From the beginning of our Faith & Grief Gatherings, we have asked our ‘speakers’ (everyday people, working through their own grief) to address the question, how do your faith and grief intersect? One man said - “Intersection? For me, it was more like a collision!” In that, he expressed what I have heard from many – grief confronts what we have believed since we were children and forces us to look at our faith in new ways. Much like Job, many of us find ourselves having to learn to listen to something deeper than our friends’ flawed advice as we learn to trust ourselves and allow God to comfort us. But first, we need to be heard.
As a hospice chaplain, I once encountered a man who wanted nothing to do with the God who had allowed his wife to descend into the depths of Alzheimer’s. “My wife was a wonderful faithful person - she didn’t deserve such a fate!” – and he wanted nothing to do with a God who allowed it. Such a God who promises protection, who could intervene, but doesn’t, could be called either capricious or callous.
But this man also had a deep heritage in the church, a place which had fed him in the past. He was caught between a rock and hard place. Did he give up on this God, and throw away the comfort of connection? Or did he swallow his anger and pretend all was OK?
Over the months she was on hospice, we talked monthly. Telling her stories, and theirs, he found his grief began to take a new, more flexible shape – but it took rethinking who he thought God was. And why bad things happen to good people. If we can begin to see a deity who set in motion a world in which people have real choices and allows the consequences of those, we begin to comprehend that old ideas of prayer need revamping. Perhaps prayer does not work like a vending machine. Perhaps prayer is more about connection with one who loves us than protection from a precarious world.
Seeking awareness of God’s continuous presence in the midst of the inherent sadness, even tragedies of life, connects us with a deeper meaning of the holy. God does not exist to rescue us from life, but rather to be with us through it all.
This man, over the months before his wife’s death, eventually came to a new place, a place where the prayers of others could hold him until he was able to offer his own. It felt like transformation in a quiet, subtle way – as he began to allow himself to access the hope inherent in faith even in the midst of death.