Patricia Erwin Nordman
In Loving Memory of our son Chuck
and in thanksgiving for our sons
Richard, Robert, Danny and Mike
MY SON! MY SON!
His days were yet in spring of life,
Yet doubt had scarred his growing reasons.
In full he knew the banal strifes
That touch each man in each the seasons.
His teachers charged the grievous words
Of hate, despair, and godless fear.
What hope, he cried -- I can't be heard
Above the world of scorn and jeer.
So to the woods he went, my son --
A gun in hand, his heart full spent.
In peace he rests, my golden son --
O God, dear God, my heart is rent!
Nineteen -- so young to bear earth's weight
On heart and mind still pressed with child.
O World, why do we decimate
The hearts of those unreconciled?
-- Patricia Erwin Nordman
I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne'er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.
On December 16, 1976, our oldest son came home for the Christmas holidays,
got the shotgun and went to the adjacent woods. At 7:10 p.m. we heard him
scream and then shoot himself to death. Four months later I wrote a booklet
titled Grief which went into a world-wide ministry. The booklet is now out
of print and I offer it to you, dear reader, in God's name and grace. May
it help give you peace in a world that has become very confused and sad.
Patricia Erwin Nordman
(Verses are from the New King James Version unless otherwise specified.)
Precious friend, is your heart broken? Are you in utter despair, not
knowing where to turn or whom to trust with your crushing burdens? If so,
then please read this message of comfort and hope for yourself and others
passing through the waters of trouble and fires of affliction.
Isaiah speaks of the "day of grief and desperate sorrow." Isaiah 17:11
KJV. But, my dear friend, "The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow,
and from thy fear." Isaiah 14:3 KJV. Yes, I realize that in your anguish it
seems impossible that darkness will again be light and despair will turn to
My grieving brother or sister, I walk in the valley of grief with you, for
we lost our oldest son in a terrible tragedy. Because of this I would like
to share with you the love of a most merciful and tender Father, as He led
me through the valley of sorrow on to the mountain of hope and trust again.
My "day of grief and desperate sorrow" began at what is supposed to be the
happiest season of the year. Chuck called from his out-of-town college to
tell us he wanted to bring his girl friend home two days later to spend the
Christmas holidays with us. That evening and the next day I cleaned and
shopped, happily anticipating their arrival. We would be crowded -- Chuck
had four younger brothers -- but we would manage very happily. Imagine the
shock when, a day earlier than he was expected, we found his car with all
his possessions, but not him. Then we heard his heart-tearing scream and
the shot that killed him immediately.
It's a rending experience to close out your child's life -- to add a death
certificate to the birth certificate. Chuck's life held so much promise. He
was a brilliant, stately, dignified young man who often said he wanted the
best in life.
Chuck's books revealed perhaps more than he would have wanted us to know.
He had marked such lines as "Fortune, honor, beauty, youth, are but
blossoms dying! All our joys are but toys ... All is hazard that we have!
... Secret fates guide our states ... " I'll never know what one
circumstance or combination of circumstances prompted this desperate final
act. It was over three years later that one of his friends finally told me
that he was trying to get off drugs when he descended into the depths. (Oh
friend, if your child is on drugs, God help you both! We had no idea. Back
then we knew so little about the drug culture.) Beside the passage on
suicide from MacBeth he wrote in small, close letters, "Life has no
meaning, no purpose," and on another page the word "nothing" was written
and scratched over many times.
The night Chuck died I sank to my knees and boldly demanded of God, in a
grief I didn't think possible, that He keep every one of His promises of
comfort. In the midst of the demands I kept saying over and over, "Thank
You, Father" -- for what, I really didn't know and doubted that night if I
ever would know. But I was convinced that if I didn't say those words then
-- right then -- I would never say them again. I thought of all the sons,
husbands, and brothers who have been killed in all the wars, whose loved
ones will never know their whereabouts. At least we knew. I was grasping
for straws of comfort! I would like to share with you another thought that
surely the Holy Spirit gave me when my brother-in-law came out from the
woods and told us that our son was dead: God our Father was there when His
Son died. For the first time in my life I felt I understood what our
precious Father must have felt and it overwhelmed my heart. How strange
that I never gave it any thought before! Perhaps it was because now I felt
I could understand in a small way ...
