Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

That night a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room. They had come over for dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.

Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it—and then, also out of obedience, backed out.

But after my honest admission to my friends, I shrugged, part of my consistent discipline to trust God and choose to be joyful. It was going to be okay, I asserted.

My friend paused, a toy in her hand, and looked me in the eyes. She said something like, “Janel, you need to take the time to mourn this. It’s a little like a miscarriage. You were expecting to have a child and now you’re not.” This was true. I had bought her clothes; we’d visited orphanages. “You need to grieve this, rather than stuffing it somewhere.”

To this day, I am thankful for what she gave me that evening: permission to grieve. It was permission for grieving and hope to not be mutually exclusive—to weep. To allow myself a few moments when I consigned the baby clothes I’d purchased. To be angry and bring my deepest questions to God as David did in his psalms, rather than hiding them behind my back.

 

Have we become plastic Christians?

Sometimes I wonder if, in the good and righteous and just plain hard choice that is joy, we miss some of the good that comes from grieving. Because grief and joy can be simultaneous. Joy is an unchanging happiness in God; an anchor for the soul in the midst of grief—not instead of it.

At times, I confess I have not fully grieved what is wrong about this world—not mourned with God—because somehow I’ve become convinced that a joyful Christian is not sad, or discouraged, or angry. In all honesty, I think this has stilted my worship. I have been a plasticky sort of Christian. In my haste to not complain or sin out of unbelief, I pretend that hurt or grief or disappointment or anger aren’t even there.

Instead of making a choice to believe God’s goodness in the midst of those—I pretend those aren’t there at all. I jump right to “It’ll be okay” and ignore anything I feel. It is as if I deny God access to all of me.

But the fact is, our emotions are part of the image of God in us. God, too, grieves! When we grieve the brokenness in the world around us, that is God allowing us to glimpse a sliver of what He grieves every day. Blessed are those who mourn.

I once attended the funeral of a young man who had passed away in a freak accident. Now, as Christians, we definitely “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)—and funerals are beautiful testimonies of how Christians die differently; they are incredible demonstrations and opportunities for the Gospel.

But this one, in all honesty, felt hijacked a bit by evangelism; by an agenda. If you came wrestling with the tragic loss of a young man’s life, you might have come away feeling. . . angry.

Compare this with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. Even though Jesus knows the outcome, the triumph—He did not call bad good, did not seize the opening for a sermonette on hope. He took the time to mourn the travesty that has happened, then illuminated what resurrection is all about.

The writers of the Psalms worshipped God with all they had, including their grief. Scholars note that all psalms of lament have similar components. Often the psalmist begins by calling on God, acknowledging this as a prayer, and not simply an internal struggle.

They then lay their complaints before God, honestly bringing to Him the painful circumstances of a fallen world.

After asking God to intervene and right the wrongs, the psalmist typically ends by reaffirming his trust in God’s character and trustworthiness. It is critical for our grief to restate our hope. In remembering God’s goodness despite our grief, we walk by faith, not by sight.

 

Mourning with joy and gratitude

In your time with God—and even with a close friend—it’s okay to acknowledge what you’ve lost because of your daughter’s learning disorder, or that you were hurt by someone in the Church, or that yes, you wanted that job.

I think of 1 Peter 1:6: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now. . . you may have had to suffer grief”. What does it look like to mourn. . . with joy and gratitude?

I have a friend who eventually lost his wife, the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease. He once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he was still caring for his wife as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.

But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise, and a reminder of God as anchor of the soul: “so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, emphasis added).

My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.

And there, when I step out of my own counsel and check out the divine gifts piling up right and left—suddenly, all these other fruits of the Spirit seem to collide at once in my soul: The unflagging, perpetual, bubbling (and occasional geyser) of joy. A peace I couldn’t articulate if I tried. A faith that sustains and nourishes and bandages as I walk through my most profound valleys. And the gifts keep on coming—when they’re based on something other than my own near-sighted ideas of justice, good, and peace.

 

Christian joy isn’t some version of Barbie, with the eternal smile that can’t be wiped off: Well, God said to rejoice! Have a cookie. Instead, our joy acknowledges, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). It says, I have deep, abiding happiness in God that surrounds me in hope and peace and belief, even when I can’t see through my own tears.

Here’s to a less plastic Christianity.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

4 Ways to Navigate A Painful Break-Up

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

Heartbreak. Tears. A break-up you never saw coming.

Do you remember it? The moment your heart was shattered into a million pieces? The place you were at? The time of day? The weather outside?

It’s funny how sometimes we can remember such vivid details.

