BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 of a BCC Grace & Truth blog series on Biblical Counseling and Grief. In addition to today’s post by Sue Nicewander, in this series you will find posts by: Brad Hambrick—The Big Question of Grief, Rick Thomas—There’s a Grief That Can’t Be Spoken, and Abe Meysenburg—Grief and the Gospel and A Gospel Guide through Grief.
Humbled by Faith
Melissa humbles me. She exudes gratitude with tubes coming out of her arms, a mask over her face, and a serious bout with influenza on top of her double-hit lymphoma. It’s not possible to drum up that kind of faith. It has to be real.
I found Melissa’s blog during a seven-month period that bore nine funerals: my step-sister, my brother’s infant grandson, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, an infant daughter of a close friend, the secretary of our board of directors, two friends of my husband’s family, and the dad of a teen in the youth group that I lead. These deaths occurred along with a lengthy personal crisis and two challenging discipleship relationships.
I would read Melissa’s blog and marvel at her joy as my trial dragged on. My spirit grew very weary. At times my faith felt like Swiss cheese. Grief threatened to drown me. Then Isaiah brought to light that just an eagle must use both wings to soar, so must I.
‘…the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth… gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles…” Isaiah 40:28b-31a
Extending Wing 1: I am dependent on God.
God is in control over everything in my life. While this fact can be comforting, complete dependency can become scary and upsetting when God takes the people I love. It is tempting to resist my utter need of Him when life is deeply difficult; I would rather reconstruct my circumstances to bring relief.
In the maze of powerful emotions and dramatic losses, I can doubt God or lose sight of Him. Distractions can take me away from His Word. But I truly do need Him to survive and thrive in the challenging and puzzling circumstances He has ordained. As those nine losses mounted last year, grief made me desperate for my Redeemer. Drained of personal resources, I cried out to Him, clung to His promises, and fought to submit to His timetable. He showed me how to be wise and patient with people who did not understand the depth of my sorrow or the fatiguing length of the trial. Although friends reached out, the heaviest part of my grief could be taken only to Christ. No one else could carry it, but He bore it perfectly.
I am convinced that Melissa understands dependency. She soars because she knows God and yields to His sovereignty. She also refuses to let her suffering tell her about God. If she did, you would hear her complaining about Him, doubting His love and goodness, questioning His wisdom and perhaps turning away her faith.
Instead, she relies on God to tell her about Himself. His Word informs her experiences and fills her with praise. She knows that He is wise, so she trusts that He is doing what is best for her, even through debilitating disease. The gospel of Jesus Christ gives her eternal hope; He is working all things together for good. She believes that God loves her, so she fully trusts Him for the course and outcome of her cancer. She confidently extends her wing of dependency, and God has used her to help me unfurl mine as well.
Grief and trial have brought us to gratefully acknowledge our dependence upon God and to trust Him when life is hard.
Extending Wing 2: I am responsible for what I do.
Although dependent on God, I must also be diligent to do my part. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, I am accountable to keep my thoughts and actions in His will, even during gut-wrenching sorrow. I mustn’t isolate myself or give my mind permission to despair. God holds me responsible for what I choose to believe, how I spin my thoughts, what I decide, and how I behave.
This wing is the dividing line between hope and despair, between confidence and fear, between contentment and anger. Melissa chooses well. She doesn’t fuss about how hard life is; instead she is profoundly grateful. Melissa can rejoice in her hospital bed because her faith is active. She acts on who God says He is: faithful, ever-present Helper, compassionate Redeemer, sovereign, wise and loving Savior whose plan is infallible and inevitable, even when her soul is weak and her body is in pain. Even as cancer threatens her life.
My heart broke as I mourned, bore my personal burden, and grieved with my two friends. Melissa has undoubtedly fought similar battles. But both of us had to choose to act according to God’s promises and to reject despair, doubt, and complaining.
We find our example in Christ, Who has suffered much more than we will be asked to endure. He has shown us the way, and He beckons us to follow. When we responsibly extend our wings by faith, He holds us up.
As Christ has taught us to soar, He also has tenderized our hearts for new avenues of ministry to others in grief and pain. We are all broken people living in a broken world. Christ shows us how to be grateful stewards of God’s provision, to respond wisely rather than foolishly, to reflect His nature, and to lead others to Him as we grieve.
On January 31, Melissa went home to her husband and children in “‘remission, sweet remission” (her words). More surgery lies ahead, but Melissa continues to soar like an eagle on wings of dependency and responsibility. I am grateful that God gave me a glimpse of her unfurled faith so I would learn to soar in grief, too.
Author Note: Many thanks to Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington for the term “dependent responsibility” in Bookends of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009).
Join the Conversation
How could the two wings of God-dependence and personal responsibility impact how you soar even during times of grief and loss?