That night, after the police and the ambulance were gone, I sunk to my
knees and I begged God to work, through this horror, a good that at that
moment I did not think possible. Romans 8:28 became my strength in the
hours, days, weeks, and months ahead, and for the birthdays and holidays
that would no longer be Chuck's to enjoy. I had to know that all things do
indeed work together for good -- or lose my sanity. Dear friend, I want you
to know that God provided in many marvelous ways. It was only God's grace
that enabled me to carry on in the face of such totally unexpected anguish.
I learned to lean on my precious Father as never before and God indeed
granted me the gift of knowing for a certainty that much good would come of
the evil that Satan had wrought. We were told shortly after Chuck's funeral
that someone had slipped LSD into a drink Chuck had set down while at a
party in Daytona Beach. Chuck himself admitted to me a few weeks before his
death that he smoked marijuana. This has convinced me that one of Satan's
most powerful weapons against our priceless young people today is drugs.
Someone at his funeral told me I must accept "God's will." No, friend! Our
God does not "will" the agony of mind, heart, and body that has plagued the
earth since Adam and Eve lost faith that God knew what was best for them.
It surely was not "God's will" for my son to die by his own hand. But it
was God's will that I accept what happened and use this tragic circumstance
for His glory and for the comfort of others who suffer heartache that seems
never-ending. What God always wills for us is to be happy and whole in mind
and body. He wants His men, women and children to be at peace with Him and
each other. But this peace depends upon our own will and willingness to let
Him guide our lives, fortunes, and even, at times, misfortunes.
Many question God's love when something seemingly unbearable happens. I
try to view tragedy as a lost-and-found department. We lose someone or
something very dear to us, but in the loss we find a treasure far more
valuable. I found a loving Shepherd who wants me to live with Him for
eternity and will carry me through. Until we are to the point in life when
we are forced to admit that there is absolutely nothing we can do about
this, then I wonder if we have given ourselves totally to God. The night
Chuck died I felt so helpless. My son was dead and there was nothing I
could do about it! What a frightening feeling! Another agonizing aspect of
sorrow is the possibility that we will never know the answers to many of
our whys on this earth. I had a very hard time with this. But we eventually
learn that the whys become unimportant. It is what we do with the troubles
and sorrows that matter.
I learned to thank God as never before for blessings I had taken for
granted all my life. Particularly in grief, a spirit of thanksgiving is a
simple yet most profound antidote to the self-defeating feelings of anger,
resentment, guilt, and self-pity that so often accompany an incredible
sorrow. It amazed me what was in my heart. I was to discover that grief is
a sieve that brings up out its swirling waters the deformities of our
hearts that we didn't even know existed. I was amazed at the anger and hate
that gripped me. My Christianity was certainly in question!
I discovered that no matter how bad my problem is, others have suffered
worse trials. How my heart ached as I listened to other parents recount the
years of agony they have gone through with children on drugs. Some end up
in mental institutions. Some struggle to recover a normal life. Others rest
as our son is resting. I will never forget the agony of a father as he
sobbed out the horrible details of how his son, on drugs, shot himself to
death in the house and the blood ran down the boy's bedroom door. I don't
know how that poor father kept sane!
I learned that only in sharing comfort are we comforted: "Blessed be the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of
all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to
comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we
ourselves are comforted by God" 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Everyone has problems
-- deep wounds of the spirit. "The souls of the wounded cry out for help"
Job 24:12 NIV. I found many wounded souls! I also began to understand that
the person who truly cares about others doesn't constantly load them down
with his own aches and pains, either of body or heart. This can be selfish
William Barclay, in The Letters to the Corinthians, relates the story told
by H.L. Gee about two men who met to transact some business during the war.
