I had the opportunity last weekend to take a road trip with my daughter. Our destination was Bethel Church in Redding, California — our former church for several years. But the trip gave us the opportunity to detour ever-so-slightly to a hidden gem of a place called Lake Almanor.
Nestled in the California Sierras, Lake Almanor is a quiet vacationing spot just south of Mount Lassen National Park. Besides being absolutely picturesque, it also carries sentimental value for us: We lived there for two years, enjoying about 140 inches of snow each winter. Days before Christmas one year, two feet of snow fell, transforming the landscape into everything you would imagine a white Christmas to be.
Our visit to this mountain community last weekend was brief but memorable. While I cooped myself up in a book store in town finishing up work, my daughter journeyed around the lake, visiting some favorite spots to take in the scenery. In her words, she had one of the best times of her life.
I suppose I mention all this because lately I have been thinking about mystery in the Christian life: That dimension of our experience that defies explanation. Most of my readers know, for example, that my wife and closest friend of twenty-five years passed away unexpectedly less than three months ago. That would qualify as one of those mysteries.
But what is also mysterious is that my daughter and I would retrace the steps of our past, clearly embedded with memories of now-departed mother and wife, and not be overcome with grief. Instead, we had the best time of our lives. That, too, is a mystery.
There is such a thing, I am discovering, as good grief. Good grief is a grief that processes the loss of a close loved one but does not succumb to despair. Now in saying this, I must make two disclaimers. The first is that everyone processes grief differently. And based on what I have observed on the grief support groups I joined on Facebook, some are downright distraught after the death of their loved one, even years later. So if that is you, I mean no disrespect and am deeply sorry for your loss.
The other disclaimer is that by good grief I do not mean grief without tears. I have had my share of tears. I have made it a point to shed them. In fact, I have made it my goal to allow myself to feel all I am feeling, and to think all that I am thinking and express it, good or bad, to God. So the grief process, whether good or bad, comes with tears — and must, as far as I can figure, in order for the loss to be processed.
But I have been witnessing some strange things during this season. For example, my daughter was feeling very sad one day over the loss of her mom and asked God for strength. God spoke to her and said, “You are sad not because you miss your mom but because you are believing the lie that your mom is gone and your relationship with her has ended. She is not gone, and it has not ended; you still have a relationship with her, and you will see her again.” Immediately her sadness lifted.
Or the time I was feeling distraught, but something did not feel right about it. And I know enough by now to know that when I am feeling that “this does not feel right” feeling, God is wanting to say something to me. So I asked Him, and pretty clearly He said, “This is not the type of grief I have for you. You will grieve, but your season of grief will be characterized by hope and joy.” Immediately any feelings of being distraught lifted, and they were replaced with joy for my wife for where she was now, and hope not only of seeing her again but also the future that lay ahead of me.
Experiences like this have, needless to say, dramatically changed the grieving process. It has given us the ability to leave the house and go on a road trip retracing our past and have the best time of our lives. Yes, my wife’s absence has left so much empty space in our lives. But I am absolutely confident God intends to more than make it up to us. He knows how to bind the brokenhearted; He knows how to empower those who sow in tears to reap in joy.
We are all affected by grief at some level. It may not be the loss of a loved one, but we have all lost something. We all are familiar that dimension of life we could not explain called mystery. To this I would like to suggest that whatever your loss, God is more than able to sustain you through it, and is also able to more than make it up to you. That area of your life shrouded in mystery is not over: No, it is just beginning.