Since my dad died I have been told many times that grief is a journey. CS Lewis described it as a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. And it’s a strange thing to ‘assess my progress’ as I walk this winding valley. In the early days progress was having more energy and sleeping better. It was finding language to describe some of my thoughts and feelings. Progress was being able to freely share a memory of dad.
And I guess I had this notion that I was covering a fair distance of this so-called journey. I was somehow dealing with it.
But not long ago, I walked up the road to church and slipped in quietly near the back to join in with those who were gathered for worship.
I had only been standing a matter of minutes and surprisingly to me (though perhaps not to you) tears began to flow down my face. Grief gripped me almost as if I had just been told the news about my dad. Overwhelmed, I found I could not sing a single note. The ability to open my mouth and have my voice form the words I knew so well was just not there. And naive as it may sound, it was a shock to feel this way because in recent weeks the emotional side of my grief had mellowed.
I had been talking about it, reading and listening and writing about it. But standing there on this Sunday evening, I found I was not yet able to sing.
And it was not a refusal to worship. It had nothing to do with a disagreement with the words or a firm resistance to their truth. Through the storm He is Lord. Yes indeed, I have found that to be true. I feel more known and loved by God than I have felt my whole life.
And yet my soul will not allow me to sing about it.
How little I understand about the pain in my heart and how deep it goes. It is not a visible pain and so, in most circumstances, it is easy to disguise. I can do much of life without acknowledging the hurt I carry.
Perhaps this is why I am fooled into thinking the pain has lifted and gone away.
But that evening as I tried to make the words come out I felt ashamed I couldn’t sing. I was disappointed that this journey had taken me around yet another winding bend and the landscape had changed again. I heard the old religious tapes begin to play in my heart;
‘Why can’t you just worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth?’ Sing
‘At all times he is worthy of your worship.’ Sing.
‘You can do all things…’ Sing
I bowed my head and jammed my hands into my pockets. I bit my tongue in a bid to keep it together and try harder.
It is so difficult to lean into pain.
But as the tears began to flow again I realised that denial and pretence are so futile. His fierce love is not dependent on my ability to hold it all together and cope. He does not need me to apologise for how things really are.
And so, my worship that evening was not audible, no words were formed or sung. I just allowed myself to weep and decided that weeping was my worship.
Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father, it is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Richard Foster
And here’s the thing I want to say.
Worshipping this way stirred up something deep in my soul that no other facet of life has done. And I am no expert on the effects of music on our inner being or making room for genuine lament at our gathered events or helping worshippers give and receive comfort. I am sure there are approaches and forms, liturgies and techniques. But I do know it had something to do with being in a place of no escape. There were no kids to chase, no floors to brush. There were no books to read or plans to make. There was no avoiding, pretending, ignoring or surviving in a culture of denial.
There was only the presence of God and the exposure of pain in my heart.
And whilst leaning into pain is so difficult and I avoid it with every ounce of my being, it also brings about a strange sense of healing. And this has nothing to do with the radical disappearance of hurt. There is no removal of sorrow or answers to my eternal questions. I am not politely and quickly fixed.
This healing has everything to do with honestly bringing my pain to light and finding God resides there. The healing is God himself. It is discovering he is not afraid of my suffering. He is not waiting around the next bend in the journey– the one where I might be wonderfully composed and full of courage.
His presence is what heals my hurt because He enters right into it. Every uncomfortable, ugly and painful step.
If I discover the fullness of my own humanity I also discover the many faces of God. Esther De Waal
Grief can feel like something to overcome and conquer. It is like you must find a way to quickly progress and emerge ‘fixed’, declaring it all to be the goodness of God.
But I think worshipping from a place of ruin has shown me that healing and wholeness are more than just becoming better at life, where everything appears to be tidy and comfortable. Wholeness is about living with an ever increasing sense of honesty about our need for healing. And it’s about demonstrating a hope in a healing God of love who longs to restore us.
Because when we stop fighting the urge to reject our stories of darkness we instead discover ways that allow the light to flood in.