After my mom died, I had a tough time.
Much tougher than I’d anticipated.
After all, she and I had talked a lot about her dying and her death. I knew she was tired of dealing with her physical challenges and eager to go Home to her Savior. And we were both blessed to get to do everything the way we’d hoped at the end of her life. She got to call the shots and I got to take care of her.
But after she was gone, I was lost. And not nearly as prepared as I’d thought I’d be.
I remember standing at the kitchen counter one day—sobbing—as I tried to explain to my husband that the rug-of-everything had been pulled out from under me.
That Mom had been such a foundation in my life for all of my life—and now that foundation was gone.
Yes, I prayed.
Yes, I knew God had me.
Yes, I knew Mom was in a “better place.”
Yes, I knew I’d see her again someday.
But nothing could make up for the fact that I missed her so.
My heart was broken in the missing.
So, when I first heard the opening lyrics to “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,” sung by Danny Gokey, I wept.
They describe feeling shattered and wondering about ever being the same again.
Indeed, I sometimes felt as if I’d never get back to the me that used to be.
And you know what?
Because it’s true that grief changes us. That it’s not just a series of stages we go through, but something that transforms us forever. Which is why I also identified with both the reality and hope that Gokey offers in the chorus—an encouragement to leave the pain of the past behind us and move forward within the embrace of God’s love and grace.
In the last sermon in his series, Soul Detox, Pastor Ric Hooper shared the story of Horatio Spafford—whose four young daughters drowned when their ship collided with another vessel. Pastor Ric shared it in such heart-wrenching detail that we were pulling out our tissues by the end.
But the most moving part of the story for me was not that this man had experienced such loss—but that he was somehow able to embrace an illogical sense of peace in the midst of it. A peace that could only have come from God. A peace that made it possible for him to pen the lyrics to this familiar hymn:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Although Spafford wrote that song over a century ago, the sentiments are the same as Gokey’s contemporary tune—and both arrived at the same conclusion: that even-and-especially in the midst of great pain…pain so deep that we can’t explain it…so personal that no one else can understand it…
God is there.
God is here.
God is in the midst of it.
Last night, I finished Kate Bowler’s new book, Everything Happens for A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.
A professor at Duke Divinity School, Bowler uses brutal honesty to describe her struggle with finding solace and purpose as a 35-year-old mother with stage IV colon cancer. It’s a beautifully authentic and colorful read (so if you’re offended by profanity, there’s my disclaimer), and she doesn’t have any pat advice for those experiencing deep pain—which is why I’m attracted to her writing.
Life on earth is hard, and that’s reality.
So, in the context of writing that’s so raw and real, there’s particular power in what she writes about experiencing God in the midst of her pain—about uncovering “something like a secret about faith”:
At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to floating ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating, on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees…They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.
I don’t know about you and your pain, but I do know about me and mine.
And in its midst, I have found an intimacy with God that I doubt would have been possible without it.
It’s human nature to want to find a reason for everything.
To put illness, loss, and tragedy into a neatly-constructed box that explains it all.
But usually, there are no reasons that our finite minds can grasp.
Just the reality of God. There. In our pain. With us.
And when we get to some semblance of being on the other side of it—when we start to breathe, to embrace the warmth of light and love once again—then we can more clearly recognize the gifts we’ve gained within the mire.
A deeper intimacy with God.
An increased acuity of his presence.
An assurance that whatever’s ahead, we won’t be alone.
And a reminder that no matter the pain, he can help our hearts to beat again.
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