There are some things that just can’t be hurried along.
Grief is one.
As much as we want to “get over it,” (a dreaded, misused phrase too often heard by those who are grieving) we helplessly and disappointingly can’t hurry it along. Sometimes, all we can do is wait. Wait for the process to work through our heart, mind and body. I call it ‘the waiting time.’ A time in life when we can’t change our circumstances. A time to hold on, and wait. Wait for a new day. Wait for hope.
As with many unpleasant things I encounter in this world, I was anxious to just be done with grief. Let’s speed up the process so I can get on with life.
I do a lot of that type of thinking. When I encounter something uncomfortable, I just want to speed it up and move on. Or ignore it, put it off and not deal with it until some fanciful time somewhere out there. Instead of embracing the inner tension accompanying a situation or task, I want to speed past it and avoid as much discomfort as I can.
After Nate died, I longingly wished we could somehow fast-forward life and jump a year or two or three into the future. I just knew I would feel better by then. It wouldn’t hurt so much once we’d reach some point in a nebulous timeline.
I’m learning it’s often better to face ‘dis-ease’ straight on. Moments in life when ease and comfort are elusive. I continue learning to do so in uncomfortable situations. Name it, own it and process it. Rather than trying to avoid the pain, the inconvenience and the negative feelings, sometimes I need to hit the pause button on my life and simply sit with the discomfort. Sit with the tension. Acknowledge it. Embrace not-feeling-well, and be okay with it.
This spring, as we celebrated Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I found myself thinking frequently about ‘the waiting time.’ To me, the most significant and convincing part of the Christian Good News is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the evidence of that foundational event which validates the whole story of Christ. The narrative of Him coming to earth, teaching us about the Kingdom of God, dying for us, being raised bodily from the dead and ascending back to Heaven. Making a way for us to eventually and eternally join Him there.
I found myself thinking about His disciples, along with the family and friends of Jesus who had their whole world turned upside down. They had been riding high. Jesus was popular, powerful, charismatic and loving. They thought He was going to take over and establish an earthly kingdom with a magnificent thrown of power, justice and peace right there in Jerusalem. Some were even jockeying for a position of influence alongside him. Being seated next to Him at His right and left would mean they would be reigning and ruling alongside Him. Wow – what a future!
Imagine the depth of their despair and disappointment after watching their hero be tortured and killed like a notorious criminal. Their disillusionment, along with the fear of what could happen to them and all those who had supported and followed Him, must have been nearly unbearable.
They were in the waiting time.
2000 years later, I know how the story ends, so I tend to look at that group of followers through my 20/20 hindsight perspective. I’ve been envisioning them as stoically hiding in a house, quietly murmuring amongst themselves while solemnly questioning where it all went wrong. But now, I’m developing a new paradigm. One born out of grief, loss and disappointment.
I expect the close friends and family of Jesus who had secretly gathered together didn’t sit in silence, thoughtfully meditating on their loss and making plans for what to do next.
Instead, there must’ve been deep, gut-wrenching mourning, Howling wails of agonized sorrow and loss, muffled only by burying their faces in their hands, in their clothing or in each others’ embrace in order to minimize the sounds that would betray the followers’ location.
Many had bet their lives on this man. They left careers, houses and family to follow Him. And this is how it all ends? What?! No!!
What do you do when hope is gone? Where do you go to find it again?
Not only were their dreams shattered, but they lost someone they had come to love deeply. And they had watched their loved one suffer in an excruciating way.
My grief over the loss of Nate wasn’t the same as theirs. My life isn’t in danger, and I have the hope of an eternal future with him. Even so, the emotions of loss, disappointment and hopelessness are experientially familiar.
We all go through ‘the waiting time.’ Times when plans have been destroyed. Times when loss looms large. It could be loss of a dream, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, loss of health… and the list goes on. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do to change it. Nothing. We just have to endure, pray, trust, and wait.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end with the death of Christ. We’re told that Mary and some of the other women went to the tomb early Sunday morning. In the past, I had pictured them thoughtfully and quietly walking along a path to the tomb, discussing with solemn pragmatism as to how they were going to move the massive stone that was covering the entrance to the grave.
Again, I have a new picture in my mind. These were grief-stricken women who had been through a horrendous ordeal. They probably hadn’t even slept since Jesus had been arrested – not unusual when in the throws of grief. Plus they were carrying embalming materials, some sources say it could’ve been seventy pounds worth of spices and ointment. I don’t think they were nimbly walking along a garden path. I think they were stumbling over the rocky, uneven terrain, weeping and wailing the whole way. Even falling to the ground at times out of weariness and grief. The whole thing, the whole ordeal, it was all so awful, so horrible, so unexpected. So unimaginable.
What do you do when you lose hope? The next right thing. Yes, you sit in the grief. You don’t avoid it. And maybe the next right thing is to simply take the time to be submerged in it. But you don’t stay there. When there’s something that needs to be done, you do it. You get up and do what you can. Even if only for a few minutes, you try. In the midst of deep loss, we begin a bizarre dance of alternating between engaging in life and and being entangled by death.
These women did what they knew to do – what had to be done in that culture – respectfully finish preparing the body for proper burial. So they kept putting one foot in front of the other, carried along by the momentum of doing the next task. Just think what they would have missed, had they not persevered, had they just stopped and given up.
As they approached the place of Jesus’ burial, they were surprised to see the stone already moved. I can imagine their trepidation as they drew near, as they braced themselves for what they expected to see – the broken, lifeless body of their loved one. Yet, instead, these women saw an angel… and their whole world changed! In fact, while yet in the garden, Mary encountered more than just an angel. She saw the risen Lord! She even spoke with Him. Instantly, the pain of the last few days was gone, and a glorious, unfathomable future dawned!
My waiting times have never been as dramatic as that, obviously, but their outcome is an encouragement. As I trust the Lord’s plans for my life, the dark night of sorrow, the waiting time, can be endured. He understands. And in time, at the right time, if I persevere and keep walking the path before me, simply trying to take the next step I know to take, Jesus will show up. Maybe not when I want Him to, or in the way I want Him to, but He will be there. Where do you go when hope is gone? To him.
Eventually, my dark night of sorrow has been followed by the optimistic dawn of hope. I’m not alone. He IS there. Whatever lies ahead, we’ll face it together.
With hope in the mourning,