"The one was full of how the train in which he had traveled had been
attacked from the air. He would not stop talking about the excitement, the
danger, the narrow escape. The other man said quietly, `Well, let's get on
with our business now. I'd like to get away fairly early because my house
was demolished by a bomb last night.'"
A certain mental picture helped me greatly. Picture yourself carrying in
one hand your suitcase of troubles. It's heavy, and you feel weighted down
on one side. Along comes another, weak and tired, with his suitcase of
troubles but, unlike you, he can barely walk under his load. The Christian
thing for you to do is to offer to carry your brother's troubles, thereby
freeing him and balancing your own load.
Alexander Maclaren beautifully expresses the strange conjunction of joy
and sorrow: "The highest joy to the Christian almost always comes through
suffering. No flower can bloom in Paradise which is not transplanted from
Gethsemane. No one can taste of the fruit of the tree of life, that has not
tasted of the fruits of the tree of Calvary. The crown is after the cross."
Kahlil Gibran, in his essay on joy and sorrow in his book The Prophet
writes: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy it can
contain." And Homer observes: "Even his griefs are a joy long after to one
who remembers all that he wrought and endured."
"Being punished isn't enjoyable while it is happening -- it hurts! But
afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character."
Hebrews 12:11, TLB. We all flinch from the unexpected, from pain and
suffering. But " ... the Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who
are bowed down" Psalm 145:14; "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy
comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5; "Affliction will not rise up the second
time." Nahum 1:9. What beautiful and encouraging promises!
In 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul says: "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet
not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." How can this possibly
be? Let's consult Philippians 4:6 and 7: "Be anxious for nothing; but in
everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests
be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all
understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Here, friend, is the practical way to deal with despair. It covers all the
circumstances of life and gives us the solution: prayer and thanksgiving.
The word "supplication" means to pray for a particular need. What a great
Father we have!
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us in his book Spiritual Depression, Its
Causes and Cure, "Would you like to be rid of ... depression? The first
thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past.
Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back
... again. Say: `It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ.'"
Thank You, Father!
Matthew and Mark tell us: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34. Luke gives us more hope: "Father, into Your
hands I commit my spirit." Luke 23:46. But John, the beloved of Jesus,
gives us the insight: "It is finished." John 19:30. Indeed, the sacrifice
has been made and the work of redemption finished so we can have hope of
everlasting happiness. It is finished! Whatever happens in between is
covered by the bookends of Jesus's birth and death.
My greatest anxiety for weeks after my son's death was his salvation. It
haunted me. But two dear editor friends within hours of each other quoted
this same verse, and I accept it as a sign from my Father that my mind is
forever at rest on this matter: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do
right?" Genesis 18:25. Of course He will! When we lose a loved one, we must
learn to say, "It is finished," and know that God will rightly judge. Too,
some presume to know who is saved and who is lost. Because Chuck took his
own life, there were some who told me that he would not be saved. My
friend, only God knows what was on Chuck's mind and heart that night. How
cruel of these well-meaning Christians! It reminds me of the day I went to
see my bed-ridden and dying sister-in-law and she was in tears. She told me
about the three women who came to comfort her. They told her that if she
had enough faith she could be cured and get up and walk. I was outraged. It
took me the whole afternoon to convince Dorothy that God doesn't cure
everybody. In fact, we all die! We talked about Paul and his thorn and
God's grace: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made
perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9.
