Sitting With Messy Grief

In memory, the turbulence created by losing a loved one causes those first long days of mourning to become foggy, but the people who showed up, stood up, and rose up amongst the chaotic whirl of life stand out.  As one who has been cocooned in grief and blankets on the edge of the couch I remember the faces that flowed in and out. When the sorrows of life and death pile high, our thoughts can easily become characterized more by messy questions than solid faith.

It would be foolish to assume that life can happen without mess, though I might just take that option if it were available. We all face trials and bear witnesses to how quickly life can become layered and difficult. It is there in the stacking of trial that we face a choice.  Let people in.  Let the God (who already knows) in. Or, leave the facade in place.

Messy Grief Holly HawesIn a day when  friendships can be made online, the ability to seclude ourselves from interactions with others continues to increase. Our relationships often appear to be more “fair weather” than anchor. When the water is rough we need to know solid ground can be sought.  Who will be there?  What is true?

God is not afraid of our mess. Whether it be caused by sin, or by suffering, he pursues us right where we are.  In Psalm 34:18 we are reminded that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  

His nearness and presence isn’t just an afterthought, it infiltrates every nook and cranny of the story arc of time.  In the very beginning of creation people walked with God in the garden of Eden. The “with” was broken by sin, and a savior was promised, one who was announced in Matthew chapter 1 as “Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

Not, God watching the mess from far off. God with us.

There is profound opportunity for holy community in what I have come to think of as withness.

Definition: Identifying with another person, standing by their side through a storm. Being with them no matter how hard or messy it becomes. See also steadfast love.

We call this cosmic withness the incarnation. God becoming flesh, identifying with us. Jesus did not flee from the mess. He experienced: Loneliness, disappointment, loss, rocky friendships, betrayal.

He can handle our questions and days that seem brazen, broken, and dark. Mess doesn’t push him away, instead he draws near. He shows up.

Psalm 31:7 says, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,…”

We must let down the facade, the masks, and the pretense and be comforted in how God sees. He knows. Full of mercy and steadfast love, He is Immanuel.

Little matters more that who is with us and who we are with. We have the opportunity to reflect God’s goodness to the world. While acting as the hands of feet of Jesus may sound cliche, we forget what an honor it is. Until the dwelling of God is with us in glory, the people of God, by the power of His spirit, go to offer presence to others.

Holly Hawes Messy GriefThere are countless barriers to simply slowing down to be with others, especially in times of suffering or loss. We get wrapped up in our own busy lives and fail to notice that day by day they withdraw and wither. We don’t know if we should mention their pain, so we gloss over it. We wear the mask for them, pretending we don’t see that life has shattered, but we need not always force discussion when we know how to be with. We can say, “I’m here to talk if you want to, but I am also just here to be. You are not alone, just let me know what you need. I also brought chocolate, blankets, coffee, movies etc.”

It mattered to me when someone cared right in the middle of mess with truth, not platitudes.  It mattered that love became action: the friend who brought flowers, another who fed us, the one who took over my sink of dirty dishes. Though the world spun God came, and He sent his people to be with me when I could offer nothing.

When the mess of despair filled me and threatened to overflow, I was full of doubt. The presence of others reminded me that God had not abandoned me. He had not left me. The pain was palpable, but He was still sweet. He was present in the here and now, and with the one who was no longer with me.


holly-squareHolly is a wife of 7 years as well as mom to a teenager (by adoption) and a child she’ll meet in heaven. She’s been foster mom to 10 kids in the last 3 years, and works part time as a church bookkeeper. She loves interacting with people who are hungry for change and ready to see God at work in their lives. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. These days you’ll find her catching up on housework while listening to a podcast, trying not to have dinner be a Pinterest fail,  and sipping coffee while teaching her daughter to drive.

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