COMMENTARY: How the chains of grief break the bondage of the heart

by Courtney McLean |

FORT WORTH (Christian Examiner) — I lost my mom in February of last year. It made for a complex 2015, with many lessons I didn't want to learn and much sanctification I didn't anticipate. They say hindsight is 20/20 and I really do believe it's true. As I look back at 2015 and forward into 2016, I see how strong the grips of grief truly are, but how much stronger the power, love, and comfort of God are in breaking bonds in my own heart through my grief. As I look back on the last year, the grips of grief have held me tightly, but the power, love, and comfort of God have been much stronger in breaking bonds in my own heart.

Her death was unexpected, but God is sovereign and, looking back, the timing was exactly what it should have been. I remember the plane ride from Texas to my family in Florida; I was racing against the clock of her life that ticked to its close, and I could find no haven but Scripture during those three excruciating hours. God spoke to me more clearly through His Word in that moment than almost any other time in my life, and I will treasure forever the clarity of His Truth. Desperate, I flipped open the Word and asked Him to speak; He led me to Psalm 145. As my eyes eagerly took in every word, I came upon verses eight and nine:

"The LORD is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The LORD is good to all,

And His mercy is over all that He has made."

Psalm 145:8-9 have been a keen reminder over the last 12 months. In the many moments of doubt, sorrow, and confusion, the truth that every circumstance is laced with the mercy of God has stabilized me. However, the pains of grief begin to feel like chains as time moves on, and my heart remained ever wounded. Grief is triggered when a song plays that reminds me of my mom, a familiar smell sends me reeling to a distant memory, or the depth of the loss is experienced in missing something as small as a text asking how you're doing. In these chains, I have a choice to make—whether or not my suffering will be wasted.

Through this Scripture, I came into direct contact with the LORD. In the English Bible, when the word "LORD" occurs, it is actually God's name in Hebrew – Yahweh. This is His personal name, relational in its tone. The first time we see the use of His personal name is in the creation account of Genesis 2. Compared to Genesis 1, this one is much more anthropomorphic in its nature, meaning that it depicts God's creation of the earth in a much more "human" way. Instead of reading, "God said," chapter two reads, "the LORD God formed ... planted ... made ... commanded ... caused." God was and is intricately connected to the details of His creation, and although we have deviated drastically from His design (Gen 3), His merciful inclination toward us remains constant.

God has intentions for suffering and grief that we cannot always see or sense. The Word of God points to a purpose and plan in the midst of the deepest pain. For me, the chains of grief were used by God to break strongholds in my heart that I had been holding onto for a long time.

Grief ushers a person into something that very few people, if any, actually enjoy—vulnerability. It taps into the most personal of emotions, to the ground level of that person's heart. I avoided vulnerability for a long time by bottling up my emotion and labeling it as weakness and a lack of spirituality. It was not until a month after her death that I finally broke down in tears and came to grips with the fact that she was gone. I was disappointed in myself for grieving, worried that my brokenness meant I didn't trust the Lord. The Lord has used my brokenness to bring to light His goodness and my dependence in greater clarity.

I think the best words to describe the struggles of the last year are "identity crisis."Losing my mom brought questions in every aspect of life. They ranged from who I would call to tell about my day, to how am I going to care for my two younger sisters, to what if I go the wrong direction in my life? The Lord used these questions and the 1,000 others to probe the depths of my heart. The unrelenting nature of the grief was a paradoxical and purposeful companion to the Lord's pursuit of my heart. The way He pursued my heart in the middle of my pain brought my fear and doubt to the surface. And I didn't always understand how He was working. But, in faith, I would search the Scriptures for Him, and He showed Himself clearly in what is now one of my favorite parts of His Word. Hosea 6:1 reads,

"Come, let us return to the LORD;

for he has torn us, that he may heal us;

he has struck us down, and he will bind us up."

What a curious comfort these words are to the people of God! He is zealous for the holiness of His people and jealous for their affection, and in His gracious love He disciplines them. This is a principle found throughout Scripture (Heb 12:5-13; Rev 3:19), and it is always prompted by the love of God and never an emotional or vindictive reaction to His people's rebellion.

I had to come to terms with the truth that although God was tender with me in my sorrow, my grief had a trajectory. He did not intend to hurt me, but neither did He intend for my suffering to go to waste.

There were times when all I wanted was not to feel, not to cry, not to be so raw inside; and much of that had to do with the pain of losing my mom. But, in truth, so much of it came from my desire to feel good about myself spiritually, to be able to reassure myself that I was a "good believer." And when the chains of grief were the heaviest, in the darkest nights of the soul, I realized the bondage in my own heart. In reality, the trajectory of my grief was not to stop the pain of losing my mom, but rather to recognize the frailty of my being, my dependence on God, and the stubbornness of my heart to lean into that. The trajectory was toward steadfast love and knowledge of God (Hos 6:6). There were times I did not believe this could be a consequence of such pain, but God's Word transformed my thinking.

I am now confident that God always has a trajectory, and that the good work He has begun will be brought to a completion (Phil 1:6). I am now confident that God is not the author of death or evil, but instead uses them to bring His children to a place of intense rawness. He tears them down, so that he can restore them in truth.

And in that place of frailty, it is clear to see that Jesus is the only Redeemer. When He took on flesh, he became like man in every respect (Heb 2:17). This allows Him to be the sympathetic High Priest, because He knows our weaknesses. One of the Church Fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus, spoke of salvation in Christ this way—"What has not been assumed has not been healed;" there is great comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ took upon Himself allthat it means to be a human so that He could heal all aspects of our humanity. And although He is the Son of God, when He was in the flesh, "he learned obedience through His suffering" (Heb 5:8). How much more so will the ones who believe in Him learn obedience through suffering? He took all of my pain upon Himself so that I could be free to grieve and free to obey Him in love. And He is ready to take yours, too.

This blog article first appeared on BiblicalWoman.com, a ministry of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.