This verse became very meaningful to me after both Dorothy's and Chuck's
deaths. We wonder how we will manage after something enormous alters our
life. Paul's life was transformed on the Road to Damascus. I think in some
ways sorrow is our road to Damascus. It fells us and makes us blind and
then our kind Father tells us He will give us the grace to bear it, even
though we will carry the scar to our grave. I knew that I would never
forget my first-born; the scar of remembrance would be there as scars from
surgeries I've had. But I also knew that I would recover from the initial
intense hurt, as I recovered from the surgeries. This thought really helped
in the first months! I knew that God's grace could not remove the scar, but
the scar could -- as Robert Schuller so eloquently puts it -- become a star
for me, to guide me in a kinder and gentler direction toward my hurting
brothers and sisters. Another thought: those of us who have been gifted
with the knowledge and love of God need a greater foundation. As a writer
said, "The ship in the high wind needs plenty of ballast. When we build
high we must also build low -- the lofty building needs a deep foundation."
Sorrow builds the deep foundation as joy builds the high sails! God is
shifting our ballast. He also promises an abundant provision of grace, for
there are some circumstances in life that we cannot alter and that God does
not see fit to alter. Inward strength to endure is a great manifestation of
the acceptance of God's will and His grace. Outwardly we may be weary and
heartbroken, but we can claim the promises of God and enjoy that inward
peace that only God can give.
Adversities are God's sieve to help us discover what is most important in
our lives. Joseph Hall tells us, "The most generous vine, if not pruned,
runs out into many superfluous stems, and grows at last weak and fruitless:
so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires, and pruned with
afflictions." We don't choose affliction, but it may be the only way God
can redirect our lives.
When a person is called to rest early in life, Isaiah 57:1 is of great
solace: "Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the
righteous is taken away from evil." It is so difficult to accept the death
of your child before he has had the opportunity to partake of life fully. I
was told of a mother who prayed desperately that her son might recover from
an automobile accident, refusing to accept the possibility that he might
die. God answered her prayer, and the boy recovered. But his subsequent
life was the tragedy. After years of causing his mother all kinds of grief,
he was finally killed in a fight. Perhaps the mother should have simply
prayed, "Thy will be done, Lord, and whatever is best I accept it, for I
know You will give me the strength and grace to bear it."
In unspeakable grief it is difficult to believe that the sun will shine
again, that we will again be touched by the beauty of the flowers and the
rainbow after the rain, that music will once again bring quietness of
spirit. Often in overwhelming sorrow the very things that should comfort us
only serve to bring even more sadness because they remind us that we shared
them with our loved one.
When tragedy strikes suddenly, sleep can be impossible. I prayed to be
spared nightmares, for Chuck's scream etched deeply into my heart. My
prayer was answered in a way that caused me to give thanks with an
overflowing heart. At this point I want to share something with you that
astonished me. The afternoon I received the letter from the publisher
telling me he felt the Grief booklet would help many grieving people, I
felt very tired, which was unusual. I never took naps then; I worked
part-time and was very active. But that afternoon our precious God put me
to sleep and gave me a gift.
In this wonderful daydream I was in a room that was totally and purely
white. It was as if I was compassed about with clouds but yet it was
clearly a room. There were no windows or doors but I didn't feel enclosed
or restricted in any way. I wasn't there long when Chuck walked through the
cloud. He was so beautiful! I thought him to be about 33 (a figure I
wondered about later, because he died just before his 20th birthday), tall
which he was in life, and he had long reddish hair, and a beard and
mustache, which he never sported in life. But what amazed me was his
serenity. He smiled at me and then turned and went back through the cloud.
No words were exchanged. I awoke immediately.
I felt overwhelmed! What a gift from our beloved God, I thought. The peace
I felt at that moment must be the peace which Jesus spoke of to His
disciples: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you..." (John
14:27.) I finally shared the dream with a friend and I had to admit that
I'm not sure if it was Chuck (who at the time I truly thought it was) or if
it was Jesus Himself who I saw. The afternoon I experienced the dream I
truly thought it was Chuck, but as time passed and Grief went into a
world-wide ministry, I now believe it was Christ Himself who smiled and
wordlessly whispered to me not to grieve anymore. He would take it from
here. I had done what He wanted me to and the rest I was not even to think
about. In his exposition on Mark in The Interpreter's Bible (p.652),
Halford E. Luccock wrote, "A man's life may have a dull setting ... but if
it catches the reflection of the glory of God which is in the face of Jesus
Christ, it becomes a burning and a shining light; is given as much meaning
and dignity and joy that one of the supreme tragedies is to miss it." I
know I caught the reflection of Jesus that afternoon! Precious Father,
thank You for healing dreams that encourage us to have faith that all works
together for good.
