“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
‘Where is your God?’ ” (Psalm 42:3)
“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
In these words, Anne Lamott explored her own grief and loss with characteristic honesty.
And the Psalmist makes it clear that one of the obvious consequences of grief is what we may call “Misplacing God.” Where is God when it hurts? Every now and then life seems to pull the carpet from beneath your feet and you’re left stranded and bereft of meaning. There’s also a relentless quality about grief here. Tears are described as a continual diet both “day and night” and “all day long” the accusation of God’s absence hammers down upon the weary sufferer.
But there’s something here that mustn’t be lost.
It’s what happens when God is misplaced.
Philip Yancey broke his neck in a car accident. He describes the immediate aftermath: “For the first few hours as I lay strapped to a body board, medical workers refused to give me pain medication because they needed my response. The doctor kept probing, moving my limbs, asking, “Does this hurt? Do you feel that?” The correct answer, the answer both he and I desperately wanted, was, “Yes. It hurts. I can feel it.” Each sensation gave proof that my spinal cord had not been severed. Pain offered proof of life, of connection—a sign that my body remained whole.”
Do you see it? Pain is a perception of being alive. It shows you are connected. In bereavement, love and pain converge. You are connected with the one you have lost.
After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Thomas and demolished Thomas’s doubts. What prompted that outburst of belief, however—”My Lord and my God!”—was the presence of Jesus’ scars. “Feel my hands,” Jesus told him. “Touch my side.” In a flash of insight, Thomas saw that the Almighty Lord of all was stooping to take on our pain.
God doesn’t exempt even himself from pain. God joined us and shared our human condition, including its great grief. Thomas recognized in that pattern the most foundational truth of the universe: that God is love. To love means to hurt, to grieve. Pain is a mark of life.
God is not misplaced in our grief. He is more certainly with us in that than in any of the seasons of life.