I was sitting in my car, waiting to meet my mother for coffee. The weather was partly cloudy—a brisk fall morning. Perfect for a coffee date at my favorite spot. While I was waiting, my boyfriend at the time asked if he could call me. I had just driven five hours home after spending the weekend with him. Everything was great, or so I thought. Until the call. “I can’t do this anymore,” he told me.

Wait, what?

I had been fine when I talked to my mom roughly 10 minutes ago, but by the time she arrived to meet me, I was a mess. My sudden change confused her. Well, surprise! I just had a break-up I never saw coming.

Break-ups can be hard. They can be messy. Picking up the pieces of what you thought could have been forever can be incredibly hard. Moving on seems impossible. I know. I’ve been there. Your heart feels empty.

But in the days after the break-up, I found comfort in Jeremiah 31:4. God tells the nation of Israel, “I will build you up again, and you . . . will be rebuilt.” God promised to rebuild Israel, to give her direction, hope, peace and love. Surely, He will watch over me the same way. Even if I feel like a wreck, God can fill those empty, lonely places in my heart. You know those pieces of our hearts lying on the floor, broken? God can build those pieces into something incredible. I know because I’ve been there.

But it takes time to recover. It doesn’t happen overnight. How do you muster up the strength to accept what is and move forward in the immediate aftermath? Here are four things that helped me on that journey.

 

1. Know your worth

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us in His own image, for His wonderful purposes (Ephesians 2:10). Though people around us might disrespect us or question our worth, we know that we are bought by the blood of Christ. Is there any greater comfort than knowing how very much God Himself values us?

 

2. Enjoy your own company

You don’t have to have someone to go out on dates with to be happy. Spend time with yourself, get to know yourself better. Go on road trips. Go out for coffee. Read. Journal. Find your passion and do more of that.

There is beauty in this season where you are not committed to someone else. You have a unique time to grow as an individual, and more importantly, in your relationship with Christ. There will perhaps be times you feel lonely and might yearn for a relationship. But remember, God is always there, and He can fill those spaces in our hearts with a love that’s greater than any we will experience on this earth.

 

3. Surround yourself with the right people

They say you become who you surround yourself with. Are you surrounding yourself with people who will ask you the right questions, encourage you in your journey, and support you as you walk this road? Friends need to know how to have fun together (ice skating, game nights, etc). But they also need to know how to challenge and grow one another. Be sure you’re aware of who you’re spending your time with and how it affects you.

 

4. Forgive and seek forgiveness

If someone hurt you, lied to you, cheated on you, or ghosted you, don’t stew on it. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has wonderful things in store for you, but you won’t see it if you’re too busy remembering past wrongs. If you have been hurt, ask God to give you the strength to forgive and move on.

On the flip side, what if it was my fault? What if I lied, I cheated, I hurt someone that cared deeply about me? Then pray and ask God for forgiveness. If appropriate, also ask forgiveness from the person you hurt. Even though they may or may not give it, we need to remember that ultimately, we are not accountable for other people’s actions. We are accountable for our own. Ask God to continue working in your life and bring about healing.

 

Break-ups hurt. And healing takes time. I won’t even admit to you how long it took me to realize that simple fact, because it was far too long. But in the long process of healing, we know that God is continually renewing us, day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). He is here. He is never leaving or forsaking us. He is filling the pieces in our hearts that grasp and yearn for something that only He can provide—His unconditional and unfailing love.

God’s love for us is so much better than we can ever imagine. He will walk with us as we recover from a break-up. His love will fill us, whether we end up single or married. Resting in His love, peace, and assurance is so much better than any “happily ever after” in the movies.

In this post-break-up season, I have struggled with pain, insecurities, and doubt. But the Lord has also taught me to lean on and depend on Him completely, to rest in the promise that He is good and that He is working everything together for my good, regardless of how messy it has been (Romans 8:28).

If you have ever experienced or are currently in the process of a break-up, I pray for God’s comfort and healing in your life. I know things are difficult now, but God is with you. I pray that, like me, you will come to experience how much we are loved by God, who died so that we could live. And that’s a love that is irreplaceable.

5 Ways to Refresh Your Marriage This Valentine’s Day

No matter how many or how few years anyone has been married, the word “refresh” always sounds appealing. For those of us who desire to grow closer to Christ and to our spouse, it is essential that we set aside our never-ending to-do list and take time to process where we are at in our marriages.

My husband, Andrew, and I try to get away at least once a year to do this intentionally. While away, we evaluate where we have been, where we are at, and where we want to go. Whatever our circumstances that year, there are always a few key areas—aside from the continuing need to grow deeper both individually and together in our walks with the Lord—that have helped us to renew our marriage.

