The Long Dark Night of Grief

9:32 AMHeather

It was the longest night of my life.  Three weeks after my nineteenth birthday...Friday, May 11, 1990.  To be exact.  After a valiant eighteen month battle with cancer, my dad was running out of time.  My sister and I had been summoned to hurry to Dallas to be with Dad.  I'd gone home the night before to sleep after pulling an all nighter for semester finals.  He had woken up briefly that night before.  But, this night--I sat and laid on the floor of his hospital room.  His lungs were filling with fluid as his body was shutting down.  I will never forget the sounds and smells, and how I felt as though I was literally praying him through that night, one labored breath at a time.  It was a dark, dark night.  He'd gasp and struggle and I'd desperately plead with God to give him one more breath.

I couldn't wait for the light of day.  I was willing us both to it, one breath at a time.  

Grief is like that.  A long, dark night.  One desperate breath at a time.  To just make it to the next one.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Praying desperately.  Longing as never before for the promise and hope of a sunrise to pierce the thick blanket of darkness.  


Nearly twenty-four years later, I find myself thinking of that night.  In the last few days, I've spent time with two different friends who are desperately praying through their long dark night.  Having just lost their dads.  In fact, these last few years, I find myself over and over again in a privileged position to stand near loved ones entering their dark nights.  

It's an honor.  It brings purpose to my story to be able to redeem my hard road and walk along someone else on their journey of loss.  It's living out the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

In the month prior to my dad's death, my friend Scott gave me this verse.  He had lost his dad already and passed the baton of comfort to me.  I can vividly remember his charge to be comforted and then pass it on.  It's a club that no one wants to join.  But yet, I find a growing number of us here.  Having found some daylight, we try to walk with others through their long dark night.

Which is why I was eager to read Angie Smith's book I Will Carry You, recounting her story of losing her baby girl.  She profoundly and transparently shares her own dark night.  And I would highly recommend it for anyone in a season of grief.  I was particularly enthralled with the fact that the story of Mary and Martha and Lazarus was so significant to her.  If you've been reading my blog this year, you know that I feel a very distinct challenge to learn to sit at Jesus' feet just as Mary did.  I guess I'm becoming quite the student of this sister of Lazarus.

So, you can see how this all ties together when I found myself in John 11 yesterday through my study from IF Equip, a daily Bible reading found online.  I'd been looking forward to this particular chapter about how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Angie Smith's book had highlighted a few details that I was eager to chew on.  And, as I said, I'd spent time with two different friends over the last few days who recently lost their dads.  In other words, the timing was absolutely no coincidence.  

This blog post is for every one of you in a long dark night of grief.  And for every single one of you who knows someone who is.  Because John 11 has much to offer those who are grieving and the people around them.  Won't you take a look through it and then process it with me here?

1.  Tell Jesus the problem.  Specifically.  Tell him your struggle.  As Lazarus became ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus.  They simply said, "Lord, the one you love is sick" (John 11:3).  The fact they omitted a particular plea for a solution suggests a deep faith in God's ability to solve it.  Angie Smith made this point.  And I love it.  In other words, we can all be totally transparent and honest and just let Jesus know what the problems and struggles are.  Period.  End of story.  Here's my issue.  Please show up.  

2.  God sees our grief and struggles and trials and tragedies from a different perspective than us.  He has an eternal plan for His glory.  To bring people to Him.  To accomplish a deeper, unimaginable plan for us.  In John 11:4, Jesus pointed to God's glory as a purpose in this whole situation.  

Listen--I am not making a cliche statement here that it's all for the best or your loved one is out of pain now.  Because if anyone gets where you are, I assure you that it is me.  But what I am saying is that this long dark night might feel senseless.  Pointless.  With no purpose other than to tear you apart.  In all these years, I continue to experience the sweet ministry of Jesus showing me particular PURPOSE from my pain.  And every time I can see something that He accomplished from it, it redeems the experience for me.  In other words, this season of darkness has a point.  Beyond what we can comprehend.  God is using it in us. And for us and for others and for His kingdom.  

3.  John 11:9-10 perplexed me initially.  I thought this story was about Lazarus and death and resurrection?  What on earth does some road and walking twelve hours and daylight have to do with it?  This little rabbit trail made no sense to me initially.  So is Jesus saying he will walk at a certain time of day to get to Judea, where he was being hunted?  Listen.  Upon some reflection, here's what I think Jesus is saying.  We will walk in dark nights and we will stumble.  Particularly if we do not invite and ask Jesus to walk with us, including Him in our darkness.  God will light the way on our dark and dangerous paths.  For He is the light of the world.  Even in the darkest pits in which we find ourselves. 

Friends of the grieving--BE THE LIGHT.  Shine in their darkness with your presence and friendship.  YOU are the sliver of light and hope and support that is much needed.

4.  Keep it real with Jesus.  Martha comes to Jesus, when he finally arrives, and she tells him plainly in verse 21 that if only He had come, then her brother wouldn't have died.  What I see here is full permission to rant and rave and be angry and honest with God.  Lay it all out there.  He knows it anyway.  And He can take it.  

