Grief can visit us for countless reasons and it doesn’t care what time of year it is. The holidays really intensify your sorrow. THANKFUL, GRATEFUL and BLESSED is written across everything, while you struggle to feel any of that. Everyone is excited to gather and feast, but you can only think of how crushing it’ll be to paste on some happy for it all. You fear your inability to contain your despair. You fear bringing others down. You fear feeling so alone. While others are savoring the season, you wish for it to quickly pass. I don’t know what you’re going through friend, but if you can relate to any of this, I hope what I share will give you some strength to press on.
I’m in the holiday spirit this year, looking forward to hosting a truly happy Thanksgiving with friends, but I well remember sorrow-filled holidays, when I could barely eat a cracker, much less feast — when I was fighting to find any good in the hell I was living in.
I made it through that dark time with the help of many people — my husband, my closest friends, some in the church community, my Christian therapist and my doctor. Even strangers have played an important role in my healing — people who write books and blogs and what not — just ordinary people who share their experiences to comfort others. I see them all as a gift from God. I couldn’t have made it through without their help, but it wouldn’t have been enough if I hadn’t also been directly helped by God through His Word and Spirit. Only He can truly heal a crushed spirit.
My suffering was the culmination of years of emotional and spiritual abuse. Counseling on these matters was (and still is) critical for my healing, but even more, I needed wisdom and understanding on the subject of suffering in general. Who better to turn to than Job?
If you’re not familiar with this book of the Bible, basically, Job finds himself in Satan’s crosshairs, although he’s unaware of this detail. He only knows he’s an innocent man (not perfect, but surely not wicked) who is suffering unimaginable loss and struggling to make sense of it all. In the end, his loss proves to be great gain.
It was one thing to read his story when all was fairly well in my life — to kinda float over it, but it was quite another to read it when I was down in the trenches of despair with him. I was never a better student. I don’t want to come off like I’ve got it all figured out. Not even close. But Job taught me some things I can do when giving thanks is hard.
I CAN GRIEVE.
Job does a whole lot of grieving throughout the book. Of course he does — because he does a whole lot of losing — his children, his wealth, his health and more. He was in daily despair, even cursing the day of his birth.
“Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?…
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in? For my groaning comes at the sight of my food, and my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes.” -Job 3:11; 23-26
Not only did I live in daily despair, but I felt so much shame because I felt the way I did… but I couldn’t just will myself out of it. I would’ve! I didn’t want to be down, but even more, I didn’t want to be kicked when I was down. Shame does that. Job helped take away my shame. He gave me permission to grieve.
Here in America, most enjoy material wealth and come to define prosperity and blessing by that standard. Statements about “having so much” are often used to shame away any negative feelings like grief and depression that we experience. Suffering is far less tolerable in a land filled with outward comforts — or it’s at least given a time limit. It seems the greatest compassion is reserved for the poor in third world countries. I mean… they’re really suffering, not you. How cruel is that? We need to stop allowing or disallowing suffering based on whether we live in the “first world” or “third world”. That’s not our judgment to make. There’s a real lack of discernment when we believe that outward comforts and material things solve our deepest problems.
No matter where you live or how much you have, negative feelings should never be forced into hiding. They should be exposed and dealt with. We live in a fallen world, so denying negative feelings is also a denial of truth and reality. It goes so far as removing our need for God. People who don’t have the freedom to grieve don’t make progress either. Grief is a critical step in the healing process; a gift that helps us come to a place of acceptance. Imagine grief to be just as critical to your soul as rain is to the earth.
Have you lived a lifetime of denying negative feelings? If so, don’t expect your grief to come and go quickly. You got a lot of soul-searching to do. Grieve if you must, for however long you must.
I CAN DECLARE.
Surely, Job was in a place where his feelings and his declarations didn’t exactly match. In the beginning, when he lost his wealth and his children, he expressed grief the way they did then — he tore his robe and shaved his head. Great sorrow was appropriate, but at the same time, He declared God’s goodness.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21
But there’s a progression — the more devastation Job experiences, the harder it is to slap an easy answer on it. The divide between his feelings and his faith grows. In chapter 1, Job’s declaration of trust in God is strong, but soon he’s broken down — his health and peace are gone.
“I loathe my own life; I will give full vent to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul…” – Job 10:1
I too can experience terrible tragedy coupled with terrible feelings, yet declare my firm belief that God is good. And I too have experienced a degree of suffering where the distance between my feelings and my faith was so great that it broke me.
