The Journey Through Grief (The Healing Power of Letting Go)
You might want to keep scrolling if you don’t want real and raw, because that’s where I am right now, writing this piece.
There is a certain, maddening pain when someone or something you love is ripped away from you, but it’s when you finally concede and let go that the real grief begins.
And it sucks. It sucks so bad. The loss, the powerlessness, the emptiness. And on top of it, the harsh reality that you must, must begin slogging through it if you are ever going to heal and be able to move on.
Five years ago, I lost the best friend I’ve ever had to cancer. Today, I’ve come face-to-face with the possibility that we may have no choice but to place our teenaged adopted son somewhere else until he turns 18 and (God-willing) graduates high school.
The child we moved heaven and earth to get here.
The child whose eyes melted my heart in the heart of Africa where I met him.
The one about whom I uttered secret, anguished prayers to Jesus for all four years it took to finally bring him (and his sister) home.
I see my dream of a happy, triumphant family — of love being enough to overcome all the obstacles — slipping away, like mist from my empty hands.
My heart is crushed.
I’ve not encountered this particular brand of pain before, but the feeling is eerily familiar nonetheless. It’s the feeling of standing on that precipice, ready to take that shaky step forward and tumble down into bottomless sorrow, hopelessness, and despair.
I’ve done it before. But this time, my friends, I know better. I’m telling myself (and encouraging you) not to take that step and follow them down the pit.
This is the point that you and I have to allow the work of grief to take over. And as I said, grief begins with letting go. Most of us have heard about the 5 Stages of Grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But whether or not we experience any or all of those stages, I believe the best and healthiest way forward is this:
It’s such an emotionally-charged word — and for good reason. It’s an admission of powerlessness. Over your loss, over your pain, over a situation you couldn’t control.
The odd thing is, surrender is very much a choice — it doesn’t just happen to you. It’s an acknowledgment of truth. And for you and me, that truth is that we are experiencing something extremely painful. Sadness, loss. Maybe what has happened has been unjust, wrong, or unfair. Whatever the feelings are, we need to acknowledge them, and what’s more, voice them.
And then, surrender to the emotions that surface.
There’s no one right way to do it, but stuffing them down isn’t among the good options. Whether we need to cry softly or wail, privately, or with others, or express our anger in whatever (safe) ways we need to, we must allow ourselves to take this step forward in the journey through grief.
I know some of us fear losing all control if we give in to those feelings, but losing control is okay in a safe, “controlled” environment. One that has limits in place (time and/or people,) so that you aren’t completely overcome by the waves of pain. There must be an endpoint to it, at least for that day.
Letting go of those massive emotions in short sessions is like releasing steam from a pressure cooker so the lid won’t blow off. Again, this kind of surrender is a choice and under our control, even if we don’t feel like it is.
We also need to surrender to — that is, give ourselves permission to voice — the thoughts and questions that invariably accompany our emotions.
I feel like it’s so important that we don’t shut this stuff down in ourselves or in other people. In fact, it’s damaging if we do. We need to express those fears, those what-ifs, those whys. Don’t interrupt them with platitudes or well-meaning encouragement, or even worse — “silver linings.”
It isn’t a lack of faith, or an admission of despair and hopelessness to voice these things. We are going to be thinking them anyway, and voicing them aloud gets them up and out of our heads, where we can deal with them directly. Sometimes once we’ve heard ourselves, we can counter our own ugly thoughts with the truths we know and already live by. Sometimes, we do need perspective from others, but it’s usually more helpful to ask the grieving person questions that will facilitate their own sorting-out process.
How you respond to a grieving person matters. Think before you speak.
One my biggest pet-peeves is hearing the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s bullshit — and not at all biblical, either. However, what IS true is that, no matter what you’re going through, you will never experience more than what God can handle. And that brings me to my last point.
In our deepest pain, we need to surrender to God.
Simple, but probably the hardest thing to do. And He knows that. Surrendering to Him doesn’t mean you have to agree or understand, or acknowledge anything at all — except that He is God, and you are not. And the honest-to-God truth is that He knows you and loves you more deeply than any person on earth. Above and beyond everyone else, He knows firsthand what you are going through, and how you are feeling. He grieves along with you, even though He can see the big picture and knows how it will all work out. Scripture shows us this in John 11, when Jesus weeps along with his friends, knowing full well He will resurrect Lazarus moments later.
I used to hate it when some quoted Romans 8:28:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
It always felt dismissive to me, and somewhat manipulative, like, “stop crying and focus on God’s plan for you.” But I’ll tell you what.
Right now, we are scrambling to figure out next steps for our son. Our hearts are aching with love and concern for him, and we are making call after call, trying to get him the right kind of help that will set him up for the best future possible. He doesn’t know that that’s what we’re doing right now, and maybe he never will — unless it comes as a lightbulb moment in the middle of a turning point. We are praying that one day, he will come to his senses and realize that all the time, his parents have been loving him and fighting for him and doing everything we can to give him a good future.
That’s what Romans 8:28 really means — except God is perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, and an infinitely better parent than we are.
Your loss isn’t “for the best” (in most cases,) but somehow, some way, God will use it to birth something good and beautiful and maybe even life-changing in you. We have that hope. And in my book, that hope is a faith-filled expectation.
It’s something we can count on, by faith.
In the case of our son, we can set before him our very best plans, but it is his choice whether or not to step into them, and to engage in the process of his own healing.
Dear reader, that is our choice as well.
In the throes of grief and with your breaking heart, you and I can choose right here and now to surrender to God and to the process of healing and renewal He is working out for you behind the scenes.
Yes, slogging through our grief is a necessary journey if we are ever to heal. But as lonely as it can feel, we never walk that journey alone.
I really welcome your feedback here. Share your stories, your heart. Help each other feel we aren’t alone.