An Invitation to Grieve Well in 2020

Last November on my husband’s birthday, I half-jokingly declared the coming year would be “the best year of his life.” It’s kind of silly, but as 2019 was closing, I really did feel the freedom to declare such a thing. Lately, though, I’ve questioned that declaration, considering this year has been far from the “best” year of his—or our—life.

Clearly, I had no clue what 2020 would become. Still, regardless of the year’s notoriety, I think there is still hope for 2020—for us to see good come of it. Here’s why:

 

1. We Come to the End of Ourselves

The first reason I believe there is still hope for 2020 is that during this year, most of us, if not all, have been driven to our knees.

We’ve come to the end of ourselves—a place where the majority of circumstances are out of our control. All has been chaos, and we’ve felt unsteady and unanchored in almost every area of our lives.

And when we are at a loss like this, weighing heavy under the burdens of our world, I think the only response left is to lift our heads and raise our eyes, and surrender.

I’ve found this to be true when my efforts seem to effect no change, when my emotions are a mess, when I’ve exhausted every option and I’m too tired to even be angry. There’s nothing I can do but turn toward God and say, “I can’t do this; I need you.” Like the old hymn says, we “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” Or like the Psalmist says, “I lift my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Turning toward Jesus this year in my confusion and grief has cemented for me that I cannot help myself, and Jesus truly is my help. To have learned that of myself, and of Him, has been truly magnificent.

 

2. We Trust God’s Redeeming Work

There is also hope of redemption for this year. Yes, even the pandemic, civil unrest, the political arena, natural disasters—they all have hope of being redeemed.

I think of Joseph and the grief and hardships he went through in his life—being sold into slavery, being imprisoned and falsely accused (Genesis 37-38). When his brothers approach him in Egypt, he declares that what they “intended to harm, God meant for good” (Genesis 50:20). We see that through Joseph, God provided for the entire nation of Israel during a famine (Genesis 47:11-12).

I remember the loss of a friend to suicide when I was younger. This was a terrible and tragic thing. In hindsight, I see that God was able to bring good even from this tragedy. I see this good every year on the anniversary of her death, when I remember my friend by sharing her story with my students, encouraging them to think openly and honestly about depression, and forsaking the shame that so often surrounds that topic in our culture.

In his first epistle, Peter addresses this idea of redeeming work as an anchor of hope. He speaks of Christ as our “Living Hope” that is in the business of redeeming the evil, death, suffering, and grief in our world.

Peter puts it this way:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

To me, this means our hope is living because Christ conquered death and brokenness and is still in control (1 Peter 3:22).

In times of turmoil, this is what I can always trust with certainty: that this inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). Everything else will disappoint or fall away, but God’s promise of new life through His redeeming work won’t. That is the hope I hold to.

 

3. We Develop a Genuine Faith

In his first epistle, Peter goes on even further to say, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith . . . may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I’m going to suggest that the “various trials” we are facing might possibly be severe mercies, where we are given the opportunity to exercise our obedience muscle—to position ourselves toward Him even in the midst of the grief, to obey, and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Certainly, I don’t want to undermine these “various trials.” There is real, legitimate grief happening this year and my intent is not to sweep it under the rug. But instead, I want to recognize that Christ is near us in our grief because He knows grief; He is “acquainted with suffering,” as the prophet Isaiah says (Isaiah 53:3). This year, my students have been reading from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, and he describes what it means to be formed in the “image of Christ.” He says one of the ways this happens is when we identify with Christ in His suffering.

As I’ve grieved the loss of a friend, missing of my family, my son’s first year of life spent in quarantine, and more during 2020, I’ve also identified more closely with Christ because of that grief. Identifying with Him has shaped and matured my faith into one that is more genuine–because it has been tested. It has become something sincere, personal, and tangible. It has been proved, not only to the world around us, but perhaps more importantly, to me.

Peter says this kind of genuine faith results in the “praise and glory and honor” of Christ (1 Peter 1:7). As we turn our eyes upon Him in the midst of the trials, and in the midst of everyday life in 2020, we get to be included in that number that brings glory to God.

 

In truth, my husband didn’t have the “best” year of his life—not in terms of plans and dreams and business. But, we have been driven to our knees this year, and we have had to be intentional about paying attention to hope.

On our fridge is a huge piece of paper we’ve titled “Good Things,” and on that paper we are keeping tracking of those understated blessings in the midst of our trials. Most of these we might not have noticed had 2020 been just another year.

It’s challenged us to pay attention to the “good things” in what has been a truly notorious year. But, today what I suggest to you is this: that the best “good thing” we’ve experienced is being driven to realize our great need of Christ, and positioning ourselves under the banner of His Lordship, trusting Him with all that’s to come—this year or next!

And this is why we still have hope.

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