Things change when you lose a loved one. They change in a thousand different ways.
Today marks the third year since my dad passed away. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone that long, and sometimes the pain seems just as fresh as when it first happened. People always say that the first year is the hardest, and I can see how in many ways that is true. But I actually found that year two was harder. Maybe it’s because I had false expectations of what long-term loss looked like. I expected year one to be hard and then after that for things to immediately get easier. But they didn’t. Instead, the new reality set in: my dad is gone. No more phone calls. No more laughs. No more sharing life together. Life is still going on for sure…but without him.
This past year has been easier comparatively. But, grief can be a tricky thing. The pain sneaks up on when you least expect it and seems to be absent when you most expect it. And for everyone it seems to be different. And I guess one of the things I have noticed most is how I (and others close to my dad) still feel the loss, but how others have moved on. It doesn’t affect them regularly or cause the same void in their life. There’s nothing wrong with this. We can’t all feel every loss so keenly (how overwhelming that would be!). But for those suffering from loss, for those to whom the absence is noticeable, it seems like we are at times stuck in the pain or have regressed to an earlier stage of grief. The world carries on, but we experience the loss in some way every day. Time does heal the wound, albeit not completely, and we do adjust to the new way of living that God has ordained, but the loss becomes an integral part of our story. It doesn’t define us (or at least shouldn’t), but it does further shape us and what we believe. For Christians, it should sober their view of life and drive them to dependence upon Christ. That is one of the good intentions that God has in grief: to grow our faith and make us more like Christ. And we can only do that if we lean into Him and let others into our grief.
God created us for community not just for fellowship and to share our joys, but to also share our sorrows and struggles. The local church should be the safest and best place to do this. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are to encourage the fainthearted (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and comfort others with the same comfort that Christ gives us (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). If the one who died is a believer, we are to remind each other of their and our future hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15). And, most of all, we should be encouraging one another and building one another up in the truth and knowledge of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Ephesians 4:15-16). But we can only live out these commands within our church families if we are open and honest and vulnerable with one another. We have to let others into our lives and be intentional in entering the lives of others. This is not easy to do, especially in our individualistic, self-reliant, put-on-a-good-face society. But this is what Jesus calls us to, and the local church is where I believe you will find true healing from loss and people to walk alongside of you during the bouts of reoccurring grief. This is where I believe God chooses to meet us in unexpected ways as He reveals Himself to us through His people. Can you find healing from grief outside of the local church? Yes. But I believe it will be a longer, more lonely road, and a definitely less grace-centered and gospel-centered healing process. I am thankful that the Lord has pretty much forced me to share my grief with my brothers and sisters in Christ. He has used them to confront my doubts and unbelief in God's goodness and to encourage me when I am hurting and discouraged. They may not feel the loss regularly like I do (or may not have even been there to experience the loss in the first place), but they are more than willing to patiently enter the pain with me and comfort me through it. Life after loss may look different for everyone, but the true source of Hope and Comfort is universal. His name is Jesus Christ and He often channels His hope and comfort through His people in the local church context.