Before our tragedy I felt God didn't want to be bothered with the little,
trite parts of our everyday lives, but I have prayed mightily these past
months for many little comforts as well as big ones, and each prayer has
been answered faithfully. We must not hesitate to bring our requests to
Him, no matter how insignificant they may seem, for our loving Father knows
that sorrow and its components can be crushing weights on fragile hearts. I
take great comfort in the thought that my dear Father is waiting for me to
come to Him to have my tears wiped away and to rest my weary head on His
shoulder. My earthly father would do no less.
It is vitally important to read God's Word during times of stress. Verses
read hastily and indifferently before take on new life and meaning. God
gives renewed insight into familiar verses because grief and a desolated
spirit changes our perspective on life. Because of the circumstances of
Chuck's life -- his fear of living and his mode of dying -- 2 Timothy 1:7
became more meaningful for me: "God has not given us a spirit of fear; but
of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Satan gives an unholy spirit.
God gives the Holy Spirit.
In almost unbearable heartache one night I decided to read the book of
Genesis. Surely God was leading me, for I came across a verse that made me
give thanks even in the midst of this horror. Hagar, a mother in grief,
cried out, "Let me not see the death of the boy." Genesis 21:16. Thank You,
Father, that I did not see the death of my child!
There are so many verses and chapters in God's priceless Word that give us
comfort and hope and joy in sufferings. I personally found my comfort in
the Old Testament, and the Book of Job in particular. The Books of Isaiah
and Psalms became my spiritual food during this time, too. There were also
certain writers who poured balm on my broken spirit.
One of the worst parts of grief is not understanding what has happened and
knowing that you may never know. God granted me great comfort from this
passage: "The things we may so much desire to do may become a reality after
God has proved us in the school of experience, and among our greatest
blessings may be counted the thing we were not privileged to do, that would
have barred the way from doing the very things best calculated to prepare
us for a higher work. The plain, sober duties of real life were essential
to prevent the fruitless striving to do things that we were not fitted to
do. Our devised plans often fail that God's plans for us may be a complete
success. Oh, it is in the future life we shall see the tangles and
mysteries of life, that have so annoyed and disappointed our fond hope,
explained. We will see that the prayers and hopes for certain things which
have been withheld have been among our greatest blessings."Ellen G. White,
Our High Calling, p. 318.
God does not wish to destroy us when suffering comes. He wants to refine
and sanctify us. When bowed in grief, we should turn to Him for support and
love. Joseph was able to say to his brothers: "But as for you, you meant
evil against me; but God meant it for good." Genesis 50:20. Joseph was able
to see the hand of God in many instances of unfair suffering in his life.
During my own time of grieving, Joseph became a hero and I often reread his
life and his graciousness in dealing with situations that most of us could
not have handled. It helps if we remember in both good and bad times that
God's purpose always is to redeem us. But He will not force salvation on
us. If we do not refuse or hinder the workings of His Spirit, He can help
us to accept His saving grace in the bad times, too.
I want to stress how important it is to take care in what we read and in
the company we seek out during times of affliction. I became very
discouraged when certain friends and relatives told me I would never get
over the death of my son and the circumstances surrounding it. I finally
learned to stay away from even my well-meaning relatives and friends who
only made me feel worse. I think it is true that we never forget certain
events, but that is far different from never getting over a tragedy. So it
is necessary to read positive material and be around positive-thinking
people. This is true even in normal times!