You know that popular saying that God won’t give us more than we can handle? It’s wrong. The problem with this reasoning is that WE are left to do the handling. That was never God’s purpose. If we can handle things, we don’t need Him. You don’t have to take my word for it. The Apostle Paul describes getting more than he could handle for good reason in his letter to the Corinthians.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” -2 Corinthians 1:8-9
When we get more than we can handle, we get God — we learn just how deeply dependent we are on Him for everything. Our declaration of trust in His goodness becomes stronger than ever when none of it is left to our own abilities.
I CAN QUESTION.
Job asked no questions of God in the beginning of the book. He simply accepted what happened.
“Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” – Job 2:10
But… he may not have known himself as well as he thought he did. Maybe he didn’t know God as well as he thought he did, either. Doubts and questioning rise to the surface.
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself? -Job 7:20
“Is it right for You indeed to oppress, to reject the labor of Your hands, and to look favorably on the schemes of the wicked?….Your hands fashioned and made me altogether, and would You destroy me? – Job 10:3 & 8
Right up until the days of my own suffering, I was terrified at the thought of questioning my circumstances, much less God. I think this is common in Christian circles, but it isn’t Christian at all. “You are to be seen and not heard” isn’t in the Bible, yet that’s exactly how many of us were treated growing up. We tend to imagine God to be like our parents, especially when they are Christians. And we also tend to continue living out that fear-based relationship when we’re adults. Jesus even had to correct His disciples.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” -Jesus, Matthew 19:14
I have no doubt that these children asked Jesus rapid-fire questions without fear. That’s what they do.
My suffering forced me to come to Him with my questions and doubts. I got to know Him better as the gentle, loving Father that He is, drawing us out and even closer to Him. We come to understand that He doesn’t just want “Sunday school answers” from us. He wants a real, honest relationship with us. He doesn’t expect perfection, just truth.
I CAN STAND WHEN ACCUSED.
Job wasn’t a sinless man, but he was certainly a man of integrity. He practiced doing what was right, even when no one was looking. His friends couldn’t point to evidence of some double life he was hiding, yet his circumstances and condition led them to accuse him, anyway. Here’s some of his reply…
“I have heard many such things; sorry comforters are you all. Is there no limit to windy words? Or what plagues you that you answer? I too could speak like you, if I were in your place. I could compose words against you and shake my head at you.” – Job 16:2-4
“How long will you torment me and crush me with words? These ten times you have insulted me; you are not ashamed to wrong me.” -Job 19:2-3
Again and again Job wrestles with accusations. What he doesn’t know is that the chief Accuser, Satan, is behind it all.
During my own suffering, this same spiritual battle was taking place, especially within my own heart. As I considered my life — of course I could see failure after failure, but also honesty and repentance. Surely, God knew that my desire was only to please Him! So, why had He rejected and forsaken me?
… and that, my friends, is exactly how the Enemy wants us to think. Where is your God now?
This is where the real ability to stand comes in — where Job and I quit looking at ourselves.
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” – Job 19:25
I can stand because my redemption is not ultimately about what I have or have not done, but it’s about the blood of Jesus Christ that paid in full the penalty for all of my sin — past, present and future.
I CAN MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT ANSWERS.
We don’t read that God gave Job an explanation for all that happened to Him. He gave something better — an even closer look at who He is. It was a call to deeper trust and rest.
Ultimately, all I really must know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, for me. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t search for understanding. God created us to be inquisitive. He tells us to search for Him with all our heart. I want to know who, what, where, when and why. But the truth is, I can’t handle too much of that — only God can. I need to be content with only seeing what is fit for me. I just want to be His child — to leave all weighty matters to Him and simply rest. He can be God. I can just be me. I can move forward because I can trust Him with the unknowns.
I CAN BE THANKFUL.
God restored Job’s fortunes. His last days were more blessed than ever. His spiritual gain was the most valuable thing he received. It couldn’t have happened apart from suffering.
When we count our blessings, we usually add obviously good things — family, health, wealth — and rightly so. When we can even add suffering to our list of blessings, because we see the fruit it produces, our thankfulness will be more true than ever.
I don’t expect to completely forget my suffering in this life. I still experience depression, anxiety and grief. It’s like a deep wound that doesn’t just disappear, but rather becomes a scar — a visible reminder of not only my suffering, but also of God’s healing power.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but in the end — both are gain.
I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH. -Philippians 4:13