as I think about Dad I’m filled with gratitude. I hate that he’s gone, but I love him and the legacy he has left behind. The dance with grief, grace, and gratitude has changed me helping me to heal and grow. As difficult as this season feels, I’ve come to appreciate the process from beginning to end. 

The leaves die, falling away creating the best context for rest. I can see that now. There is no need to be afraid of the barrenness because this place is about restoration. Listen, there is nothing more desolate than acute grief when the loss is fresh, but we need to remember that God is not the author of death. So, in the ripping, tearing, and braking, as we are forced to let go, God remains. He is light and hope; the anchor of the soul. 

Waves of sorrow threaten to hold us under, yet, Jesus lifts us up. Aren’t you thankful for that? 

I have learned that practicing gratitude is more than just words, it’s about surrender and trust. Also, giving the sacrifice of praise and gratitude doesn’t ignore the grief. The two can coexist. 

Being present with grief opens the way for grace and gratitude

Dancing with grief, grace, and gratitude is not as difficult as you may think. Does it feel hard? Sure, sometimes it is hard, but once you get into the groove and fall into the rhythm it gets better. 

Better…

Do you find yourself resisting the idea of better? 

The enemy is quick to steal, kill, and destroy. He does it with the blessings in our lives as well as in the losses. The lie in grief is that we must give up on living too. That’s not to say, everyone becomes suicidal, but that is true for some. Most of us though will simply check out. We go through the motions, using whatever means makes sense for self-medication. We resist the idea of better because it just doesn’t feel right that we continue and go on. Like living is somehow a betrayal.

It’s not. God said, live, and that’s the mission until we take our last breath. We are not placeholders and worth is not based on circumstances. Loss is painful, but being present with grief, opens the way for grace and gratitude. It’s the dance we dance with grief, grace, and gratitude, fills us with life and purpose.

Back to my metaphor about autumn giving way to winter…

There is beauty to behold in every part of the movement, even when things are stripped bare. Eventually, all the leaves will fall and winter will be upon us; the season of rest. But this is grace; this is God’s goodness to His sons and daughters. 

I don’t know about you, but I do welcome the idea of rest and renewal. So, as difficult and awkward as it may feel, I continue to step into the dance with grief, grace, and gratitude embracing the love of Jesus. It’s about trusting Him, one step at a time.

Just one more thing…

Thanks for sticking around right to the end! I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging.   If you know someone who might need to hear these words, feel free to share! If you want more like this, I invite you to sign up for my weekly devotional called, The Grace Notes. 

Always,

Maureen

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