“The story of your life is the story of the journey of your heart through a dangerous and beautiful world. It is the story of the long and sustained assault on your heart by the Enemy who knows who you could be . . . .and fears you. It is the story of the long and mysterious pursuit of your heart by the God who truly knows you and loves you deeply.” John Eldredge, The Ransomed Heart
When the heart is broken, is it just an emotional response to a situation? The heart is often another word for emotions or feelings, but Chip Dodd says that emotions are the voice of the heart. Not the heart itself, but its voice.
My personal battleground during the unexpected death of our daughter was between the mind and the heart. With the first shocking news of her death my mind kept trying to process the information, wanting details, exactly where, when, how, why? But emotions quickly overwhelmed reasoning. I look back ten years and realize that I just went through many days and nights in a thick fog – often called shock. After the phone call from Jennifer’s fiancé on April 13 with the news of her accident, a dear couple from church knocked on our door. I remember the moments like clips in a movie, but much later Nila reminded me, “You kept saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’” I had forgotten that feeling – that physical distress from the emotional trauma.
I found myself constantly trying to wrap my brain around the facts. That first night Larry and I slept a bit, then woke up and said to each other, “It’s true. She’s really dead.” We said it again the next morning when we finally climbed out of bed. The next few days were a blur, mainly putting one foot in front of the other to do the next thing: call family members, go to the funeral home to choose a casket, gather pictures for a slide show, choose clothes for her body, ask friends to pick up family at the airport, plan the funeral. After her funeral I sat on our deck and ran through all the events in my mind as if they were a movie. When I found my emotions to be too raw, I engaged my brain. I sought answers, knowing there were none. I kept asking God “How could this be?”
Then I searched bookstores for books by grieving parents, looking for some understanding. It was comforting to read Nicholas Wolterstorff’s words in Lament for a Son. I could put myself in his place, using Jennifer’s name: I cannot fit it all together by saying, ‘God decided it was time for her to come home,’ “but neither can I say, ‘There was nothing He could do about it.’ I cannot fit it all together. I can only, with Job, endure. I do not know why God did not prevent Jennifer’s death. To live without the answer is precarious. It’s hard to keep one’s footing.” (p.67)
Dan used a statement from Wolterstorff in Jennifer’s funeral, and it provides a definition of faith that I find to be true. “Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it.” (p. 76) Did I ever imagine that I would face this crisis in my faith? Did I think I would be tested this way? Never.
The lesson I learned about my heart was that God never quit pursuing me. He never gave up, even when I was mad at Him. I felt so far away; I lost my desire to talk to God, to feel His presence, to worship Him. I protected my heart from the pain and rawness of hurt by engaging my mind with work, with writing a dissertation. I did imagine how hard this grieving would have been if we had other children. I was so focused on myself and getting through each day that I don’t know if I could have comforted others.
John Eldgredge calls this pursuit of our heart by God a Sacred Romance. We can hear it in the whispers of the wind, the beauty of evening, the touch of someone we love, our favorite music, even in times of deep suffering and loss. Something calls to us every moment of our lives; there is a deep inconsolable longing in our heart.
It fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, sense of being alive. Our heart of hearts is the most important thing about us, and the voice that calls us is the voice of God.
Do you believe this? Consider this passage:
- v. 1 the Lord said, “How terrible it will be for these stubborn children. They make plans, but they don’t ask me to help them.”
- v. 15 IF you will be calm and trust me, you will be strong.”
- v. 18 The Lord wants to show his mercy. He will comfort me. The Lord is a fair God. Everyone who waits for his help will be happy
- v. 19 Lord hears my crying and will comfort me. When he hears me, he will help me. Lord has given me sorrow and hurt like the bread and water I ate every day. He is my teacher. He will not continue to hide from me. I will see my teacher with my own eyes
- v. 21 If I go the wrong way – to the right or to the left, I will hear a voice behind me saying, “This is the right way. You should go this way.”
Passages like this fill my journal from the first months after Jennifer’s death. I felt comfort and some peace from a daily quiet time with God. But slowly the business of school as well as going to school consumed my time and my mind. In March, almost a year after her death, I wrote:
From My Highest for His Utmost by Oswald Chambers “Holiness or hardness toward God?”
How appropriate this is today! I don’t think I’ve become hard but I have stopped praying. The business of school and writing for dissertation deadlines have crowded out this quiet time with God. I have excluded God from this grief work. Moments at church still catch me unaware.
The closer the days come to April 13, the more memories I have. I’m not sure what I should do on that day.
So my friend, I’ve described the early days of my journey. I hope these words help you understand another who is grieving or help you know that your similar thoughts are not unusual. Hold on to the passage from Isaiah. Let it comfort you in your time of despair.
Counting joy these days! Over 2000 gifts.