by Linda DeCelles
Photo: Robert Cunningham, PhotoResourceMn
Editor's Note: This article is republished from the February 1989 issue of New Heaven/New Earth.
In 1981, six weeks before his expected delivery date, my unborn son died. He was to be our fourth child and I had been looking forward to his birth with great anticipation. His death was totally unexpected and although I didn’t know him I grieved very deeply. For three or four months my sense of loss was constant.
Let me share with you how the Lord showed his mercy for me in this situation. Jesus worked in my heart and my mind during that time to bring good fruit from my grief, and the abiding faithfulness of his love was slowly revealed.
The first fruit was a simple one. I realized that, since I had grieved so deeply for that child, my love for him must have been deep, too. It is always a consolation to know you have really loved someone who has died. It was a particular consolation to me since I had never been able to express my love to him and had not been able to love him through any of my actions.
The second benefit was that I was now more human. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? How can a human being be more human? What I mean is that my experience of grief was a kind of initiation into another level of what it means to be human. I had entered more deeply into the common experience of mankind. I was one with all the men and women in this time and in the past who had suffered the loss of loved ones. Barriers of language, race, creed and era fell away. I had compassion on them all.
The third fruit of my grief was in my experience of the Lord shepherding me through this “valley of death.” His first task was to convince me not to dwell on asking, “Why?” I think it is natural for the human spirit to wonder why such an awful event could take place. The mysteries of pain, evil and death have plagued mankind since Adam and Eve. The Lord wanted me to know that, if I continued to grapple with “Why did this happen?,” I would only intensify my suffering and perhaps jeopardize my faith.
The Lord reminded me that the Father’s ways are above our ways, that the Father had asked his only-begotten Son to lay down his life and that the Father had asked Jesus’ gentle and innocent mother to witness her son’s crucifixion. In the face of this, who was I to question?
Jesus seemed to be saying, “If you don’t become entangled in why this happened, you will be more able to resist the temptation to hold it against me.” Because we know that God is ultimately in charge of everything that goes on, we tend to blame him for things that don’t go our way. Actually, just because the Lord permits an event does not mean that he is the cause of it. (Look at all the suffering Satan used in tempting Job.) An even more persuasive reason to avoid resenting the Lord was also a very practical one: If I held a grudge against the Lord, I would separate myself from the only one who could really help me.
The fourth thing the Lord did for me was the hardest, but ultimately the most healing. He encouraged me to give my son willingly to him. There are many sacrifices we make for the Lord to show him how much we love him. Many of them are of our own choosing. When loved ones die, however, their physical presence is taken from us without our consent.
Yet we do have the choice of hanging on to our relationships with loved ones, or of releasing them to the Lord as offerings of love. Rarely do we have the opportunity to give the Lord anything so precious as this. Actually, this was what finally turned my grief into an upward road. Bearing my suffering consciously and willingly became a way to give myself and my love to the Lord.
I made the effort to channel my grief into an offering of love to God, and over time I began to feel that grief had become my friend. This seemed pretty absurd. I realized one day that it was not grief that I sensed this fondness for, but the presence of Jesus faithfully, constantly, loving me in my grief. Because of my suffering I was living with Jesus in a way I had not experienced before. Although my grief was still there, it had become the doorway to and the foundation of the consolation of his love. While friends were praying with me on Pentecost that year, my heart was flooded with joy, the joy that comes from knowing God’s love.
I know, and shall never doubt, that the Lord in his compassion will be faithful in loving me through grief and pain.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . . (Ps. 23).