August 23, 2021
Prayer and faith, as it pertains to grief, can be a tricky territory, I know. Faith is a multidimensional and layered muscle that is influenced by a host of things. For instance, family upbringing, trauma exposure, grief and loss, and community play a role in how faith is realized — or not realized — in our lives.
On the one hand, faith can serve as an emotional refuge as we navigate life’s complexities, including loss. Conversely, faith can also bring to the surface uncertainty, fear, confusion, and anger as one grieves.
In short, it’s complicated.
At the age of 19, I made the decision to commit my life to Jesus Christ, and for the past 27 years, I’ve grown in my faith and more fully appreciate the role God plays in my life each day. Nevertheless, when my mom died in December 2012, the grief process truly tested my walk with God. For example, I found myself questioning the fundamental notion of God. How had he allowed a tender and giving soul to die just 30 days after receiving a terminal diagnosis? Why didn’t he save her? What had I done spiritually wrong to deserve such deep sorrow?
For months, I felt plagued by questions about God’s character, his intentions in my and other’s lives, and his overarching position as my heavenly father. It was difficult for me to embrace a father who could allow such tremendous emotional pain.
At the same time, I recall moments in the months and years that followed my mom’s death when God met me in his full splendor.
For instance, I’d traveled to Hawaii during the season where I felt the most spiritually disconnected and emotionally disheartened. I’ve likened this season as my emotional ‘rock bottom,’ roughly ten months into my grief journey. As I walked along the beach crying out to and questioning God one morning, I stumbled upon a church service in progress. Heartbroken, I observed men, women, and children with hands raised in full surrender. Some wore decorative leis and worshipped barefoot in the sand, while others sat and gently hummed to the sound of the music.
Something about the experience intrigued me, likely the serendipity of it all. Much to my surprise, the message shared that day focused on the importance of lamenting. That’s exactly the space my heart was in — the depth of pure sorrow.
I remember feeling as if God was literally speaking to me about the importance of releasing the emotional weight I’d carried internally for so long. Unfortunately, I’d hidden my true feelings surrounding my mom’s death for nearly a year. Why? I think I feared that I might not recover if I allowed any sort of emotional outpouring.
That pivotal experience, as well as others throughout the past nine years, have convinced me of the importance of faith and prayer along my grief journey. Nevertheless, I’m not naïve enough to believe that spirituality and faith don’t also evoke a barrage of emotions and create additional tension along the grief path. The questions that lingered in my mind shortly after my mom died continued for quite some time and even now, I feel uncertain about the rationale for it all.
Choosing faith isn’t easy, by any means.
You may not be aligned with any particular faith at the moment, and that’s OK. Perhaps this has always been the case, or maybe grief shifted your perspective in this area. It’s certainly understandable and natural to have your entire being shaken in the face of loss.
Even still, I’ve found myself clinging to those things that feel safe. Known. And tangible.
This is the craving of the grieving heart, right? We all seek safety and knowing. Experiencing them affords us the opportunity to feel anchored in the midst of grief’s uncertainties and grounded in the moments when we feel untethered. My faith and relationship to God continue to offer both in profound ways. And in response, I find myself regularly returning to a surrendered posture, opening my heart up to something beyond me. In addition, I desperately cling to the hope found apart from what I can bring to the table. As I grieve, I continue to realize just how little I have to give.
What about you? What role, if any, do faith and prayer play in your life? If nothing at all, what role could they potentially play as you grieve?
Know this, my friend. However you grieve is unique and precious.
If your process incorporates faith, wonderful. If faith is not integrated into your journey, that’s fine. The most important aspect of navigating grief and loss is leaning into the people and things that offer you comfort and make you feel safe. For me, that’s God.
The farther I go along in this journey, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the value of testing different means of coping. This could be exploring faith and incorporating prayer in your daily life. It might also be other activities.
And if you’ve come to terms with faith not being a primary coping tool, I challenge you to lean into other tools in your coping toolkit.
My greatest hope is that each of us grieving hearts creates space to integrate new ways of living. I truly believe that re-imagining our lives after experiencing loss, while incredibly challenging, is part of the work of grief.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
In the meantime, know that I’ll be holding space for you and extending prayer as you grieve.
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