The questions that accompany grief, pain, and struggle can pull you under. Here are three responses from survivors of grief that may help you hold on and take another step.
“Another holiday without him.
Will I ever be able to handle the holidays?”
Those words were written four years after my cousin’s death by his mom, my aunt.
At age 49, that man of God went home, leaving behind children, a wife, and an entire family who adored him. Especially his mom.
My aunt began writing to process through the grief and then shared some of her words with me. Over and over, her chosen verb was this: drowning.
On the one-year anniversary of his death, she quoted Horatio Gates Spafford, who penned, “It is Well with My Soul.” But the quote wasn’t about the soul being well. It was from his biography where he contemplated the unspeakable tragedy that took the lives of all his children.
It made me curious, so I read his story:
After losing one child to Scarlet Fever and enduring the great Chicago fire of 1871, the family decided to take a holiday in England. Horatio was delayed because of business, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to cross the Atlantic on a steamship.
The vessel was struck. The four daughters drowned, but his wife Anna was found unconscious, clinging to wreckage. Her telegram to her husband said simply: “Saved alone. What shall I do …”
As Horatio crossed the ocean to be with his wife, the captain summoned him to the bridge when they were over the water where the ship had sunk and his daughters were now buried. Horatio went back to his cabin and penned, “It is Well with My Soul,” which begins with these two lines:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll …”
(Public domain: Source)
A SEA OF QUESTIONS
In the face of loss like this, questions naturally sneak up and hiss from the shadows:
Why am I still here?
What do I do now?
Why did this happen?
How will I survive decades of living like this?
These questions loom large in the minds of those whose loved ones have lost their lives.
But they are also common for anyone whose life looks nothing like what they imagined.
Or whose life has lost meaning in the middle of pain and struggle.
We will all walk through the sea of questions at one point or another.
I rarely hear of God parting that sea with answers. No. Usually he parts it with resolutions of faith. Survival-grade faith.
In both the story of the Spaffords and the writings of my aunt, I see common themes that carried them through.
Here are three resolutions of survival-grade faith that God used to part their Red Sea of questions.
THREE FAITH RESOLUTIONS
1-I’m still here for a purpose
Horatio’s testimony is profound, but the words of his wife Anna are the ones that caught my attention. She told of a soft voice that continued to speak to her through her grief and despair.
The voice simply reminded her of this:
“You were saved for a purpose.” ¹
One of my aunt’s writings tells how a few years ago, she joined other ladies in adopting a family. One of the little girls in the family was especially receptive to my aunt. As she describes arranging for piano lessons, getting the little girl involved in the Christmas musical, and more, the writing contrasts starkly to the grief in her other writings.
It didn’t dispel the grief, but it redirected her focus. And that made a big difference in her daily walk.
2-I only have to take it one day at a time
My aunt’s words are raw and reflective. The letter that began with that opening quote above ends with this affirmation:
“This day will pass and hopefully I will get through it.
Tomorrow will be some better …”
She talks often about making it through this day, this anniversary, this holiday.
In quoting “It is Well with My Soul,” she noted that this was my cousin’s favorite hymn UNTIL he was introduced to “Each Step of the Way.”
There’s a poetic irony there I can’t get past. Both of those treasured hymns were messages my aunt needed to survive after the son who sang them to her left this earth.
This message is for all of us, regardless of the burden we’re unsure we can carry. When I speak to younger moms, I remind them of this:
3-I will live with unanswered questions
Anna Spafford was later quoted as saying, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”
The choice to live with unanswered questions is quite possibly one of the hardest choices we ever make.
Our flesh screams for answers and we look down the road, knowing we’ll live a life that fails to provide them. Will we still choose life?
My aunt began speaking to women’s groups about her pain. One of her transcripts ended by quoting John 6:68, where Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I love that vision of her —in the middle of a life she wouldn’t have chosen — still choosing to cling to the author of life, proclaiming and agreeing with the martyred apostle, “There is no place else to go.”
WALKING ON DRY GROUND
Maybe you’ve been there. Or maybe you’re there now. And if not, you know the day will come.
The day when you’ll stand at the edge of the proverbial Red Sea with the enemy of your soul in hot pursuit and no conceivable way to make it through.
The day when a tide of questions threatens to pull you into the undercurrent and drown you in an ocean of “Why?”
When that day comes, remember these testimonies.
Recall that you serve a way-making God.
Believe he is not finished until he calls you home.
Lean into grace to take today’s step without worrying about how you’ll handle tomorrow.
The questions will not necessarily disappear.
God may choose instead to part the angry sea and call you to walk forward, turning the water into dry ground with each step of faith. If he does, choose to follow; there’s no place else to go.
And along the way, you might just discover you’re humming, “It is well with my soul.”God rarely parts the Sea of Questions with answers; He forms dry ground from resolutions of faithClick To Tweet
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Combat feelings of discouragement and brokenness with survival-grade faith.
Thank you for the great post!