And now, dear friend, why you for the blizzards of life that temporarily
whip off the blossoms and fruit? Because God loves you! He wants to
strengthen you so you can be His special ambassador to carry to others His
message of hope to a struggling world so in need of comfort and love. If
you can see your sorrow as a gift from God (yes, I know this sounds
impossible!) then I believe it helps the healing process. I tried to see
Chuck's death as his legacy to the world, and that God appointed me his
executor to pass on a message of hope and comfort.
In Isaiah 48:10 the Father tells us that He has chosen us in the furnace
of affliction. He doesn't want us to while away our lives in comfortable
beds when we should be up and doing for others -- in spite of our gnawing
griefs. I read many times this admonition from Joshua, "Get up! Why do you
lie on your face?" Joshua 7:10b. And He certainly doesn't want us in the
local bar bathing our burdened mind and heart in liquid anesthetic. Indeed,
we lose a precious blessing that He has just for us, when we try to escape.
But He kneels and weeps with us! Oh, friend, please believe that! The
shortest and most poignant verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept." How
marvelous -- the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with our unspeakable griefs,
kneeling and weeping with us, His gentle arms enfolding us as we cry out in
anguish. Dear friend, what a beautiful thought! There were many dark nights
when I felt those arms! In my distress I pictured the Father as giving
strength, the Son giving hope, and the Holy Spirit giving wisdom. These we
need so urgently, so quickly, so completely, in the darkest moments.
At this point I would like to share with you tried and true steps in
dealing with deep grief. Dear friend, I want for you at this moment of your
sorrow that peace that only God can give. May He bless you and grant you
comfort and calm as you read these practical steps in dealing with what now
seems so impossible.
1. Don't constantly talk about your feelings of despair. Ellen G. White
says it is "a law of nature that our thoughts and feelings are encouraged
and strengthened as we give them utterance." Ministry of Healing, page 251.
We need to share, yes, but try to speak of hope. Confine your deepest grief
for friends who really do understand. When we constantly talk of the
negative aspects of our grief, we make it just that much more difficult to
recover. It may be tempting to open your bleeding heart for all to see and
suffer with you, but a wound always exposed and being probed doesn't heal.
God will provide the balm. Please believe that!
2. Don't worry about eloquent prayers, but do pray. Realize the prayers may
be silent or sobbing prayers. In your confusion you may not know what to
pray for, but God knows and that is the important thing. Just keep the line
open. God understands the temporary static. Don't feel He has lost you or
left you because of the way you feel. He, too, walked the earth, He felt
pain as we do, He loved as we love, and He felt losses as keenly as -- yes,
more keenly than -- we ever could.
Remember that God surely hears these prayers -- the silent ones, the
weeping ones. He hears them instantly. Our agony deeply touches His heart.
The eighth verse of Psalm 56 is a prayer in itself: "Put my tears into Your
bottle." How extraordinary! God takes note of every tear, drop by sorrowful
drop. The word bottle takes on a holy significance, for it is God's
receptacle in which He preserves and then transforms our tears into pearls.
What a thought when we feel we cannot go on another hour!
I believe that the greatest prayer we mortals can offer is an ever-present
prayer of thanksgiving. Oh, yes, dear hurting soul, thanksgiving! But how
can you be thankful when struggling under a load too heavy for a human
heart to bear? Give it to Jesus, my friend. Right now, as you read this.
Pray, "Jesus, please, I beg You, hold this broken, shattered heart of mine
in Your gentle hands." Picture Jesus giving it healing, rest and peace.
Than thank Him, friend, and know that He is healing your heart.
Then open your Bible to Philippians 4 and read over and over these verses.
Verse 6: "Be anxious for nothing: but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
Verse 11: "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." Verse 13:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Mark these verses.
Go to them in moments of searing pain.
