A dreary Monday followed a bright Sunday on which I made a pot of chili, baked some cornbread, and rode my horse with John Wayne (a.k.a. husband, Todd Johnson) on our farm trails. What is it about sunny days that create a sense of well-being in some of us and overcast days usher emotions as drab as the sky?
And maybe other situations change our inner atmosphere quickly like insensitive words or some derailed pursuit of a dream. Or maybe the inner drab is caused by deep grief—inexplicable lack of love that we all need to feel whole and good and bright.
There is a lovely young lady I took under my wing four years ago when she was 18. Her parents threw her out of the house and took her off their medical insurance abruptly in the midst of a health crisis. I held her hand at the Salvation Army’s free clinic so she could get the help she needed.
It’s not that she was rebellious in the way most might think. She had had enough. She took a stand against a highly abusive family system and chose to stop towing the family line. She chose health. She chose growth. And in some family systems, growth and health are unwelcome visitors because they are disruptive and threatening to all the family has ever known. Sounds crazy but, unfortunately, such dysfunction is not uncommon. Systems of any kind are intent on keeping homeostasis, rejecting anything—or anyone—that/who threatens—even if the new would give life.
So she starts by asking me a question, wondering if I ever regretted committing myself to mentoring her. Her unspoken concern was deeper and I knew it. Was she worthy of committed, unconditional love when all she had ever known in her family was transient, conditional love, which isn’t really love? Was she worthy of mercy? That was the deeper question. That is our deepest question, isn’t it? Are we worthy of love and mercy—undeserved compassion, forbearance, benevolence, charity, kindness.
Isn’t everyone worthy of love? God thinks so. That’s why Jesus suffered and died for us—to bring us home—to buy us back—to redeem our brokenness—to restore our hope.
So we talked. We talked about grief—that black abyss of grief where one can’t see the bottom—where prayers cried or Bible verses read do not relieve the pain. How does one console and encourage another in places beyond drab—in the darkest holes where one shakes and sobs because life as it should be is horribly broken and may NEVER be what we hope, what we need?
You give love and you give truth and you pray for grace to know how and when to apply each like a wound salve. And giving true love means meeting people right where they are. And if they are wounded and bleeding on the inside, you come and sit with them awhile. And you listen closely. You enter in and be WITH them.
So I listened closely, tracking what she was saying. I acknowledged her feelings first. I met her where she was—in her deep grief. I gave love. Because that’s what Jesus did. That’s what He does. He hears our hearts before He speaks His truth.
And then, only then, after she felt truly heard and loved—I reminded her of the One who was “a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3)—the One who still hears our cries—the One who is redeeming everything broken, bit-by-bit, until the day when Eden returns in full. I gave her truth.
Love and truth—a God combination for healing. And I’ve been doing this with her for four years now. Time. It takes time, sometimes, for deep grief to heal.
And what about those strong, scary feelings—the ones we try to avoid and deny in ourselves and others?
If we’re fully human, we have them. And Jesus was fully human. Shouldn’t we try to meet others where they are instead of expecting them to climb up on our pedestals when they can’t?
I can relate to my friend’s deep grief. Though I dislike pain of all kinds and don’t go looking for it, I can also say that deep grief has grown some wonderful fruit for me—in me—in many others I am honored to know well. Now, in the deepest part of myself, having traveled through the darkest ocean trenches of grief, I know I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Such a scripture remains only head truth until one is plunged into a dark night of the soul. When you’ve sunk deep into lightless waters and you’ve nearly drowned and you wonder every day why life is still worth living and Christ meets you RIGHT THERE and takes your hand and pulls you up, you are transformed, by God! By God, you are transformed! Praise His holy name!
To know Christ in His sufferings is an experience our flesh abhors but our spirit adores.
Because suffering well—God’s way—means life after death—resurrection after burial. This truth is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Corinthians 1:18)—to those who do not know the atoning salvation of Jesus Christ.
I can’t make light of suffering because Jesus didn’t. He doesn’t. Pain hurts. Jesus would never gloss over deep grief by only sputtering spiritual truths. He meets the whole person’s need—our whole need, always.
God always applies love and truth when healing. Because love and truth combined in perfect combination, applied over time, prepares the way for spiritual growth. Love without truth or truth without love or impatience with giving either causes people to shut down and turn away, looking for love or truth and patience in some other place.
So we must love, if we say we love Jesus. We must love people right where they are, as Jesus does. If they’re suffering, we must empathize. We must pray for the grace to enter into another’s experience, uncomfortable as it might be, to BE with the suffering. For friends to stay but an hour and pray? Jesus had this one simple request in his darkest moment on earth. He needed flesh and spirit to be WITH Him.
But we must also live and give truth. Feelings are transitory. Truth is constant. Even in our deepest grief there are truths that anchor. God’s word is true and has a miraculous ability to give hope and meaning and purpose to even the most horridly shipwrecked.
So with my friend? I sat WITH her in grief and listened. And I prayed for grace to know proper timing of telling truth. When she knew that I was WITH her and FOR her and I could tell she knew—it was then that I told truth about the transitory nature of feelings and the need to hold onto truth even when we don’t feel it.
I loved her the way I love to be loved. Anybody else? Does anybody long to really be heard, to be met RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE and not made to feel weird or bad or like you should be feeling something different? Does anybody long to really be heard and loved but also told truth that serves as a life ring for the floundering?
Love and truth over time = growth.
I didn’t make up the equation. It came from Townsend and Cloud in How People Grow. Check it out on my Resource page. And the equation didn’t come from Townsend and Cloud.
It came from God.
Care to be part of the equation that makes miraculous difference in our lives—in others’ lives?
Love and truth combined, over time, ALWAYS heals.