“We have the freedom to feel sorrow and grief.”
I read this quote this week, and I let out a long sigh. “Yessss,” I whispered.
Joni Eareckson Tada always ministers to me through her words – these were written in her book A Step Further, published the year I was born. I discovered Joni when I was 20 years old, fresh off of my first long illness – an unexplained colon rupture that nearly cost me my life. Six months in and out of the hospital to put me back together.
And Joni – who became a quadriplegic at the age of 17 from a diving accident – was the first person I identified with after my illness…another young person whose life had suddenly changed course. Though her accident happened three decades before my illness, I felt a strange kinship with her. I was the sickest, youngest person I knew. But now I knew of someone who had felt the hopelessness, depression and self-consciousness of being different from all of her peers. A fellowship of sufferings.
Time – A Friend of Grief
When I read Joni’s books, even now, I’m taken back to that 20-year-old girl who suffered and didn’t know how to handle it.
I tried to over-spiritualize things. I was supposed to trust God, so I was expected to be joyful. I had to accept this detour as His will, so I needed to move on.
I tried to compartmentalize it. After missing a semester and a half of college, I returned in the middle of my junior year looking like my old self…except for the extensive scarring hidden (mostly) by my clothes. But I was changed and I didn’t know how to share it with my friends – not without becoming extremely emotional or stuffing it back down into the neat box of Lost Time When Erica Was Sick.
I tried to move on from it. But when I was finally back to my old life, all of that sadness didn’t disappear. Sorrow and grief had to do their work.
Time and Space to Feel
During that time, I had wonderful friends – even before everyone had cell phones (right!?), they made sure to call, visit and keep in touch. Some even came for a slumber party in the hospital. Friends prayed with me, encouraged me and left me sweet notes when I was trying to reenter back into my old life.
But I was a changed 20-year-old with an old soul. And with the Lost Time came the loss of my ability to be carefree. Little pains became big worries.
Because I was a good little Christian, it was easy to fall for Satan’s deception that it was wrong to feel – or at least to feel negative feelings. Anger over lost time. Sadness over what had happened. Fear over what might happen.
“All the sufferings of this earth are horrible things,” Joni writes. “It’s foolish to think Christians can benefit from their trials without feeling them.” She often gets letters asking her to sign books or send letters to those who have recently become paralyzed as a way to encourage them.
But in this chapter, she notes that advice and encouragement – even from someone who has been in the depths of suffering and come through it – isn’t always the right way to provide comfort. Especially when sorrow is fresh.
Some of my dearest friends have admitted to me that they don’t know what to say when I am suffering. And while they may not know it, those have been some of the sweetest moments of comfort I have ever received.
And did you stumble over these words from Joni’s book like I did – “benefit from their trials”? Oh, how we can, because God redeems all things, even our suffering.
Walking Hand in Hand in Sorrow
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
I have been on both sides of the comfort aisle, so to speak. Part of the wisdom of knowing how to comfort is knowing when to comfort.
Sometimes the only thing – no, the best thing – you can do for a hurting friend is to sit with them. Cry with them. Hold their hand. Let them put their weary head on your shoulder. And offer no words of reprimand. No “God has a plan” or “praise God anyway” or “God works all things for good.” While these things may be true, suffering doesn’t feel good. It feels stinky and hard and like this world is just rotten.
Weep and mourn with them, as Scripture instructs. Give them the space to feel grief and sorrow.
Let the Holy Spirit do His work to comfort, intercede and restore.
Take Heart, Accept Christ’s Peace
The truth is, there is nothing we humans can do to make the hurt and pain of this world truly disappear. While it is full of beautiful moments and places, it’s fallen. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble.” But that’s not the end of the story. If we can just wait and hang on a little while longer, Jesus offers us peace and tells us, “Take heart, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)
Chronic illness has a way of presenting grief over and over again. Even when things are going well, I worry what unseen things are going on inside of my body. And I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel the feelings. To be a little sad while also embracing the beauty that God has taught me through my brokenness.
There is freedom in recognizing sorrow and letting the tears fall. God is ready to catch those tears and see that none are wasted. He can be trusted with your feelings, friend, for He is always good.
Need more resources on finding comfort in suffering?
- Check out my four book recommendations if you are walking through a trial right now.
- Don’t miss out on my college roomie’s blog – JacQueline Roe, who has suffered debilitating migraines for decades accompanied by depression and anxiety, is getting ready to release her memoir/Bible study. Follow her as she is chasing the God of Hope in the midst of her pain. You will find much encouragement there!
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