The Pit and The Rope
To a friend on the first anniversary of his wife’s death . . .
Sadness is with you every day, but on days like this one it feels oppressive. You feel terminally incomplete.
As much as I want your pain to lift, we both know that’s not happening soon. I would even say that you don’t really want it to, because of what it says about the love you had for each other. You’re deeply mourning the death of the one you greatly loved. Your grief is posthumous love.
This is not to say you'll never laugh again, or that you'll never know love. Yet your life will never be the same. You are changing. Grief is shadowing you, but I hope you can think of it as an advisor rather than a tormentor, impressing you to hold on to this life a little less and to the next life a lot more. In this way, grief will make you wiser and stronger.
But you’re asking for help now, in these early months of adjustment when the pain is raw and you’re feeling disoriented. Your question takes me back to the time when I felt much the same as you do now and how God led me through it. Really, it came down to two thoughts: (1) Grief is a pit. (2) Gratitude is a rope.
I’d never felt so beat down as I did in January of 2000. After eleven months of disease and decline, my wife died. Three weeks after her funeral I had to rush my four-year-old son to the ER with severe respiratory distress. He nearly died.
I remember standing in the exam room thinking, Is this my life now? Am I going to live from catastrophe to catastrophe, from sadness to sadness? I wasn’t angry with God, but I was worried that I couldn’t survive the suffering He seemed intent on pouring out on us. The grief was too much, the load too heavy. Widower. Single dad. Worrier. Exhausted. Afraid. Barely hanging on.
I was in a pit.
I prayed. I read the Bible. I was sure God was present, but I didn’t understand what He was doing. This was new territory. Untamed and unsettled.
The Scriptures have long been important to me, so even in the pit I kept reading and listening for God to speak. I needed at least a glimmer of hope … and God began to give it through the words of Psalm 42:11—
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
This message was personal. God was reassuring me that the heaviness would lift, that I wasn’t doomed to a life of tears and turmoil. He was giving me hope.
If God was lowering a rope into the pit, I was going to grab it. So, this is what I did: I started thanking Him for all sorts of things, big and small, everything that came to mind—that my wife died in her sleep, that my son didn’t die, that we had clothes to wear, food to eat, friends who cared, hot water, indoor plumbing, a good church, transportation, income, books, . . . If I thought of it, I thanked God for it. Right down to the pennies in the jar on my dresser.
For weeks, I would lay across the end of the bed at night—I couldn’t bring myself to get in it yet without her—and thank myself to sleep. They weren’t deep prayers of doctrine or high prayers of praise, they were more like sticky notes—simple expressions of gratitude for life’s basics. But they opened my heart to more and more hope. They kept me mindful that God is a giver and I am a receiver, and that His giving had not stopped.
I’d never expect you to be thankful for grief, but I hope you are able to start giving thanks in your grief. There is life outside of the pit. To be sure, it is a different life than you had before, but it is a life you cannot avoid and someday might actually enjoy.
But for now, just grab the rope.
© 2022 by Tim Grissom. All rights reserved.