The Solitude of Grief
White hot rage coursing through my veins at the smallest provocation. Yes, I can release venom with this same mouth that forms platitudes. And it makes my very insides hurt. Hot tears stream down cheeks as I curl up in bed clutching my aching stomach. Wishing I could sooth the knife sharp pains of failure in my chest. Recounting the many ways I’ve failed that day and wondering at God’s ways that transcend my own. Surely, surely He didn’t mean for me to be in charge of this precious clutch of children. Or He meant for me to growth through it, and instead, each day has me tripping up and falling down, clutching at the air as I fall. Skinned knees, a bruised heart. And I’m just not sure I’m cut out to be this girl. There’s just nothing left in me. The hope in me up and left, quietly, without me knowing it, on an overcast April morning.
And then my Sunshine Girl. She chatters next to me as I drive. My thoughts are wandering, circling around this untouchable place…this aching mass that lays buried below the surface. It bubbles up in anger and fear and failure. But it’s more than those things. It’s a mass of grief so intimate, so delicate that I fear tapping into it. As if I won’t recover from uncovering this place so raw. So I’m skirting around the thoughts that edge dangerously close to that forbidden place when her lilting voice pierces through.
“And you know what YOUR name means, Mama?”
I glance at her with a half smile, thinking even then of how I’ve failed this precious one…all of my precious ones. I shake my head slightly.
“Victory. Your name means victory.”
I stare ahead at the road stretched in front of me, the sky impossibly blue. Victory? I don’t feel victorious. I feel tired. And worn. Unorganized and unmotivated. I feel the grief inside me settling like a weight that tethers me to mediocrity. To just barely breathing, putting one foot slowly in front of the other. No, I’m not sure that my own mama got my name quite right. I’m a mess. I’m angry and impatient and tired and worn out. I’m sad, and I’m lonely. I’m surrounded by people, and I’m so damn lonely. Because of this mass of mess right there lodged up in my chest. This grief trying to claw it’s way out when something in me, not of my own volition, tamps it down, locking it away. No one can touch this piece in me; I can’t even get a handle on it. No. Not victorious. Broken. So very broken.
So I lay on my bed, and I light candles as if I could light my way out of this dark place. I get out His Word and whisper a prayer for peace. For my prayers to stop hitting a glass ceiling. For the ability to even pray. And I smile an ironic smile when I realize I’ve made it to Lamentations. I step forward gingerly, reading the lines. I have to read the lines over again as I’m out of practice. When I move on to my reading of The Green Letters, my heart beats fast as I read this quote from Norman Douty:
“If I am to be like Him, then God, in His grace, must do it and the sooner I come to recognize it, the sooner I will be delivered from another form of bondage. Throw down every endeavor and say, I cannot do it, the more I try, the farther I get from His likeness. What shall I do? Ah, the Holy Spirit says, you cannot do it; just withdraw; come out of it. You have been in the arena, you have been endeavoring, you are a failure, come out and sit down, and as you sit there behold Him. Look at Him. Don’t try to be like Him, just look at Him. Just be occupied with Him. Forget about trying to be like Him. Instead of letting that fill your mind and heart, let Him fill it. Just behold Him, look upon Him through the Word. Come to the Word for one purpose, and that is to meet the Lord. Not to get your mind crammed with sacred things about the Word, but come to it to meet the Lord. Make it to be a medium, not of Biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ. Behold the Lord.”
I lay there a long time thinking on these paragraphs. Candles burn out and wax drips down wood holders, like waxen tear tracks. My tears have dried on my cheeks. I feel known…a little bit. I feel like there is an answer in these words, and I want to turn to His Word to meet Him. Really meet Him. Not learn about Him…so I can preach about Him. But meet Him there in those pages. Because maybe then…maybe I could open up this hurting place inside of me. The place I need to unlock…I want to unlock…but remains frozen up in there underneath my ribcage. I don’t know what this looks like, this journey…how we go through the shadow of death and back again. But I’m wearily packing my bags, readying for the journey.
And so tonight, when I find myself driving down another road, the sky gray dusk, I listen fully to the chattering next to me. This time it flows from this preteen boy of mine. He’s been caring for a family friend’s animals while she’s away, and he’s worried. There is a very sick alpaca named Hope. I reassure him; we’ve got the medicine from the vet. Still his brow remains furrowed, and I feel those thoughts beginning to knock at the locked place inside of me. I think of last summer, and our own sick alpaca…my sister…her care of me…the letter she wrote me because she knew my brokenness wasn’t about an alpaca. I push the thoughts away, even as I remind myself that I’m not going to do that anymore. I reason that I don’t have the time right then.
Jimmy steadies the quiet, sick animal, as I plunge a needle into her muscle, my own brow furrowed now. This doesn’t look good. As we sit there and stroke her, another fleecy face keeps pushing past me and rubbing Hope. I step back and ask Jimmy if that one belongs to Hope? He looks at me and shakes his head sadly.
“I think it’s her sister.”
And the grief, it crashes against the locked door under my ribcage, pain rocketing through my chest. This grief, it roars, and there is ringing in my ears. Their heads nuzzle together, the one isn’t budging as she stand guard, and I can’t catch my breath. I think of a hospital bed, and I wish I’d climbed right up into it and held her. I wish I’d laid my cheek next to hers.
It’s darkening, and we need to get home. I lock away this vision and know I’ll be revisiting this most unlikely of keys in the coming days. The door is still locked but the grief is more insistent, a living thing that needs to be dealt with so it doesn’t come forth in harsh words to those I love most or in whispered lies telling me I’m failing at everything. Lies that tell me I’m alone and just too much for others. That I’m failing in my walk with Him. Failing at this journey He’s called me on. Yes, this mass inside me must be dealt with before this grief implodes my very identity.
Because…maybe my name could mean victory after all. Because the victory is His. As am I. And as is my story. Yes, I need the Author to unlock this next chapter.