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The Surprising Way God Spoke To Me In My Grief

Written By Tafadzwa Mutogo, Australia

I felt betrayed. Maybe God had forgotten about me? How could He let grief wreak such havoc on my family? It just didn’t make sense. I, like everyone else in the family, had believed for so many months that my mother would get better. That she would have a miraculous recovery, and everything would return to normal. But as the days stretched longer, with no sign of any change, I knew my twenty-first year wasn’t going to turn out the way I had imagined.

I sat snug against the corner of the campus shuttle, staring blankly out toward the mountains. The brokenness I suffered burrowed deep into the cracks of my soul. Questions popped into my head that I couldn’t answer. “Why was this happening?”, “Had I not prayed enough?”, “Where was God?”

No answer could calm the storm raging within me. I had suffered a terrible loss. Though I hadn’t forgotten that God loved me, it was hard to see that in this terrible season. The emotional storm I was in clouded any hint of God’s light.

When we encounter abrupt pain and loss, we inevitably question, why? Throughout my life, I have experienced many instances of hurt. Each time I think my broken heart is finally healing, something else happens to break it again. This time it was my mother’s death.

How could God allow this to happen? How could His good love bring such aching hurt? How can I find peace again?

 

Looking for answers

Like any other person seeking answers, I took to the Internet, rummaging through any information I could lay my hands on. But nothing seemed able to bring peace to my confused mind.

“Fifty best romantic movies” and “How to find the perfect guy” were some of the results on my screen. But they were meaningless to me. My heart wanted something deeper. I needed more than mere human love, but I was looking for divine answers in all the wrong places.

The lack of answers only increased my angst and confusion. I tried to ignore the questions. I distanced myself from loved ones, afraid of being hurt again. I fell deeper and deeper into anguish and pain, unable to see the goodness of God.

Utterly helpless, I finally cried out to Him, hoping for some kind of message written in the clouds, or an angel to carry me out of my misery, or anything, really, any sign to see me through the pain.

And He answered.

But not in the manner I had imagined. Not the spectacular declaration of love I was hoping for.

He was more subtle. He gently placed the book of Ruth upon my heart.

“No, that can’t be it!” I thought to myself as I skimmed over the pages of the well-known book. A book I had read countless times. I knew how the story went, the romance of Ruth and Boaz. The “relationship goals” for every Christian.

I wanted to know if God still loved me in this tough season. I didn’t want relationship advice.

Eventually, I gave in to His whispers. Reluctantly opening the book, I started reading.

 

God’s persistent love

What I found was my life story spread across the pages. I was like Naomi. She too was familiar with grief. Naomi and her family had to leave their lives behind when their homeland was struck by a famine. While living in a foreign land, her husband and sons all passed away, leaving her with two daughters-in-law. She became bitter against the Lord for the calamity that had befallen her. On hearing that the famine had ended, Naomi decided to return to her homeland alone, and urged her daughters-in-law to leave her and find their own families.

I could relate to that. Loving someone meant being open to grief and brokenness, and I had had enough of that. No wonder Naomi pushed her daughters-in-law away. The prospect of watching her two daughters-in-law waste their lives away caring for an old widow with neither hope nor future was too painful to bear. She would rather close her heart and be alone.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her” (Ruth 1:16–18).

Ruth was persistent and faithful to Naomi. And immediately, I was reminded of the nature of God’s love. I knew, beyond a doubt, that God was determined to walk with me through whatever seasons of life I had to endure. Ruth’s loyalty toward Naomi, and her selfless commitment to love someone at her angriest, saddest, most desperate and loneliest point was for me the face of God’s goodness and mercy. It didn’t matter that I was bitter toward Him. God was determined to love me.

After my mother’s death, I had become apathetic toward my relationship with God, even though I still confessed Him as Creator. But in reading that first chapter of Ruth, I re-discovered the relentlessness of God’s love, something I had somehow overlooked in my season of hurting.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [your enemies], for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

God’s love is relentless.

In the depths of my despair, I had felt utterly alone. I had forgotten that God never leaves. I had spent countless hours questioning His love, forgetting that His love doesn’t change.

“To the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:23).

But even when my whole world had shifted, His love remained. His love was constant, persistent in the face of my anger.

Ruth taught me a valuable lesson, a lesson I go back to whenever I start feeling alone. I hold on to its reminder whenever doubts begin to rise up.

I rest in knowing God’s love is undaunted by our brokenness.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

Being reminded of God’s persistent love brought me peace when I was struggling in life’s deep waters. I don’t have the strength to walk the journey alone, but I know God is with me.

