Grief and Letting Go

Here is the text of the sermon I preached today--the anniversary of Patrick's passing.

A little over six years ago, I stood here and preached my first sermon while Phil was on sabbatical.  It was 2009, and we were still waiting for a child.  Still stuck in the darkness of infertility; not knowing if we would ever be parents.  It’s been a full and unfathomable six years, filled with more doctors and shots and surgeries than I ever imagined.  We had Mira and Patrick and life was complicated and crazy and tiring, but beautiful.  But, as most of you know, one year ago today, we lost Patrick to complications caused by his congenital heart defect.  Learning to navigate feelings of grief and anger while simultaneously working to enjoy and celebrate Mira’s life has been difficult.  We have worked hard to find a new normal, knowing that it will only be normal for a while—until another change occurs.

Over the past year, I tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore my grief and shove it away in the name of functionality.  When it refused to be shut out any longer, I struggled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.  When I allowed myself to feel the grief and anger, I became easily overwhelmed—crying profusely and unable to complete even the simplest task.  I experienced word recall problems and memory lapses, making work impossible.  I even had brief moments when all I wanted was to have Patrick back in my arms, no matter what it took to achieve that.  This is grief.  And it’s ugly.

Grief makes us uncomfortable.  We don’t want to see people in pain.  We want to fix it.  Soon after a funeral, lives return to normal, and we just sort of expect everyone else’s lives to go back to normal as well.  Have you noticed that the Gospels don’t really deal with grief?  Jesus dies.  Then what?  How do you imagine Mary got through the day?  Her son is dead—considered a criminal; murdered by the state.  Does her community help her, or shun her?  Nothing tells us how she moves forward.  Or we’re supposed to move forward.  How do we go on?

People would ask how I was doing, but there were no words to explain, so I lied and said I was fine, or sad, or “just hanging in there.”  Most people did not want to hear the truth.  I felt the anguish of the psalmist:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.

Because of my [grief],
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors;
I am a dread to my friends
—those who see me on the street flee from me.

I am forgotten by them as though I were dead
I have become like broken pottery.

And it hurts.  We discover that there are some who cannot bear witness to our grief and others, usually those we least expect, step up and sit with us and help make life bearable while we learn how to pick ourselves back up and do the small things like breathe or shower or eat.

During grief, time passes in this strange fashion of quick and slow all at the same time, and I suddenly found myself nearing this one year anniversary of Patrick’s death with no idea how that year had passed.  And I’m not done grieving.  I’m not sure I ever will.  But.  I’m on the road to acceptance.  Acceptance doesn’t mean no more hard days, or angry days, or sad days.  It doesn’t mean that I’m done.  It just means that most of my days are good.  In the language of my day job, it is more likely than not that today will be a better day.

As I have emerged from the fog of grief, I have begun to figure out what I’m supposed to do now.  Different ideas have percolated, but most of them have made me anxious because they all fall outside my comfort zone.  “I can’t do that!” I tell myself.  But if I’m honest, it’s that I don’t want to do it.  The ideas would require more work, more discomfort, or expenditure of more time and energy than I feel ready for.  I’m scared.  The ideas involve risk, and I am a risk-averse person.

In my fear and discomfort, I have been reminded that everyone feels that way.  Jonah was clearly called to be a prophet, but he made himself miserable trying to avoid doing the work God called him to do.  Moses was called to guide and care for others in a new place, feeling unsure of himself, but having to be the adult to an entire nation.

Like Jonah and Moses, we are all called to do God’s work.  Like Jonah, we hide.  We run.  Like Moses, we fall short or fail.  We misunderstand.  Moses even tells God, “Oh my Lord, please send someone else.”  It is a comfort to me that even Moses, one of the best of God’s people, was imperfect and felt unworthy and not up to the challenges to which he was called.  And yet, ultimately, Moses goes.  Even Jesus submits to God’s will.  “Not my will, but thine be done.”  We, too, must try.  We must let go.  We must submit. 

Now, here’s a dirty little secret.  People will tell you to let go and let God.  I just did.  And we mean well.  Because the truth is, when you’re ready to let go, it will be freeing.  But if you’re not ready to let go, don’t.  Letting go before you’re ready means spending a lifetime trying to pick it back up.  So hold on.  Hold on until you know that letting go is your best option.  Even then it won’t be easy.  Letting go is still a huge leap of faith.  No matter when you do it, it is likely to feel scary.  But, more often than not, when something feels scary—if it requires you to leave your comfort zone—God is calling you out because He is doing a new thing.

So this is me—doing the scary new things God has called me to do.  I am turning my blog into a book in the hope that my journey will help make someone else feel less alone or make their path a little easier.  And today.  This sermon.  This sharing of my journey with you.  See, preaching—any public speaking really—is not my thing.  I’m a writer.  But through all of this, I have been called to share my story.  So this is me—taking my leap of faith—letting go and letting God.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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