3. Count your blessings. Trite, but I have found this to be truly helpful.
Charles L. Allen, in his book All Things Are Possible Through Prayer, tells
of the lady who asked him, "What have I done to deserve this?" His reply
was, "Nothing. Neither have you done anything to deserve many of your
blessings." Mr. Allen also points out that every blessing has within it
the risk of sorrow. If we love, we risk losing the object of that love.
But surely, as the saying goes, it is far better to have loved and lost
than never to have loved at all. If it helps you, jot down your blessings
(you will be surprised to see how many you have!); and when grief begins to
overwhelm you, read them again. I found this to be particularly helpful.
Tangibles such as a note to read can stabilize our emotions and clear our
4. Take one step at a time and one day at a time. We hear this so often,
but it becomes a practical necessity in times of extreme suffering. God has
promised help for the day and strength for the next agonizing hour, and He
has yet to break a promise. It is up to us to cling to that promise. Allow
friends and relatives to take over the physical and mental duties for
however long you need their help. They want to. Don't deprive them of this
Spirit-inspired wish to be of service. Someday they may need you. Thank God
for them and accept their help graciously.
At the time of sorrow it is imperative that we keep up our strength. When
searching Scripture for comfort, I was impressed with the many promises of
actual strength. One of the treasures I discovered in my sorrow was: our
God is a practical God. Isaiah 40:29 and 31 became as necessary for my
heart as food for my body: "He gives power to the weak, and to those who
have no might He increases strength ... But those who wait on the Lord
shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Our God is
a God who "neither faints nor is weary," (Isaiah 40:28b) so He is there for
us every moment. But, dear friend, don't run ahead of God! Don't become
impatient if He allows you to remain in the valley for a while. There may
be lessons we still have to learn. "The hand of the Lord came upon me and
brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of
the valley; and it was full of bones." Ezekiel 37:1.
Adversity is frightening. It also becomes the test of strength, including
physical, for stress can affect our physical condition. I tried to
understand that when difficult situations come into our lives it is because
God knows we are strong enough to endure this and this temporary grief will
make us even stronger. Psalm 46:1 assures us that "God is our refuge and
strength, a very present help in trouble." What a blessed promise! Another
thought I would like to share: while reading the Book of Job it occurred to
me that it wasn't so much that Job trusted God, but that God trusted Job!
For some inexplicable reason, that thought got me through some very bad
moments when I thought I was losing it. But I would stop and think, "God
trusts you, Pat, to come through this! He's depending on you to bring
victory from this."
5. Get busy as soon as possible. This is imperative. I cannot stress it too
much. Work keeps mind, heart and body intact. Start jobs that have
accumulated over the months and years. If you have a paying job, get back
to it as soon as possible. Physical exercise with a friend is most helpful
also: jogging, walking, camping, swimming, picnics, tennis, basketball --
whatever you like to do -- but do it with a friend and do it outdoors
whenever possible. Nature has definite healing powers for the hurting hurt.
I believe this is one of the most important steps in dealing with grief.
In New England there is an expression used for those in heart pain: "Go out
and tell it to the bees." The bees stay busy.
Physicians tell us that we use the brain cells of our frontal lobes when
we are worried and fearful. Other brain cells control muscular activity. In
physical activity we relieve the strain on the cells of the important
frontal lobes and allow them to rest from their intense stress. The very
worst thing we can do is withdraw from life, crawl into bed, and pull the
covers over our heads, and reflect on what an injustice we have been dealt.
God's natural world provides the fresh air, sunshine and beauty we so need
at all times, but especially in the dark times.
6. Hold on to faith -- faith in today and, above all, faith in tomorrow.
This perhaps is the most difficult step of all. Does God really know best?
Does He really care about our tangled hearts, our shattered dreams, our
sleepless nights, our Gethsemane moments? Oh yes, my dear friend, He does!
At the time you may not believe it, but hold on to the reality that when
you are trapped in that terrible valley of despair, the everlasting hills
are all around you.