1. Practice spiritual disciplines together

Our spouse is the person we live with, raise children with, and impact the world with. In other words, our spouse is our God-given teammate for life. That makes it utterly essential that we grow spiritually together.

But how is this done practically? Start by praying together. Andrew and I make a prayer list for each day of the week and pray over it together, as well as regularly ask how we can pray for one other. These seemingly small moments go a long way towards building an intimate foundation that relies upon God—and not ourselves—to lead our lives.

Another practical idea is to read together. If reading Scripture together hasn’t been a habit before, find a devotional that is Gospel-centered and start there. Make it a habit to spend time praying and diving into a devotional every day together, and take it to the next level by reading and discussing godly books[1] together.

 

2. Have a mentor couple keep you accountable

No matter how many years we have been married, none of us know everything. The sooner we realize this, the sooner true growth will be able to happen.

As newlyweds, one of the first things Andrew and I did was to seek out Scott and Dianne—a wonderful Christian couple in our church. We asked them specifically because we knew from previous interactions that they would hold us accountable on hard issues, yet we also knew that they cared for us deeply. It has been critical for our marriage to have them asking us questions, challenging us, giving us an outside perspective, and pointing us back to Christ, not just in the early years, but even today.

The reality is that sometimes our struggles in marriage are so deep that sharing them with peers or family would be slanderous towards our spouse, and could perhaps cause more pain, distrust, and brokenness of relationship. It is therefore essential to have a couple we both trust that we can talk to.

In finding mentors, we need to look for people who love the Lord and stand on the foundation of Scripture as they help guide our marriages—with their goal being to draw us closer to the Lord and our spouse, and away from ourselves. They also need to be comfortable discussing normally taboo and uncomfortable topics with candor and openness, such as sex, pornography, and finances. Pray that God will bring you such a couple, and make meeting with them a top priority.

 

3. Make “apologizing first” a habit

“A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

The Bible urges us again and again to humbly serve one another, humbly apologize, and humbly forgive—even if the other person is being difficult or stubborn (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 12:14). This is important not just in interacting with people around us, but even more so in marriage.

Andrew is usually the first to apologize. In the heat of a moment, my pride frequently blinds me to my failures. Instead of being humble, I have way too often dug my heels in and sat in my anger. Without Andrew modeling humble tenderness in the midst of arguments, I have no idea where our marriage would be. His humility has taught me a lot about the Christian walk—how being honorable before the Lord is more important than getting our way or proving we’re right.

No matter what the argument, I have always been able to find something I can apologize for. Striving after unity over proving a point or being right must be a habit in all of our marriages. May none of us allow pride to keep us from having a unified, flourishing marriage! If this is an area you struggle with, like I so often have, start praying for God’s help to overcome whatever pride or arrogance may be blinding you to sin.

 

4. Renew your intimate life

Sex is a vital part of a godly, vibrant marriage. It was not created by accident—God created it intentionally, fully aware of how much we would desire it, how good it feels, and also how much it can hurt when not used the way it was intended. Sex was created by God to be frequent (1 Corinthians 7:5), pleasurable, exciting and unashamed (Song of Songs; Genesis 2:25). It should never be used manipulatively. Instead, it should be a selfless act between a man and a woman within the covenant of marriage.

When we take a biblical approach, we have the opportunity within sex to create a foundation of selflessness and trust in our marriage that can extend to all other areas. If we seek to make the bedroom a place where we are selfless lovers instead of selfish lovers, we will not only find ourselves having a more vibrant sex life and a happy spouse, but a marriage that is drenched with the blessings that comes from obedience to God. Use the bedroom as a training ground to love one another selflessly—again and again and again. If you’re not making love frequently or are being selfish within intimacy, surrender that to God, ask for His help, and renew your commitment to love your spouse in this incredibly personal way.

Until recently, Andrew and I have never really prayed about our sex life. But we have realized that since we believe in the power of prayer, we have been foolish to not seek God in such an important part of our lives! We pray specifically for the ability to love selflessly, for pleasure, and for purity (that our minds would not wander to other people or experiences).

 

5. Date and get away often

The Bible calls husbands to die for their wives, giving up themselves as Christ gave Himself up for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The Bible also calls both spouses to love the other as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28-29). It is clear that aside from Christ, marriage is our highest earthly priority. Do we reflect that in how we choose to spend our time?

Time with our spouse—away from our normal routine, away from the kids, away from the house—breathes life into a marriage. And so we must prioritize it, schedule it, and budget for it. Set guidelines for this time. Does scrolling through our phones, talking about the budget, or discussing about the kids distract us from connecting? Turn off the phones and make kids and finances off limits. Not sure what to talk about? Print out questions from online or get books that have questions in them.

