Of Grief and Grace
Dena Johnson MartinDena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.
- 2016 Oct 19
Grief accompanies all kinds of losses. Some grief is short-lived. Other times, it lasts a lifetime. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Other times, it seems to be fading.
Maybe it’s grief from divorce. Or sickness. Or death. Or, maybe like us, you are overwhelmed by grief from all of these losses.
Last week was the six month anniversary of the death of the kids’ dad. It was an emotional week, filled with tears and memories. We went out to eat at one of his favorite restaurants. It was a rare splurge, but I wanted to give my kids an opportunity to remember him.
I’ve spent the last six months begging God to show me how to help my kids navigate their grief. I’ve seen three kids experience grief in three very different ways. I’ve seen tears and depression. I’ve seen hope and anticipation. I’ve seen anger and frustration.
I’ve encouraged them all to share their hearts, their feelings with me. I’ve offered counseling. We’ve pulled out pictures, remembered the good times. We’ve been to the cemetery to visit his grave.
And we’ve prayed. Day after day. Pouring out our hearts to God. Begging Him to use this pain for good, somehow, someway.
Because of the way God has used the pain of my divorce, I cling to hope! I know the good things God has brought into my life because of the pain. I know how He has used my loss to create a ministry. And I know the depths of his love and healing only because I’ve experienced pain and grief. I desperately want my children to experience the same type of redemption of their pain.
As I’ve looked for ways to understand my kids and their grief, I have looked to scripture. I’ve found some interesting stories that help explain exactly how grief affects people.
In the days when the judges ruled in Israel… a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.… about ten years later,both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:1-21 (selected)
Naomi faithfully went with her husband to a foreign land. While there, God blessed her with two sons. But her beloved husband passed away. Her sons also died before they could even have children.
Naomi returned to her home country, but she was lost in the throes of depression. She begged the people not to call her Naomi any longer, a name that means pleasant. She preferred the name Mara, meaning bitter. Her life had lost its joy, and she had become bitter because of the loss.
How many of us spiral into depression and negativity, forgetting all of the Lord’s blessings, when our lives suddenly fall apart? How many times do we become bitter and angry, allowing the pain and disappointments of this life to overwhelm and destroy us?
I’ve watched my own kids fight depression, lose their joy in life. I’ve been there myself. Depression is a very real consequence of grief.
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. John 11:33-35
There He was, standing outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He had already visited with Lazarus’s grieving sisters, Mary and Martha, reassuring them Lazarus would live again. But, as He looked at the scene, Jesus could no longer contain His emotions.
And that’s when Jesus wept. He broke down. Let the tears flow. Allowed his emotions to show.
We don’t really know why Jesus wept. Maybe it was his sadness for his friend, lying in the tomb. Maybe it was the lack of faith He saw in those mourning Lazarus’ death. Or maybe it was His own empathy for His friends, overcome by their sadness. Whatever the reason, He cried.
The last six months have been filled with tears around our house. Tears over their dad’s death. Tears of fear of the unknown. Tears of lost hopes, lost dreams. Tears of empathy, compassion. Tears of anger and frustration. And, I’ve also watched as my kids have fought their tears, held them back, avoided letting their emotions show. It’s been an emotional six months.
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God. Job 1:20-22
Job lost everything. He lost his material possessions. He lost his servants. He lost his flocks. He lost his children. Eventually he lost his health.
And his response was to fall on his knees in praise.
I was amazed at my kids in those early days. The day after their dad died, we had a special service at our church. We had planned to go for weeks, but under the circumstances I was more than willing to miss it. But my kids begged me to go. They wanted to be in church. They needed to be in church. And so we went, tear-streaked faces, broken hearts.
And we praised God, even as our hearts broke.
After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. The elders of his household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused. Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. “He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,” they said. “What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?” When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.” Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate. 2 Samuel 12:15-20
David had messed up his life…royally. He had taken advantage of a woman, gotten her pregnant, had her husband killed. In the aftermath, he married the woman who was pregnant with his child.
But God couldn’t overlook his sins. Despite his repentance, God sent an illness on the child. David begged and pleaded hoping to spare the life of his child.
But God didn’t relent, and the child died.
How did David respond? He put away his mourning, and he went to worship. He pulled himself together and went back to business. He recognized that life continues even in the midst of death and loss, and he chose not to let his pain hold him back.
And that’s my prayer for my kids. I don’t want this pain to hold them back. I want them to move forward, to be propelled into their futures. I want them to find peace, power, and beauty despite their pain. I want them to learn that we can thrive and not just survive…even when life is filled with pain and disappointments.
Do you know what I love most about all of these experiences of grief? The grace. Every story is bathed in grace.
Naomi found grace in her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who refused to leave her side. She found grace when God brought a kinsman-redeemer along for Ruth, allowing Naomi to become a grandmother. She found grace by suddenly being thrust into the lineage of Christ.
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha found grace. They found grace in Christ’s resurrection power. They found grace when they came to understand that Lazarus’ death was used for God’s glory. They found grace in their Savior who had such great love and empathy for them.
Job found grace. After he walked through the pain of losing everything, he met God in a deeply personal and intimate way. He saw everything he had restored. He saw the second half of his life more blessed than the first.
And David found grace. He was blessed with another son, Solomon, who was the wisest man ever to live. He was blessed to be promised to always have a descendant on the throne. He was blessed with everything this life has to offer.
And I know my kids will also find grace. We pray every day that God will use this season of pain to help us find a deeply intimate relationship with the Father. We pray that we will find the good that He always promised would come to those who love Him. We pray that God will do an amazing work in us so He can do an amazing work through us.
That’s the beauty of walking with our Father. Where there is grief, there is also an abundance of grace. I pray that if you are lost in grief, God will reveal the touches of His grace that are flowing all around.