Grief takes many forms and one that often catches us short is grief for someone who’s still living. We watch them cycle in and out of hard choice after bad circumstance, praying, begging God to rescue and hoping that this time — this time — will cause a change. It’s a joy to welcome Abby McDonald, author of Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God, to share how her hope changed when her perspective changed.
The antidote to loss of hope when we grieve someone who’s living.
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I was fresh out of words. With arms folded across my chest, I looked out the bay window as if I might find fresh fire for my prayers. It seemed as though each one fell flat or hit some invisible wall, not reaching the place I needed it to.
For years, I didn’t realize you could grieve a living person. In my mind, grief was reserved for those who left this life for the next or perhaps those fighting a terminal illness. But someone still alive? I didn’t see it.
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Until one day, through a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend, I knew this was what I felt. I saw that I was not only consumed by grief over a loved one’s addiction, but bitterness over God’s lack of an answer to constant prayers.
For years, the weight of both burdened me, and my trust waned.
During a long season after becoming a mom, I hardened myself against hope. Prior to this, my grief followed a cyclical pattern, reaching its height with each relapse. Throughout months of rehab, the promise of healing would rise, only to later be crushed. I thought if I threw my hope away altogether, it wouldn’t hurt as much.
One day when my son was eighteen months old, I sat on our sofa reading a book that our home church recommended. When I stopped to ponder the words, God showed me the giant wall of distrust I’d put up between us. Even though his love toward me had never changed, I wasn’t approaching him like a Father.
Instead of approaching God through a lens of trust, I approached God like a child who feared abandonment.
If we look in scripture, we see a different definition of hope than the one I carried for many years. Hope doesn’t come from seeing the answer or getting what I want. It is a direct fruit of the Holy Spirit living in me, and comes from my belief and reliance on him.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13 ESV
Through a series of Christian counseling sessions, God shifted my thinking. I realized it was okay for me to grieve, but this wasn’t the place he wanted me to stay.
God wanted me to move my hope for a specific outcome to hope in Him.
When I did this, I realized:
1. I can have confident hope that God is the ultimate Healer.
When God healed the blind, lame man lying by the pool, he asked him a question first. “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6) Although the man had plenty of excuses for not being able to make it to the healing power of the water, God saw through them. And he gave a reminder that applies to each of us today: Healing requires faith in action. Each of us is given a will, and it’s our choice whether or not to receive what God freely offers us.
2. I can have confident hope that God will never stop speaking the truth through his Spirit.
When we shift our hope in results to the One who is Hope, we can carry confidence in our gait. We can pray with fervor and resolve because we realize this is not a physical battle we are fighting. It is spiritual. It is each person’s own choice whether they choose to stand on the Rock of truth or the lies of the enemy. But even when people make the wrong choice, the truth doesn’t change. And neither does God’s heart toward them.
God wants our trust to go beyond what we can see with our eyes, but this type of trust takes a lifetime of practice and growth. Sometimes we falter when life disappoints us, a loved one makes poor choices or our prayers go seemingly unanswered.
The good news is that God is still there, waiting for us to come back to One who never changes with life’s circumstances.
Let’s spend some time focusing on the attributes that drew us to him when he first called us. Was it his love, his grace or mercy? I can promise you, those attributes are still there, inviting us back into the peace of his presence today.
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If we want to see God in the midst of our struggles, we have to change the way we look for him. Abby’s new book, Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God, is filled with insights to help you do so. Abby is a writer, speaker, wife, and mom whose work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, (in)Courage, Crosswalk, and more. Her passion is to empower women to grow in faith, even when life is messy. Abby lives with her husband, three children, and mischievous lab in western Maryland. You can download “The Daughter’s Manifesto” as her free gift to you at abbymcdonald.org.