Crisis struck our church body suddenly and without warning. One of our staff members gave birth to her fourth child, only to have that sweet, little life end just a few days later. This sudden loss came as a surprise to everyone. Many in our church body mobilized to surround this family with prayer, meals, and whatever kind of support we could think to provide. My husband and I, who have also suffered the death of a newborn, were uniquely positioned to come alongside this couple with the empathy that is only bought through similar suffering. As we spent time with this couple and their children, we hoped we might bring them some comfort. We also hoped we might be able to help them grieve well. As my husband assisted with planning the graveside memorial service for little Lucy, he asked me if I might be willing to speak at the service, sharing what I learned through our loss. Even though we lost our daughter fifteen years ago, the lessons are still fresh and real. I agreed. Through our loss and subsequent suffering, I learned two valuable truths about God and in that process learned how to grieve well. I share these deeply-learned lessons here so that they will encourage those who grieve as well as those who are called to grieve alongside someone else.
God is God
The first truth I learned through our loss is that God is God. Sounds fairly straightforward, but it’s a difficult truth to grasp in the middle of suffering. When we lost our daughter as a stillbirth, many well-meaning people said many unhelpful things. One person gave us a book that tried to reconcile God’s sovereignty with personal loss and suffering. I took away from that unfortunate gift that God did not have anything to do with my baby’s death. This attempt at comfort ultimately proved flimsy and unsustainable. God didn’t have anything to do with this? Well then, if that’s the case, God might be love, but he is not God.
That interpretation of my suffering wasn’t good enough for me. I couldn’t believe that God had his hands tied and that this loss happened totally outside his jurisdiction. I began to search the Scriptures on my own and pray, begging God to help me make sense of it all. He led me to 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Studying that verse along with many other passages describing God’s sovereignty led me to this conclusion—God had everything to do with my daughter’s death. He is God. He is absolutely in charge. I can trust this loss didn’t happen apart from him. He allowed her to die for reasons known only to him, because only he is God. He is the one with the mighty hand. My job is to humble myself under it.
Left by itself, however, the truth that God is God (and we are not) can leave us feeling resigned at best and bitter at worst. “Great,” we think, “God is God. Where is the comfort in that?” Thankfully, the second truth about God comes fast on the heels of the first. The next verse in 1 Peter 5 tells us “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” God is God, yes. But he is a God who cares for me more than I can ever imagine. That truth is a game-changer. That means that not only can I trust his sovereignty, but I can also trust his character. Because he cares for me, he will never, can never, act in a way contrary to his character. I can trust him to always, always act in a way that is loving. So as I humble myself under his hand, I can relax. This is a good hand I am under. I can trust him.
Learning to Grieve Well
Armed with those two truths about God, I found myself in the position to grieve well. I crawled under the mighty hand of God and stayed there. Though at times tempted to blame a decision made by myself or a doctor, I received the grace to reject that temptation and stay put. “God is God,” I reminded myself. “It is his loving and caring hand I am under.” I also resisted the temptation to run. Escape by numbing myself with food or movies or prescription medication or whatever proved fruitless. I chose to stay under the hand of God and trusted him to lift me up whenever he was ready.
I crouched low, and really, really grieved. I let the emotions come and I let them out. I cried to God and yelled to God and clung to God all at the same time. That’s what you can do with a God who cares. I cast all my anxieties on him like Peter told me to . . . again and again, throwing in my fears and despair and anguish as well. God took it all. And still I stayed there, crouched low. Grieving. Waiting.
Once my tears began to dry a little, God began to lift me up over the following weeks and months, just as he said he would. I have found as the years have passed since then that during that time I was able to grieve well and fully. I didn’t run from it, but fully gave into it, trusting God throughout the process. There have been other opportunities to grieve since then that I have not handled as well, so I know the difference. That time God gave me the grace to do it well. I humbled myself under God’s hand and trusted him to lift me up. I cast all my anxiety on him, knowing that he cares for me.
My husband and I discovered something precious during that difficult time of loss and grief. As we crouched there under his hand, God gave us something irreplaceable: the gift of himself. That could potentially sound cliché until you experience the presence of God in the middle of grief. When our daughter died, I felt the presence of God fill our hospital room in a powerful, almost tangible way. I literally thought about trying to reach out and touch something that I could feel, but couldn’t see. He was that real, that present. We have experienced the deaths of others that we love since that time without that same visceral experience. That’s how I know it was a gift. “God is near to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), and we, in our broken state, experienced the gift of his nearness that day. Experiencing God’s nearness set us up to grieve well. We knew he was God. And we knew we could trust him.
If you’re in the middle of grieving, I hope these words point you to the one who is in charge of everything, including your loss and your mind-blowing grief. I encourage you to humble yourself and crawl under the hand of God. Crouch there and grieve well. Let it all out. Trust him to lift you up. While you’re there, cast all your anxiety on him, along with your fear and grief and anger and tears. He cares so much for you. My prayer is that, as you draw near and remain close to him, that he will draw near to you and gift you with his presence. There is no greater gift.
And if you’re called to come alongside someone who is grieving, I hope these words give you some direction in how to speak life-giving truth them. Truth that is sturdy, sustaining, and healing: God is God. He is absolutely in charge, which means you are not suffering randomly or meaninglessly. He has you under the palm of his mighty, protective hand. Remember, though, that you can trust him because he cares for you more than you could ever imagine. His purposes toward you are always love. So stay there. Crouch low. Grieve well. And trust him to lift you up when the time is right. He will be faithful to his word to do this. And you will walk away stronger, blessed with the irreplaceable gift of his presence.
Lindsay Powell Fooshee is married to John, a pastor at Redeemer Community Church and church planter with Acts 29. They are raising 3 great kids in East Tennessee. Lindsay holds an M.A. in Christian Thought from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and blogs regularly at Kitchen Stool.