My hubby and I do this from time to time. We’ll bring fun questions into restaurants, have them along for car rides, and we are often shocked by the basic answers we either don’t know about the other or that have changed over time. Carving out these times regularly will rejuvenate our connection on all levels with our spouse.

Let’s make it our goal to never stop discovering who our spouse is. God is continually at work in those who are His, drawing us nearer to Him. The person we are married to today, even if we just got married last week, is different from the person on our wedding day. Make it a challenge—an exciting adventure—to continually get to know your spouse.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, may we give the gift of refreshment to our marriages. Anything in life that is worthwhile takes time and often sacrifice, and our marriages should be at the top of the list. As we all walk into the next months, may we be willing to do what is necessary to make our marriages not just survive, but thrive.

 

[1] Some of our favorite devotionals have been, Taste and See by John Piper, and the John MacArthur Bible Studies devotionals by John MacArthur. Some of our favorite books, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, The Holiness of God by J.I. Packer, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

When Marriage Isn’t Quite What You Hoped For

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I grew up with Ashley (not her real name) and we attended the same schools. We talked a lot about relationships when we were younger and the kind of married life we hoped for. Eventually Ashley started dating a guy who would surprise her with flowers and little treats. However, he could also be quite demanding and unreasonable at times, and Ashley wasn’t sure about continuing the relationship.

Eventually, his persistence won Ashley over and they got married. At the time I wished them a happy relationship, but was a little worried about how long their marriage would last. Yet while her marriage has never been quite what we dreamed about as young girls, I have learned so much from her.

Though Ashley hoped that marriage would lead to greater mutual understanding, she found herself quarrelling with her husband often. He seemed to expect to know her whereabouts all the time and wanted her to be there for him whenever he needed company. He even expected her to pay all the bills because she earned a higher salary. Whenever she protested, he asked her, “Don’t you love me?”

As a friend, I watched Ashley walk through those difficult days. I saw her find peace as she became active in church and fell back on the Bible. In the midst of her marriage, Ashley clearly took comfort in a God who healed the brokenhearted and abhorred evil.

Though well-meaning friends advised Ashley to divorce her husband, Ashley chose instead to keep the promises she made at the wedding. While her marriage was not a bed of roses, it did not endanger Ashley or her son in any way. So instead of walking away, she decided to trust that God’s grace is sufficient in even her weakest moments, and that God’s strength is perfect. Such trust is amazing to me.

When I talk to Ashley about her marriage, she makes it a point to avoid comparison with other marriages, and instead focuses on God as her protector and provider. She reminds me that even the best spouse cannot guarantee protection or provision. Ultimately, our help comes from God alone, and He is able to save us from falling into despair or self-pity. We are not alone in the marriage—we are not left to shoulder our burdens on our own—the Lord Himself will help us as we honor our marriage vows.

The Lord has been faithful to Ashley as she chooses faithfulness and obedience to His call in the marriage. Although her marriage is hard, she manifests God’s strength and shows a confidence in Him that cannot be shaken. She once said that she finds true love in God as she surrenders her loveless marriage to Him.

While some of our friends say that her marriage is “blind suffering,” I see how this marriage has brought her closer to her true love. I see her joy in the Lord deepened each day. As she goes through this marriage of long suffering, I can still see the smiles on her face as she anchors her hopes in her true love. She speaks of the joy of being in God’s presence, and willingly shares the hope of the gospel with anyone she meets.

I am reminded by Ashley that all our weaknesses—whether in marriage or other areas of life—are actually opportunities for us to surrender and grow in the Lord. Whatever difficulties we might face, they can point us to experience the deeper joy and hope found only in the sovereignty of our God, beyond anything the world can offer.

My own marriage is not exactly a bed of roses either. My husband and I sometimes have different views and ways of doing things. I have often quarreled with my husband when things were not going my way. But God reminded me through James 4:1 that quarrels are often due to conflicting desires of my own heart—on the one hand, I want to honor God in my marriage; but on the other hand, I tend to be impatient and easily frustrated and angered. But as I marvel at God’s faithfulness to Ashley, I am humbled to ask God to change my temper. I am reminded to place God as the first priority in my heart.

Marriage will always be imperfect. It is after all, the union of two imperfect beings. Yet it is continually preparing us for a higher glory. Ashley knows this, and awaits the coming of the Bridegroom who is her true love. As I walk with her, I am also encouraged to put my trust in God, who is able to keeps us from stumbling and to present us blameless before His glorious presence (Jude 1:24).