The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. ~ Job
Bridge to Terabithia is a story of a special friendship between a young boy and girl. Although from different backgrounds, their hearts were knit together in a secret kingdom of their own creation called Terabithia. Like all of us, they both longed for a friend that “you did everything with and told everything to.” And like a lucky few of us, they found it.
One day, the rope that swung over a creek from their ordinary world to the shores of their enchanted world broke. The eleven-year-old queen of Terabithia drowned—and Jesse, her king, had to learn how to continue growing through his loss.
The story of Terabithia grew out of an event in real life; the author’s eight-year-old son lost his best friend when she was struck by lightning. Katherine Paterson shares about her son’s subsequent struggle to grow through this loss in a later book, Gates of Excellence, saying,
He is not fully healed. Perhaps he never will be, and I am beginning to believe that this is right. How many people in their whole lifetimes have a friend who is to them what Lisa was to David? When you have such a gift, should you ever forget it? Of course he will forget a little. Even now he is making other friendships. His life will go on, though hers could not. And selfishly I want his pain to ease. But how can I say that I want him to “get over it,” as though having loved and been loved were some sort of disease? I want the joy of knowing Lisa and the sorrow of losing her to be a part of him and to shape him into growing levels of caring and understanding, perhaps as an artist, but certainly as a person.
Maybe you, too, know what’s it’s like to have your life molded by the pressure and pain of loss. Often those who mean well inflict pain that is unnecessary.
Joe Bayly in his book, View from A Hearse says that one of the best contributions we can make to a person going through intense suffering and loss is our presence without words, not even verses of Scripture dumped into the ears of the grieving. He said:
Don’t try to “prove” anything to a survivor. An arm about the shoulder, a firm grip of the hand, a kiss: these are the proofs grief needs, not logical reasoning.
I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true.
I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.
Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.
I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.
A person reeling from the blow of calamity has a broken heart. The soil of his soul is not ready for the implanting of the heavenly seed. He will be later, but not right away.
We are familiar with the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance. Less familiar are the styles of grief. It is best to think of these styles on a continuum.
Styles of Grief
Intuitive Grief [———————————————————] Instrumental Grief
Intuitive Grievers will often—talk about waves of affect and waves of emotion.
When you ask them how that grief was expressed, it’ll mirror those reactions, “I just kind of felt this. I cried. I screamed. I shouted.”
Their expression of grief mirrors their inner experience of grief… they’ll often talk about the fact that it really was helpful for them to find some place, whether in counseling, whether with a confidante, whether in a support group, whether in their own journaling or internal process, to sort of explore their feelings.
On this end of the continuum those that experience loss might be described as “Being Grief.”
Instrumental Grievers often will talk about it in very physical or cognitive ways: “I just kept thinking about the person. I kept running over it in my mind. I felt I was kicked in the stomach. I felt somebody punch me.”
When you ask them how grief was expressed, sometimes they’ll be curious about that question.
They might respond at first “I guess I didn’t express much grief,” but then when you really talk to them about it, they’ll say, “I did talk about the person a lot” or “I was very active in setting up this scholarship fund.” They may not always recognize that as an expression of grief.
On this end of the continuum those that experience loss might be described as “Doing Grief.”
Grieving is part of the normal human experience, a part that even Jesus shared, and shouldn’t be viewed as unspiritual.
So how can we acknowledge our grief, yet move through it with measured steps toward growth and maturity, instead of dissolving into lifelong bitterness and resentment? It’s a matter of perspective.
It is our perspective that will determine whether our reaction to loss will be common or rare. If our perspective is strictly horizontal, focused on the things of this world, then we cannot escape mere hopeless grief.
Stephen Colbert is a comedian. He took the place of David Letterman as host of The Late Show. Just before he took that position he did and interview about his life and he disclosed that when he was ten years old his father and brother were killed in a plane crash. It devastated him, but it also drove him deeper into faith in Jesus.
In the interview, Colbert described the time that J.R.R. Tolkien received a letter from a priest complaining that his novels and short stories weren’t theologically correct because they treated death as a gift, rather than a punishment for sin after the Fall:
“Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
For someone who has been through so much emotional devastation as a young boy, one would not be surprised to see him lash back at the dark clouds of life with a steady flow of comedic cynicism and snark – a common currency for stand-up comedians.
Instead, Colbert responds counterintuitively. “I’m not angry. I’m not. I’m mystified, I’ll tell you that. But I’m not angry…. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”
This is someone who can look at a weak and dark moment and realize that God was there.
If you read the entire book of Job, do you know what you discover? His friends all leave. He never gets his kids back. He never gets an explanation from God why his life fell apart. His wife is still with him. Sure, he gets more kids and he obtains more wealth.
But one thing he gets that is more valuable than kids, wife, possessions, health, and friends—he gets God.
Have you recently suffered a loss? Maybe the wound is still tender; maybe it’s too early to know why. Frankly, you may never know why! But through it all, believe me, God has not left you. He is there. He will never walk away.