In the immediate aftermath of grief we are so tempted to ask why. Indeed,
we feel we have a right to know why we have been singled out for such an
unbearable burden. We may pass through the futile and self-pitying stage of
thinking that no one else suffers as we do. My friend, go next door, to
church, to the grocery store, to the halls of Congress, to that friend who
seems so carefree, and seek out a fellow sufferer. The world is filled with
them! Grief is universal and is no respecter of age or status.
Rather than wasting time and emotion threatening God -- "I'll never trust
you again, God!" -- study His Word. There you will find an answer to your
grief, although you may not find the reason why grief is permitted. There
are certain pieces to God's puzzle that He reserves for Himself to test our
faith. But you will find an answer to wait in faith on God. Faith is simple
in definition but enormously difficult in practice. It is admitting and
believing that our Father has complete control of our lives. We are not the
masters of our fate, as Henley in his poem Invictus would have us believe,
but we can choose the Master of our fate.
7. Keep in mind that in grief there is a peculiar ministry. I use the word
"peculiar" in the sense that it is used in God's Word: set apart,
consecrated, exclusively God's. You who have borne sorrows made bearable
through a divinely renewed heart and mind have a special work for God. Your
heart has been broken up, watered with tears, and planted with God's
special seeds so that you may bear the graceful blooms of hope, love and
gentleness for others to appropriate in their dark moments. What a
8. Remember that only God knows the end from the beginning. There is a
sublime purpose for and in our lives which includes everything that happens
to us. Joseph's beginning was full of trials: he was sold by his brothers
into slavery and then he was imprisoned for something he didn't do. But he
believed, he held on to his faith and he was rewarded. God had a plan for
Joseph, and it could only be fulfilled with his cooperation. So it must be
with our lives. "Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and
knows the One Who is leading." Oswald Chambers.
Job is another example of stability and steadfastness in the face of
catastrophe. He lost all, he was afflicted bodily, and yet he could still
say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him." Job 13:15. Still another of
Job's complete trust: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed
be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21. In Job 42:10 (KJV) we are told that
"The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends." The
word "captivity" is significant. We become captive to feelings of anger,
hate and distrust in extremity of heart or body.
When Job prayed for others his captivity was turned and he was given twice
the blessings he had before. When sorrow descends on us, it is so easy to
be made a captive of self-pity and resentment. But in praying for others,
in listening to the even greater burdens others must carry, we can be
liberated from our own prison of discontent.
There are well-meaning friends and relatives who tell us that time heals.
They are right -- it does. But I'm grateful for the advice of a good friend
who warned me that before the hurt is lessened it might get much worse. God
may ask us to remain in the dark for a while, to learn more lessons and to
discover the shadows in our heart that we don't even know we have. Only in
the dark can we finally see the Light. The school of sorrow has within its
walls a unique kind of education obtained nowhere else.
G.R. Nash writes: "When the famous artist Sir James Thornbill was painting
the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral he stepped back one day to view the
effects of his work, bringing himself, without knowing it, so near to the
edge of the scaffolding that another step would have sent him hurtling down
to certain death. His assistant, seeing the danger but not daring to shout
lest the shock should make the other lose his balance and his life, rushed
forward, then snatching up a brush he rubbed it straight over the painting.
Overcome with rage, Sir James sprang forward to save his work, only to be
pacified with these words: `I spoiled your painting, Sir James, that I
might save your life.'" (When Days are Dark, p.29.)
It is at these times we must appropriate the precious promises. One of the
dearest promises in all the Bible is Revelation 21:4: "And God will wipe
away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow,
nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed
away." This is the verse on my son's grave.
Think of it, dear weeping friend! No more tears; no more pain in body,
mind or heart; no more parting from loved ones. We shall know as we are
known; we shall again meet those we have loved. We shall walk hand in hand
with our lovely Saviour up into the everlasting hills.
Thank You, Father!