Texas shooting: The Aftermath

On Sunday, while I was worshipping at my church, a shooting happened just a few miles away at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It turned out to be the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 died (almost half of them children) and others were injured.

As a fellow Texan, I can say that the whole community is still in the early stages of the grief process. If the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we’re somewhere in between denial and anger.

Anger is obvious, because we’re mad something like this could happen.

The denial part is equally strong. To be honest, Texans have a certain pride that things like this can’t happen here. In such a small town, this seems like the most improbable thing. It’s hard for us Texans to wrap our minds around it.

That said, I feel that it’s important and necessary that we work our way through the grieving process, no matter how tough it is. And the first thing to bear in mind is this: We can grieve.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul talked to the church about grief. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Paul never told the Thessalonian believers not to grieve; he told them to grieve from a place of hope.

This hope, I believe, can propel us to go beyond the “acceptance” stage of the grieving process to a sixth stage that is available to believers. That stage is “worship”.

As believers, we can land somewhere greater than just accepting the negative circumstances. With faith and hope available to us, we can go beyond mere acceptance and turn it into worship towards God. We can turn it into giving to others. We can turn it into doing the hard thing out of love. We can turn it into gratitude for what God has given us.

While this tragic turn of events might seem extra heart-breaking in light of the upcoming Christmas season, I’d like to suggest that we change our perspective and see the opposite instead. Not only should the approaching Christmas season give us hope and comfort, it can teach us how to process this sixth stage of grief. And Mary’s a great example of how to do it.

When she found out she was pregnant, Scripture tells us that she accepted her fate. But she was human, just like you and me. This young girl’s expectations for her life were shattered by something God did. Surely she felt these emotions too:

  • Denial that God would do such a thing to her. How could that even happen? How could a virgin become pregnant—much less with the Son of God?
  • Anger that her expectations for her life wouldn’t be met. Why did she have to be given an abnormal pregnancy?
  • Bargaining with God to find someone else to do this. After all, she was already engaged and about to be married to Joseph. Surely God could find someone else who didn’t have so much at stake to do this.
  • Depression over the loss of a scandal-less marriage and nice, quiet honeymoon season.

Mary probably experienced a lot more mental turmoil. But Scripture focuses on what she did after the fifth stage of acceptance. Mary’s faith not only led her to acceptance, but ultimately, also to worship.

One of the most beautiful songs from Scripture was birthed out of this grief-turned-to-worship moment.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

—Luke 1:49-50 (NLT)

That’s what happens when we let God speak into the areas of our heart that disappointment or tragedy exposes. We have the opportunity to respond with worship. By giving to others. Praising God. Loving the unlovable. By focusing on God instead of ourselves. Appreciation pours from our hearts and turns into worship.

I’m working on letting my grief turn into worship through these circumstances. I’m trying to help my friends walk through this process too. Let’s add faith to our acceptance and see worship result from this tragedy. God can get glory through this.

Crying Over Nabeel Qureshi

Screenshot taken from YouTube

I never thought I would cry over a complete stranger. But the death of a man whom I have never met had me tearing up a few times this week.

Last night, it happened again while I was watching the live stream of Christian apologist and author Nabeel Qureshi’s memorial service. Hearing two of his mentors, apologist Ravi Zacharias and Rice University chemistry professor Jim Tour, recount their time with the 34-year-old and his love for Jesus as well as his non-Christian family, had me welling up in tears.

Perhaps it was because the tributes were heartfelt and heart-breaking, or because it felt like I actually knew him personally. I bought Nabeel’s book two years ago, and have been following his progress since he first announced that he had advanced stomach cancer. Whichever reason it was, Nabeel has certainly made an impact on my life—as well as the lives of many others.

Here was a man who centered his entire life on Jesus and the gospel even though it meant turning his back on the people he loved most dearly—his family, who were staunch Muslims. Not only that, he went on to proclaim the good news of Christ, through talks and books—such as New York Times Bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus—despite threats to his safety and relentless criticism from those who considered him an apostate.

So many, including myself, were shocked that God would take him home so early on in his earthly life. Like most people, I couldn’t help but wonder, Why? Why now, when he was at the peak of his ministry? Why now, when he had just started a family? Why now, when the world needs gifted and passionate communicators like him to build bridges with the Muslim community?

