Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 20, 2013

Grief made better with God


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— When my friend first gave me the book more than a year ago, honestly, I thought it was a little crazy. “31 Days of Praise: Enjoying God Anew” didn’t resonate with me. My daughter had died only months before. Praise? Really? You can’t be serious.

Several months later, my friend dropped by at just the right moment, as she often does. She showed me how she reads the daily praise-oriented devotionals out loud, saying my name, my husband’s name and my daughter’s name in place of any pronoun. She encouraged me to try it.

Every once in a while I would. Or I’d pick it up and simply read it on the specific numbered day of the month — when I was in the mood or, sometimes, when I absolutely wasn’t.

Then, one particular morning when things were particularly difficult, I picked it up and the words didn’t only resonate with me but grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me in a clear direction. They sang into my ears like soaring symphony music. They filled the aching hunger for that day’s answers. They made me feel God was listening to my garbled thoughts and inner muttering. They made me feel comforted, loved and noticed by a world beyond the one here.

There were many days, many months, that particular date’s message sat on the shelf or on my night table, untouched, unread, and, frankly, unwanted. The words would not have spoken to me in any way on those days, the message — if it had been read — would’ve remained undelivered, the comfort would have been stone cold, the wisdom would not be dispensed and the sense of recognition — the inexplicable feeling that I was noticed by a God who actually cared — wouldn’t have been felt.

But it was the wrong moment, the wrong time and the wrong mood.

Until the right moment, right time and right mood came along. Then those four simple paragraphs with a dash of scripture altered my thinking, my behavior, my attitude and, most importantly, my responses.

I was in a class recently where we were discussing ways we relieve stress — activities or approaches we use to unwind the tight coil in our chest, calm the swirling in our mind, and steady the jittering nerves. I was surprised at the long list of de-stressors I practice pretty regularly — you would think I was just a walking ball of relaxed goo without a care in the world. But that isn’t the case.

Some days I feel like a wire strung tight, despite my long list of de-stressors. Among the list I shared in that class about stress: yoga, walking the dog, cardio and weight conditioning exercises, talking with friends, writing, prayer and reading scripture.     

Honestly, I was surprised I automatically thought of scripture because there have been so many days where verses fell flat and grated on my ears like an out-of-tune instrument, rather than a soaring symphony. But years of reading and decades of studying must be ingrained in my soul like spiritual muscle memory. And those scattered moments have recently bubbled to the surface of my brain — those moments of sudden meaning when I read just the right daily message or verse at a random place or time.

My friend had written in a card that accompanied the book that she understood a book about praise might seem off the mark. She lost a sister suddenly and tragically at a young age so she knows well how praise may be hard to feel or find in the pain. I don’t think she expected me to be “Enjoying God Anew” right away. I think she knew the time would come slowly, gradually, and haltingly when one day’s praise would resonate — and then maybe another. Scripture tells the story of God and his people and it is full of all of life — pain, loss, grief, anger, and confusion as well as love, compassion, encouragement, grace and, yes, praise.

The back jacket of the book says you can cultivate a “heart habit” of praise and worship. Can you get your heart in the habit when it is broken? When it aches?  

I guess the place I’ve come to is this: I’d rather be with God in my pain than be without him. I’d rather stumble along with him in this journey than seek a path alone.

I don’t want it to become a habit that my heart lives in brokenness and pain. A habit of praise and worship, even in pain, must be better than that

It’s true for many people who are struggling — my praise and worship will look different from someone else’s. Just finding a smile cross my face while I’m doing one of those stress relieving activities, such as walking my dog on a chilly but sunny afternoon, reminds me fleetingly what joy feels like and offers a small taste of praise. I’ll take it.

There is still much stress, pain, and grief to slog through but I think slogging through it with God is better than slipping underneath and being swallowed by it because I refuse to turn to him or refuse to thank him for the good I can still find. A woman who has suffered with an illness for years shared a quote that offers a poignant perspective: “It’s more important to get to know the healer than to find the healing.”

It may be the epitome of faith — to seek him, praise him, and love him when I feel least like doing so. Maybe trying to enjoy him in the midst of the dark, bruising pain is enjoying him anew, after all.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.