by Nancy Hicks
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
Grieving is requiring more of me than I ever imagined. In truth, I never imagined this.
I was fully alive, pouring myself into my incredible sons, David and Aaron, while loving my husband, Cam. I’ve been joyfully loving God all my life; serving, leading, knowing God is my end and not my means to an end. I’ve been deeply in love with Him for decades.
But one terrible Saturday a few months ago, I watched my beautiful son, David, take his final breath at age 28 after a two-year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. David was diagnosed while in the middle of graduate school at Harvard. While doing everything medically and spiritually possible to fight the cancer, he continued a full load in school, ministered to his beloved friends from every walk of life, and founded a non-profit to fight early-onset colorectal cancer that’s rising among young adults. David was phenomenal in every way.
And now, he’s gone. I am grieving like never before.
It occurs to me: grieving well is not popular. It’s a bit of a downer, really. But grief and sorrow are not anomalies. They’re integral parts of life: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).
These dark days have required more of me. I’ve been more deliberate and disciplined in resisting my modus operandi of high-functioning, optimistic go-getter to honor this season of grief. I’m exploring these places with God. And darkness over the last few months has given way to traces of light—“costly insights” as my beloved David called them. Here are four touchstones I’ve held on to as I make my way through the dark.
Face what is true about all you think and feel, including doubt and disillusionment. Do not shy away from identifying what and why you grieve. Get it out of you: “Oh, God, my son is gone!” “I thought following you faithfully, Lord, would mean good things for me.” “I’m not protected the way I thought I was.” These are a few of my own, sometimes unconscious thoughts that emerged. Grief has compelled me to say them out loud and face them. We must face the messiness of sorting through what we thought God or our faith was like, and how real-time tragedy has proved otherwise. I haven’t necessarily been able to identify these things immediately, but over time, facing these sorrows has been critical in my healing. Avoiding anything true forfeits relating to, and unity with, God.
In Western culture, we are weak mourners. A counselor once told a friend of mine to not treat her grief as a speed bump that slows us down briefly until we get back up to speed. Tragedies are not speed bumps in your road. They are new roads. Resist the urge to rush past grief. Give space to your memories. Listen. Sit with your pain. God is sitting and weeping with you. As grief comes, go with it. Don’t judge or curb it. Give space for this appointed time to mourn, then mourn with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and watch Love become grief’s counterpart, equal in measure.
Our Jewish foremothers and forefathers could teach us about this: Hannah grieved and prayed in ways that caused the priest to label her a drunk (1 Samuel 1). The kind of engagement Hannah showed in her emotional and spiritual grief has spanned centuries of mourning. I witnessed similar embodied, shaking grief at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It’s crucial for us to allow our bodies to work out our grief.
Through David’s chemotherapy, scans and surgeries, my body rocked, longing to soothe and comfort him. Rock, sway, fall on your face and weep. Pound the floor, the bed, the pillows and admit, “It is not well with my soul! I’m undone!” Keeping the pain inside inhibits the cohesion between your body and soul. You become detached or dualistic and more confused about what is true and real, limiting your ability to connect with yourself, God and others. God wants wholeness for you.
A cup of sorrow has been handed to you. Take and drink. Once I discovered what I actually believed, and not what I thought I believed, I realized I was also grieving and mourning that God isn’t who I necessarily believed Him to be. This, too, was a loss, and I grieved deeply. I felt it all: anger, fear, sadness, loss, horror, pain. You will, too. Tell Him. You are communing with Christ in His sufferings—drinking the cup—but know this: Christ’s cup was bigger and more bitter. So, join Him. Drink your cup. Don’t waste a drop. It is and will continue to produce in you, rich fruit of the Vine.
You may think if you go with grief, you’ll get sucked into a vortex of sorrow and never emerge from it. Not so. Many people who don’t grieve well spend years in a vortex that is often harmful and destructive.
Go with grief. God will lead you in when and how to resurface. But if now is your season of grief, go with it. Go with God.
Nancy Hicks is a speaker, teacher, podcaster and author who works at the intersection of head, heart and soul to help women live fully alive in their faith. After earning her master’s in theology from Palmer Seminary of Eastern University, she launched her international speaking ministry, NancyHicksLive, and began teaching all over the world, inspiring women to rise up and take their rightful place in the Kingdom.