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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Messy Learning

One of my biggest surprises when it comes to parenting is how non linear it is. I always imagined that once I taught my child something, that we could just move on to the next thing. That once she learned the alphabet song,  she would always know it and we could build on that. It’s been much messier than that. She might know the alphabet song for a time and then months later “Q R S” have mysteriously disappeared and been left out entirely. Not to say that my children never retain anything, but it requires so much more relearning and repetition than I expected.

Messy Sarah ClewsPredictably, I also expected my walk with Jesus would be more linear. Instead I find that the more I know Jesus, the more I realize what a mess I am and how short I fall. Those lessons in humility I hoped I had learned in my early 20s? I find I’m learning them all over again. I’m so thankful that I am in relationship with a God who acts as a loving Fatherloves me just as I am, and meets me right where I am.

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (NLT)

It was one thing to try and live a life honoring to God when I was single, with no kids, and very few financial responsibilities. Now, the stuff of life—financial strain, three small children, exhaustion, surgery (4 in the last 5 years!) recoveries, job shifts, changes in friends/community— chips away at my fragile veneer and reveals my own selfishness and controlling tendencies. When some of these props are taken away or changed, I find that I’m often just a hot mess. But in this mess is exactly where God is working.sarah clews mess

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

God won’t give up on me. And he’s not expecting me to have it all together. In fact, He is most glorified when I admit what a mess I am.  Each time he says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”(2 Corinthians 12:9)

So I bring him the untidiness, shambles, and mishmash that linger within me and ask, “Teach me again, Lord Jesus.”


sarah-c-squareSarah Clews is a wife, mother of two little girls, and prolific reader. She received her BS from Corban University in English and still loves writing. She helps her husband run their martial arts school, and in her free time, enjoys sewing, experimenting with makeup, and reading blogs.

Messy No Longer

Scrubbing. Dusting. Washing. Vacuuming. If there’s one extra-biblical theologically-sounding statement my family believes in, it’s “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” With three dogs & four humans, our house can get messy. Even if it’s been less than a week since cleaning, the dirt and grime stealthily builds up.

Messy Sarah DohmanI dread the beginning of the whole process, but I love the end result. There’s nothing like a clean toilet and uncluttered surfaces. I truly admire a dust-free house, even if it only lasts a few days. There’s something triggered deep within my soul when the weekly chores have been completed. I can rest in knowing I have a window of time to enjoy the clean sparkle.

Much like my admiration for an unsullied household, there’s something to be said about a washed life. This world is in a recurrent state of mess. Violence, natural disasters, broken families,  and there are even parts of my own heart that are just plain ugly. Can I tell you how grateful I am for Jesus, fixer of the broken things? Healer and redeemer of all the messy and unlovely.

Jesus, lover of my soul, lived a perfect life. He always directed his followers back to God the Father. And in his utmost and flawless timing, he gave up himself on the cross so that there could be an end to all the mess and stains that separate us from God. Isn’t that incredible?

Peter, one of the early church fathers and a disciple of Jesus, shares,

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action,and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”-1 Peter 1:13-21

Sarah Dohman Messy (2)We were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” Our uncleanliness, this separation from God was and is multi-generational. This is a perpetual cycle of sin that can only be ended by the perfect blood of Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection conquers all. He takes the mess in our hearts and wipes it clean. We are not required to clean ourselves up over and over as we come to God, but can rest assure that Jesus finished the work that has ensured our holiness. He washed us with His blood and it removed all filth.

As the world aches, and our hearts wane, I am praising God for his son. His clean, pure, holy son. Who looks at my mess and says, “I love you anyway.” Let’s not waste any time trying to scrub ourselves clean. It’s exhausting and futile. Instead, let’s kneel at the feet of the One who loves us at our worst. Jesus can and always will be able to handle our disarrayed lives, and transform them into something beautiful.


sarah-dohman-squareSarah Dohman is a nurse, kayak enthusiast, coffee addict, microbrew lover, globe trotter, adorer of friends and family. She has a weakness for donuts, runs in 5k races, and cannot get enough tea and books. She loves writing more than talking (and she talks a lot), can be seen at Target frequently, and is loving life in her thirties. She believes God has called her to this space to bring joy and encouragement through words to friends and family, near and far. You can find more from Sarah at her blog or on Twitter.