5. God is doing new things, all the time.  When Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, Martha quotes some teachings she knows.  She quotes a promise.  But Jesus says in verse 25 that He IS the promise.  We can know the promises of Scripture in our dark days and still miss that Jesus IS the embodiment and fulfillment of them all.  He is the revelation of all promises.  He is the YES.  He is the new thing.  He is the hope and the grace that abolished old tradition and law.  Run to Jesus and plant yourself firmly at the feet of the I am.  Encourage your hurting friends with the truth of these promises.  Remind them that He is I am.  He is hope.  He is strength.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He will never forsake us.  He is living to intercede for us.

6. BE THERE. Yes, I'm yelling at you friends and family of the grieving.  BE THERE WITH THEM.  I had never before seen John 11:31.  IT IS IMPORTANT.  READ IT.  AGAIN.  Or here, below.

When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn.

These friends were WITH Mary.  In her house.  Comforting her.  It doesn't say the specifics of how they were comforting her.  But yet it does say.  THEY WERE WITH MARY IN HER HOUSE.  They offered her their presence.  And their time.  And they followed her even when they thought she was going to the tomb to mourn.  TO THE TOMB TO MOURN.  They were not scared away.  When she got up and left, they were close to her, willing to go to the graveside while she wept and mourned.   

It's not comfortable.  I get it. Guess what?  It's not a bed of roses for the grieving either.  In my experience the only thing heavier than the burden of grief is carrying it alone because it's too much for others to bear.  I'm not usually so bossy, but I am passionate about this.  The best thing you can do for a grieving friend is to just be there.  Say nothing.  Or bring a meal.  Don't ASK them to call you if they need you.  They won't.  Just say, "What time shall I bring a meal?"  Just drop by.  Just be brave enough to be in the house with them, willing to even follow them to the tomb to mourn if need be.  So bring the kleenex and offer your shoulder.  Don't run when they ugly cry.  That's what they need.

7.  Jesus wept.  Do we make so many jokes about this tiny verse that we shrink it down and miss it completely?  Because the magnitude of this statement carries with it the light of midday to a someone in the dark night.  Look.  Jesus knew Lazarus was going to come back to life.  He saw things from an eternal perspective and He knew that this little episode of grief was but a blink of an eye for that grander plans that He had.  

But, He loves us so much that he is moved by our sorrow.  He enters our lowest, darkest moments and weeps with us.  He not only sits in our house with us as we mourn...He not only follows us to the tomb to mourn...He sits with us and cries tears of empathy because he cannot stand to see us weep and mourn and struggle and feel sorrow.  EVEN though He knows the bigger picture.  Do you have a friend or spouse or someone who cries with you?  And you know how very much they love you?  Jesus is that--times a jillion.  That is the heart of the Abba Father for His children.  You never weep alone.  He is moved by your pain.  And He is never too scared or uncomfortable to experience it with you.

8. I love how Angie Smith pointed out the truths of John 11:39. Jesus asked the sisters to step up and take away the stone.  He invited them to take a step forward.  They were hesitant.  They were scared and nervous and overwhelmed, most certainly.  But Jesus said, even here.  In your dark night.  Take a step forward.  You see, He invites us to step up to the stone and move away the barriers and the walls to the new life, the new thing, the resurrection that He wishes to bring by redeeming the things that are lost in our lives. He says trust me.  Take a step with me.  Do you believe I am still God?  Can you take a tiny step with me, in the way that I am leading?

9.  He wants to unbind us.  The dark night of grief is a binding place of captivity.  We can allow it to define us.  To stall us.  To stop us.  To imprison us.  But, Jesus wants us to take off our grave clothes (John 11:44).  Let me be clear.  This is not a euphemism for putting on a happy face and putting your loss behind you.  That is not possible.  This is not another cliche.  

Here is what I am saying.  The enemy loves to take our grief and our pain and our sorrow and our loss and bind us up with it from here on.  To paralyze us.  To stop us.  To imprison us.  Jesus says, yes.  There is death.  There is loss.  There is pain.  But this is not the end.  This does not have to become a prison that holds you captive for the rest of your life.  He says I have the power to overcome even these grave clothes that bind you.  He says lean in.  Let me cry with you.  Let's walk through this.  You will stumble.  You will struggle.  This is hard.  But this is not the end.  If you can take that tiny step toward the stone to trust that I will move you forward, then I can bring you to a place where you can unwind the grave clothes and see the light of a new day.  He is near to the brokenhearted.  He binds our wounds himself.  By this stripes, we are healed.  And He wants to unwind the binding grief to reveal a hope.  He is saying that there will be an end of the tunnel.  There will be a light there.  If even a tiny tiny speck of it.  

Grief is a long dark night.  Gradually, twilight comes.  Some days, you might see sunlight even.  Feel a hope or glimmer for a new day.  Unwound from these grave clothes.  In my experience, grief does not go away.  It's not something to be cured from.  It's something you learn to live with.  It's something that can sneak up like an unwanted, uninvited guest when you least expect it.  

But, it is not always as dark as it might seem now.  It's not always as desperate and defining and numbing and painful as it is in this moment.  That I can say with certainty.  It truly can become a scar that lingers and points to a past, a history, a wound.  A scar that can heal over and not always bleed as it does now.  A scar that reminds you of where you've been.  What you've endured.  Where God showed up.  Trust me.  I speak from experience. The long dark night of grief gives way to the light of healing.  Being changed by the roads you've walked.  And realizing there was purpose, even there.     

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