(A post from a Christian perspective.)
There is a lot in the Bible about joy. “The joy of the Lord is your strength”, “happy is the people whose God is the Lord”, and so on. Many churches today emphasise these “happy messages” and sometimes equate spirituality and faith with being happy and positive.
But this is only a part of the story, and it is a part that often doesn’t really help if we are suffering the soul-crushing despair and desperation that can accompany the death of a loved one.
When you have suffered a profound loss, whether you’ve witnessed the suffering of your loved one or if circumstances prevented you from being there as they took their last breath; when the person who was the centre of your life has gone, questions abound. Why? Where? How come God allowed this? Where is he in this altered reality of your life?
More questions than answers.
More sorrow than joy.
More despair than hope – especially as the initial shock of their death sinks in again and again.
It could be there is more doubt than faith.
There could be anger at God for his apparent desertion of us and our loved one.
There could be so, so many troubled emotions.
At times like these, our words can fail us. How can we begin to express the depths of what we feel?
One piece of advice I have learned along the way is: “Read the book of Psalms until you find your voice.”
If you’re a Bible reader, you might think of the book of Psalms as filled with praise and wonder, but there’s so much more to it.
Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!
Master, hear my cry for help!
Listen hard! Open your ears!
Listen to my cries for mercy.
(Psalm 130:1-2 The Message)
Sound familiar? Or is this:
Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
Why do you make yourself scarce?
For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting;
I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it.
Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
I’m bleeding, black-and-blue.
You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side,
raining down blows till I’m nearly dead.
You made lover and neighbor alike dump me;
the only friend I have left is Darkness.
(Psalm 88:13-18 The Message)
Darkness. Despair. Desperation. Desertion.
Wondering how long it will go on?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
(Psalm 13:2 NIV UK)
My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow.I am pining away with grief; my years are shortened, drained away because of sadness.
As you read, you might discover that after these very very dark moments expressed in the Psalms, eventually hope reappears.
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.
As we go through the process of grieving – as we take the time to reflect, to express our pain whether we use our own words or those of another, as we take the time to remember – as we mourn – then eventually there comes some comfort.
It doesn’t come all at once and it is not all-encompassing. In other words, we don’t suddenly get some comfort and everything is fixed once and for all. But we start to find there is some solace, perhaps just in moments, and then the moments start to extend.
It’s not that faith will miraculously return our deceased loved ones to us.
It’s not that faith will instantly lift us up out of the depths.
It’s not that faith will provide clear and precise answers.
I think the comfort that comes from faith is more gentle than that.
It’s like a soft and gentle rain after a long, hot, dry summer. It doesn’t saturate the ground; it doesn’t turn the drought around in a moment. No, it’s more gradual.
It’s moments of grace, of feeling that there is still love in our world.
It’s an unexpected happy memory.
It’s the kindness of a friend or a family member.
And it might be the reading of a passage that expresses oh so clearly what we are feeling at that very moment.
It might be a realisation that yes, this pain is part of the experience of grief no matter whether we are a believer or not. We are not condemned. Grief is as natural as life.
Poetry and other texts can also express what we are struggling to put into words, so it is not only the Bible that can help us in this way. But if you identify as a Christian (or Jewish) than you may well find that the book of Psalms can be a very great support in your darkest hours.
A song on this theme: