Imagine standing on a beach with your little ones. Grief is rolling toward you like the waves. The kids don’t see it. They just want to splash in the water and play in the sand. Their joy is overwhelming and only heightens your pain. You feel empty and a storm within is stirring, but you want to be stronger for them. What you don’t realize is that if you give yourself permission to grieve, you will be.
Waiting versus Wasting
We only need to be on social media for five minutes to feel the pressure to make the MOST out of COVID-19. Pascaline was telling me about a post that said something like; If you haven’t written a book, learned a foreign language, started a new business idea, or lost weight during this time, you have no excuse. I beg to differ.
The excuse that is real and worthy is found in the waiting where grief often lives. My friend texted me a powerful quote this morning; To us, waiting is wasting. To God waiting is working. (Louie Giglio)
The Waiting Room of God
My heart identifies with that quote. Throughout my life, I have lost much. In times of grief, I have found myself in what I call the “Waiting Room of God”. There is nothing to hurry with grief. It’s more of a sacred space in waiting. Waiting for the pain to not hurt so much. Waiting for the loss to not feel so immediate. Then scrambling to hold on to the pain and loss because that is all you have left of the one you love.
In the Waiting Room of God, I’ve memorized all the cracks in the ceiling. The elevator music is on repeat. People have come in after me, and somehow they have also left before me. I wonder if God has forgotten my name is on the list. That I need to see the Healer too. But I’m in a tug of war with healing. I want healing, but I don’t want to move on without the one(s) I love.
Maybe it’s not the death of a loved one. Instead it’s the death of expectations or disruption to our rhythm of life. Any unwanted or unexpected change warrants permission to grieve.
This is Where I Meet Grief
Grief is like a favorite aunt with no agenda. She enters the waiting room, and sees me sitting in the far corner. Instead of sitting right next to me, she leaves an empty chair between us because grief creates space. She acknowledges the need for space while validating my need to not be alone.
She doesn’t ask me how I’m doing. Grief just sits with me, waits with me, and holds a space for the pain–the empty chair between us. That empty chair gives me permission to grieve.
So many losses have sat in that chair. When Brian and I miscarried Aidan, all our lost hopes and expectations for him sat in that chair. At 19, when I locked myself into a psychiatric ward, my pain sat in that chair. When my grandmother died last year, I couldn’t open my eyes because I felt her so close in that empty chair. When my oldest left for college, I felt part of my identity as a parent sit in that chair.
Dreams I have poured everything into and never came to pass have sat in that chair. Unanswered prayers I have relentlessly pressed into heaven with have waited in that chair.
You see, we don’t enter the Waiting Room of God alone. We enter with every loss, and they deserve a place to sit. Even though others can’t see them, their presence is more than real to us. That’s why grief leaves the chair between us empty.
Waste or Worth
Productivity is praised so much in our society. But it isn’t allowed in the Waiting Room of God. This isn’t a space to find the silver lining, or hustle at a new level. This is a place to be still and wait for God to answer. But this goes against our culture. The mental battle begins. Are we wasting our time in this Waiting Room of God? Or is God actually working on our behalf, and we just can’t see it?
What to Expect from Grief
In a split second, loss is triggered. I can be having a great day, and then all of a sudden I see a woman that reminds me of my grandma. I hear a mom call her son Aidan. Or I walk into Target, and it’s decorated for Valentine’s Day–the anniversary of being date raped over twenty-five years ago. With every unexpected trigger, I am given the permission to grieve. Here’s what I’ve come to expect from Grief;
- When Grief visits, it’s always unexpected.
- Grief makes me tired. Not immobile or unable to function but very tired. I tend to need more sleep and struggle to focus until the grief passes.
- Watching a movie is an appropriate thing to do when grieving. The heart and mind need breaks too.
- I know Grief will visit me for the rest of my life. At first, I used to fight against this. But now I see her coming as a chance to remember the ones I’ve loved, the expectations I had to let go of.
- Everyone’s timeline for grief is different. And it often lasts longer than we expect.
- Grief mobilizes me. Depression immobilizes me.
The Difference Between Grief and Depression
I’ve met many people who are afraid to grieve because they confuse it with depression. But depression is night and day different. Instead of a favorite aunt coming to visit and sit beside me, depression barges into the Waiting Room of God. It’s words tell me I “should” feel different. Grief has never used the word should with me.
Depression tells me I’m weak for being back in this spot. Grief is always available and never rushes me. Depression tells me I’ll be stuck here forever and feeling the pain will only cause me to sink deeper and deeper. Grief tells me this too shall pass, and when I embrace the pain that activates the passing.
Lies come with depression. Depression tells me no one cares. I’m failing my family, myself and my business. Grief tells me that not everyone understands, but I’ll have more to give the ones I love because I understand pain more. Depression tells me that at some point I’ll never remember the pain, so if I am I must not be any better. Grief is always honest. She says I’ll always remember the pain on some level because I loved so deeply, but in it I will also find my strength.
If You are Still Reading…
I wrote this for you to give yourself permission to grieve. I see you on the shoreline afraid to wade into the waters. Maybe you’ve tried wading in and been crushed by the breaking waves. As our pastor once said, the shallow waters is a dangerous place to stay. In the shallows, you get tossed around, knocked down and swallow a ton of water. But when you dive into the waves, pushing past the breaking point, and into the deep…everything changes.
You can float on your back in the deep. The waves roll through you versus over you. Even the storm clouds bring a refreshing rain that cleanses you. When you are ready, you flip over and leave the surface to dive down into the deep where mysteries wait to be discovered and understood. Where everything is quiet.
COVID-19 is not a time to be more productive than ever. It’s a time to listen and honor what you hear. If grief is speaking to you, let’s go to the Waiting Room of God together. Let’s keep the empty chair between us until the Healer calls our name, and we’re ready to enter. Let’s dive into the waves, and swim out past the shore.
My Mailman Asked Me the Most Profound Question
For ten years, I passed her on her mail route. Every day we’d wave to each other during my morning walk. She was an older Chinese woman. We never talked much more than hellos. And then one day she stopped and said, “Is it okay if I ask you something?”
I looked at her and smiled having no idea what she wanted to ask.
“Of course,” I said.
“I don’t even know your name, but I have to ask you this. Why do you keep fishing in the shallow waters when you know that the only thing that will sustain you is found in the deep?”
I was speechless. My heart quickened and leaned in.
“In the deep, the fish are much larger. But the water is colder, and it’s darker. Harder to see. That’s why we’re afraid of the deep, but you don’t have to be. You were meant to swim in the deep waters. You were never meant to be afraid of the dark,” she finished.
My chest shook from the tears that started to pour out. It’s like she was an angel who had been watching over me all these years. Before seeing her that day, I had been walking for the thousandth time asking God if we should sell our home and film a family travel show. For two years, I did the same morning walk and asked the same question. I was in the Waiting Room of God. And the least likely person, the mailwoman is who God used to call my name and bring an answer. I went home that day and told Brian I was finally ready to risk it all.
Embrace the Waiting
If you’re in the Waiting Room of God, embrace the wait. Don’t give up and leave before the Healer calls your name. Wait with your pain, loss and unanswered prayers. Keep the empty chair next to you. See Grief’s kind eyes, filled with patience and gentleness. Know that you are not alone. It’s okay if you don’t learn a foreign language, start a new business, or lose weight. To hear the Healer call your name, the way you need to hear it, even through a mailwoman, is better than all of those other pursuits.
The Shortest, Most Powerful Verse
One of the shortest verses is one of the most powerful to me. In John 11:35 it says “Jesus wept.” His close friend Lazarus had died four days prior. If you’ve heard the story of Lazarus, you know Jesus raises him from the dead. So why did he weep beforehand? There are many schools of thought on this. Some say Jesus was weeping because of the people’s unbelief. But that sounds like an impatient, judgemental God. That’s not the God I know and serve. I believe He wept to create a space for our own grief. In that moment, He made our grief worthy. Before there was any hope of a silver lining, Jesus validated the pain.
If you have lost a loved one during this season, give yourself permission to grieve. You are worthy of it. You are loved. If you are grieving the loss of expectations and uncertainty, allow those things space in that empty chair. You are a complex, beautiful soul that is worthy of giving yourself room to feel the pain.
Song for the Season
If the elevator music in the Waiting Room of God is getting old, Take Courage is one of my favorite ones to play. The first words are “Slow down, take time, breathe in…”
Fill Your Tank with More Hope
Click this link to schedule a Discovery Call with our wonderful team. Through a series of thoughtful questions, your photographic experience will help you discover and celebrate what means most in this season of life.
Family is a Work of Art
Permission to Grieve was written for all my friends who have lost someone during COVID-19, as well as those who are struggling to cope with lost expectations and dreams. My heart is with you.