Though none of the answers that have been circulating online can fully answer these questions, a post I stumbled on provides a deeply encouraging and helpful perspective. It was written by Nabeel’s colleague, the North American Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). In a beautiful tribute to his dear friend, Abdu Murray wrote:

Ravi Zacharias, who loved Nabeel deeply, has written about him in a secular news source. Thousands who had never heard Nabeel or the gospel he loved to preach have now been exposed to Jesus’s life-changing message. People have seen Nabeel’s steely faith remain steelier yet in the face of death. They have seen the “peace that passes all understanding,” as the Bible calls it, in Nabeel’s voice. And they are encouraged to face difficulty with grace. A deaf world is roused through the megaphone of pain to hear the message that God has overcome the troubles of the world through Jesus. Nabeel was a megaphone for that message in his life and he is a megaphone for that message in his passing.

 If not for anything, Nabeel, who made a significant impact during his life, continues to make an impact in his death. Many have come to know of him, his books—and his God—after hearing about his life and death over the past week. I believe Nabeel’s legacy will continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Nabeel is no longer with us. We will miss him dearly. But while his passing may seem like a huge loss, let us not forget that he is in a far better place today. And let’s not mourn without hope—for we have the full confidence that God will continue to raise up men of great faith to continue His kingdom work. Just as God can raise up a devout Pharisee like the Apostle Paul and an ex-Muslim like Nabeel to become effective ambassadors for Him, He can—and He will—continue to convict the hearts of men in His own time and way.

The Courage To Grieve

I am not at all claiming to be an expert on the varied topic of grief. Although there may be familiar elements between individuals’ grief experiences, their paths are distinctly unique.

With that in mind, it’d be ridiculous for me to make any sweeping generalizations regarding how to grieve or what to expect. I do not know what you’re going through, nor can I claim insight into what is to be anticipated. That said, I think a common thread among the different grief journeys is that completing them well requires a special courage.

My own experience with grief started from a horrific car accident that resulted in the loss of my plans, many of my cherished pastimes, and inadvertently, also some of my identity. The latest blow came this past fall, when I was told that I wouldn’t be given a full-time job in speech pathology, which I was hoping for.

As a speech pathologist, you have two years after obtaining your master’s degree to complete your clinical fellowship in order to gain full licensure. I was exactly half way through this supervised internship when the accident occurred. As a result of my severe injuries, my stint was cut short and in the year following the accident, my full-time job was attending doctor appointments and rehab sessions. I used countless pages of paper telling the state licensing board why I probably wouldn’t be meeting the two-year licensing deadline and requesting for an extension.

While completing my own physical therapy, I volunteered over 400 hours at two fabulous medical facilities. At the first one, I completed administrative tasks cheerfully and to the best of my ability, clinging to any verbal encouragements I received about an eventual offer for a clinical fellowship. However, I wasn’t offered one and my time volunteering there eventually ended without an offer of employment. At the second facility, I volunteered many more hours, again hoping to be offered a job as a speech therapist.

I put every effort into making it happen, but eventually realized they had no intention of hiring me full-time. The end of the second volunteer position came as a huge blow, reviving the hopelessness I had felt after the accident. I had thought I’d worked through these feelings, believing that I had been able to put the loss behind me, but now, it all came back.

I have learned that grief is not a linear process. Even after appearing to have resolved a particular loss in a mature way, it is likely to pop up again, sometimes when least expected. Situations may also arise which require the individual to face these emotions a second time—or for the 1,000th time.

It takes courage to embark on a path that, while necessary, will surely be painful. False inner voices or those outside your own head may give you the impression that you’ve already worked through that grief, and that it’s time to move on. But the truth is, it may not always be the case. With the necessary boldness, unapologetically admit that you need to grieve.

Grieving is hard—and often daunting—work. It requires endurance to accept that as an individual, or even in supporting a loved one, you are in it for the long haul. Life is not going to return to what it was before, although you may find joy beyond your imagination. Boldly leave room for the potential of that joy to come.

To grieve well is to acknowledge the feelings of pain while also, in time, to take steps towards healing (such as re-connecting with friends after losing a loved one).

This 19 December will mark the fourth anniversary of my accident. The life I led before the accident seems like a memory from just yesterday, but at the same time, so foreign that it feels like it came from a different lifetime. I have almost no emotional connection to the gregarious, active and capable young woman I see in pictures from before the accident. I’ve come further along in recovery than I could’ve hoped for during the initial months after the accident, while, at the same time, I’m not as far as I would wish.

I’ve learned that it takes courage to acknowledge that even in the midst of grief, there may be moments of happiness. It doesn’t need to make sense or be consistent with an overall emotional experience; there can be happy times even during long journeys of grief. It can be beneficial to put on “blinders”, so that you can only see what’s directly in front of you. What you already have, here and now, in this moment, is everything you need at this point to honor God. Try not to dwell on the possibilities or expectations about how your grief will unfold.

Not following a preconceived script on the way one “should” grieve requires courage that will shape your outlook towards the future.