During this past year, you may have experienced terrible suffering emotionally, physically, spiritually. Your heart may be breaking with grief over the death of a loved one. Perhaps you have lost your job or experienced a crushing failure in your personal life. You may have a child with a long-term illness or one who has left home in open rebellion.
What do we do when we feel ripped in half? How do we continue, how do we persevere, with knives in our hearts?
Author Barbara Johnson’s son who was serving with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam was killed. Five years later another son was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Two years later another son told her that he was a homosexual—it was the day after his graduation from college where he had been voted the most outstanding student.
Grief compounded upon grief. The knife in her heart was so sharp that she thought she would die. She wrote, “I think I’m having a heart attack. I don’t know what you call it, but I think I’m dying. I can’t breathe, and I’m choking. It feels as if I’ve got a rug in my throat.”
Later she said, “All the promises of God are there, and they’re real, and they’re true, but right now you’re bleeding, you’re raw and hurting, and you have to hang on to those promises even if they don’t seem to work for you at the moment.”
Grief’s Many Faces
Responses to grief are as varied as grief itself. While some people want to die, others blow up. Some shout and curse the world and blaspheme God.
Many times grief is accompanied by guilt, and guilt compounds grief. We may even feel guilty about something over which we have no control. Our emotions may become raw when we have disobeyed man’s or God’s laws or have become careless with what God has given us.
After a tragedy or a severe loss some people may have an outward appearance of serenity and peace, but inside they may be hemorrhaging. Grief may drive them to resentment or to blaming others. We can almost hear the grief in Martha’s voice when, after her brother Lazarus died, she said to Jesus, “Lord, … if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, NIV).
Jesus didn’t try to reason with Martha or argue with her. He understood her frustration. If there is something we need more than anything else during grief, it is a friend who stands with us, who doesn’t leave us.
Jesus is that friend.
The faces of grief may be filled with anger. Anger is debilitating if it runs unchecked. Non-Christians may vent their anger with destructive, cruel acts. Before we Christians put on faces of piety, we need to realize that Christians often are just as harmful as non-Christians.
Another face of grief is panic. Grief-stricken people lose the ability to concentrate. That adds to their panic, and the panic may lead to emotional paralysis.
Guilt, resentment, anger, panic. These are just some of the faces of grief. These reactions are not abnormal.
Often it takes the “knives in our hearts” to drive us to God. Our faith, our very lives, depend on Him, and when we enter the valley of grief, we need His help or we will never climb out onto another mountain.
We have been given the ability to hope and dream, to set goals and to make plans for what we want our lives to be. What do we do when someone else takes our dreams and smashes them into pieces?
Henry, loyal to the core and dependable, had worked for the same company for more than 30 years and was close to retirement. His pension was to be the major part of his living expenses. Then, due to a change in company management, Henry was given his severance notice. He went home, a broken man, too shocked to know what to do next.
Our children may wound us and twist the knives in our hearts until we believe we will never be able to heal. David Jeremiah wrote about a painful time that he experienced when his daughter experimented with cocaine at the Christian school where he was president. He wrote, “The feelings that overwhelmed me … were unlike anything in my previous experience. … Nothing in my life had prepared me for the initial shock and the resulting pain of the days and months that followed.”
When we have done our best as parents and things still go wrong, our wounds may turn to guilt. “Where did we go wrong?” we cry. Many godly men and women have suffered heartache as a result of wounds from their children.
Does Jesus understand our wounds? He was misunderstood, scorned, ignored, and finally betrayed. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV). I believe that applies to the problem people in our lives, as well as to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked and sick, the imprisoned. “One of the least of these brothers” may be the very person who has been a thorn in your side and who needs your unconditional love.
Wounds may come from insults, and insults may come as a result of a Christian lifestyle: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:14, NIV).
If your heart is wounded by insults, know that Jesus blesses you: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11, NIV).
The ills caused by the tongue can infect Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians may be slandered because they hold to their beliefs. A Christian student may be verbally abused for not joining his peers in drinking or other kinds of parties. A Christian businesswoman may lose an account because she won’t take kickbacks. A Christian salesman may be laughed at by his fellow salesmen for being honest in his expense accounts. To be a true disciple of Christ, it costs in a thousand subtle ways. The Apostle Peter expressed it: “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:4, NIV).
If we are living according to what we believe, we may be falsely accused. Jesus was falsely accused at His trial. The Apostles Peter and John were falsely accused when they were brought before the Council. Stephen was falsely accused and lost his life. If the apostles and other early church leaders were falsely accused because of their faith, how can we expect to escape the accusations and the hurt that such attacks can bring into our lives?
Jesus told His disciples that the world will despise Christians: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own” (John 15:18-19, NIV).
When We Hurt
When it came to suffering, the Apostle Paul was in the major leagues. What a list Paul had: “God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ. … We are weak. … We are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13, NIV).
Paul had devastating physical sufferings, but as he thought about his responsibilities as a Christian missionary, he described even greater pressure: “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28, NIV). That kind of pressure can lead to loneliness, depression, discouragement. Only God’s unbounded grace and peace can carry us through times of trial.
At times in my own life, the pressures—mentally, physically and spiritually—have been so great that I felt like lying down in a cemetery to see how I fit. But God has called me to my responsibilities, and I must be faithful.
Paul’s attitude was not that of self-pity, it was one of triumph. He said, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV). We, too, can have that same attitude. God has never sent any difficulty into the lives of His children without His accompanying offers of help in this life and reward in the life to come.
The Pain of Personal Failure
When we read about other people’s triumphs and hear their success stories, we may become more depressed than ever. Many people have learned to hide their failures and defeats, not wanting to bother anyone with their troubles.
Jay Kesler told about a boy who had been arrested for armed robbery. The boy’s Christian parents were so ashamed that they didn’t leave their home for several days. They didn’t know if they could face people again, particularly those in their church.
The parents finally went to church, and their shame and fear made them stick together like burrs. But something wonderful happened. A stream of people came to them for spiritual help.
The father said later, “It seems to me that when people take a super-spiritual pose in church, pretending to have no problems, the other church people are afraid to be honest about their own problems for fear that they will look like failures. It’s strange that when we tried our best and, at least on the surface, succeeded in our Christian lives, we didn’t touch other lives. Now that we are having problems with our son, other people ask for our help—they want to know how God is working out our problems.”
We can persevere with knives in our hearts when we allow God to carry us in His arms when we are wounded and to lead us to the time and place where He will heal us.
Someone has said, “You go through it, but you don’t get over it.” Yet, time softens memories, and the presence of Christ helps us not only to survive but to help others. Yes, time does help the broken heart.
Helping others is a great step toward healing. Barbara Johnson has a ministry now that grew out of her own heartbreak, and her son denounced his homosexual lifestyle and rededicated his life to Christ. David Jeremiah’s daughter was loved through her problems, and she became a great witness to the healing powers of God.
When we are weak and powerless, God is there to give us strength. When we lack wisdom, He will supply it. When we admit that we cannot heal ourselves, and we fall to our knees and ask God to take over, we will be on the road to spiritual health.
Why wait? Follow the Steps to Peace online to learn about Jesus or recommit your life to Him.