“We have this hope a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.” Hebrews 6:19
I am currently reading Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren. As I read, I am equally comforted and discomforted by the honesty of the author’s approach to grief in the first chapters. “Feeling sadness is the cost of being emotionally alive. It is the cost even of holiness” (p.41). Warren continues to say that those who mourn are called blessed. There is a cost to being emotionally alive, but there is also a cost to being emotionally numb.
We live in a world where there is little, if any, time to mourn. We can escape those difficult emotions so quickly as we move into the busyness of life. The “doing” instead of feeling helps us at the moment. However, just as there is a cost to being emotionally alive, the cost of delaying our mourning is a prolonged process of grieving. We risk the possibility that our grief and sadness will come out in more uncomfortable public ways if it is allowed to percolate below the surface for too long. It is understandable to want to hold back those feelings. They are messy, require attention, and take our focus away from the kaleidoscopic of life. Engaging in our grief often forces us to question our significance. A spiral in this direction can be a path to hopelessness. We try to numb ourselves with distractions to help avoid this hopelessness, not realizing there is a better way.
There is a better way. We will be sad, we will mourn, and we must accept that grief, too, has a place in the kaleidoscope filling in places and making an image whole. When the light enters the ever-transforming image, it is always beautiful. The thing that makes all the broken pieces lovely is the light. How do we let the light into the dark moments of our lives? We can pray. “When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up ourselves” (p. 17). There are times I have experienced such overwhelming grief that remembering to breathe took great effort. I would catch myself breathing shallowly and have to pause and consciously take slow deep breaths to keep my head clear. In these times conjuring up thoughts that could soothe my spirit was difficult, prayers to God felt impossible. I knew he was present. I knew he would hear, but I couldn’t even form the thoughts to express what I so desperately needed from him.
One specific time I recall was the night of Hurricane Katrina. The air was still, humid, and miserably hot. My kids were all very young and struggled to get comfortable enough to sleep. We were safe in Mississippi, staying with family, but the restlessness of the night overwhelmed us. With no electricity, there was no way to distract ourselves or numb the worry regarding what was happening to our home. I recalled a friend telling me about how praying Compline while her daughter was in the hospital not only soothed her spirit, but after the prayers, her unconscious daughter seemed to be resting more peacefully as well. As I prayed Compline over my children that night, I remember well the calming effect of the words. “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” (Book of Common Prayer p.134). I remember those words “watch with Christ” washing over me and settling my soul. I would have never come up with those words on my own, but what they did for me was offer the image of me praying over my children with Jesus at my side, “keeping watch.” Those ancient words reminded me that I was not alone. In knowing we are in the presence of God, there is peace. I needed just those words that night, that reminder gave me something to hold fast to, and in the morning, I knew God would still be with to guide me through the next day and the next.
We cannot escape the heartaches that life will bring. Running from fear and grief can keep us from seeing the beauty in the knowledge that Jesus cares deeply for us and meets us in our times of darkness and need. When we don’t have our own words to pray, we have the gift of others who have been there before and found the words to share. By accepting the cost of being emotionally alive, we are blessed.
God’s character is unchanging and he blesses patience and endurance. Put feelings of doubt and insecurity on hold this week and move forward with courage into the places you are led.