When I was in high school, my Dad was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I remember one of our friends driving us home from school, and pulling up to the house with my Grandma waiting on the porch. She told us we needed to go to the hospital to see my Dad, but she wouldn’t tell us anything else. Our Dad wanted to be the one to talk to us, and when he did, the news wasn’t great.
I remember the small glass room to the right of a staircase where we sat and heard that he had testicular cancer, and would be heading straight to surgery, and then we’d know more. I remember hearing that they “caught it early,” and he’d be okay. I remember sitting on the floor of the waiting area while people who knew my Dad flooded in for comfort. One pastor friend stayed the whole night. My Mom insisted that we go home and get some rest; my brother and sister left, but I begged to stay. Surgery went until 1am, and my Mom and I went to see my Dad in recovery before going home to finally sleep.
I know the Lord took care of us, and saved my Dad. I know my Dad has been in remission for more than 15 years, and I know that the Lord had a plan for that moment. I know that it caused him to take a bigger interest in his own health and wellness. He stopped drinking diet coke, started riding his bike, and seeing a counselor. I know it changed his life for the better. I know it taught me that my Dad is not invincible, but that my heavenly father is. I know these things now, and I knew then that God had a purpose for the fear, anxiety, and grief of those months in our lives.
I know that God knew what he was doing, but I also know that it was hard, and there were times of sorrow. When my Dad had the surgery, they were able to remove all of the cancerous cells. He only had to do radiation and not chemo. We were so grateful for all of those facts, but there was so much to grieve alongside of those things. My Dad missed a lot in the months that followed his operation. He missed a season of coaching cross country. He was tired and sick for most of it, and it was hard to see him on those days. He had to take a step back from ministry for a couple months from a church he had just planted a couple years prior. And sometimes I thought, “I just need to be grateful because he’s alive,” but I don’t think God was thinking that. I think God was saying, “Ondi, this is hard, I’ve got a plan, but I’m here to comfort you through this sorrow. In fact, that’s part of the plan.”
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
I am so grateful that our journey with cancer was quick, and not filled with greater loss, and that it was and is clearly part of what God had planned for our lives. I am also so grateful that during this current time in our world that I am safe, my husband has a job, and my kids are young and not deep into school and friendships and extracurriculars. I trust that God has a greater plan for all of this, and that someday it will be clear that this was part of some big grand something all along. There can be deep sorrow and grieving alongside our hope in the Lord, and our faith that he will redeem all of this for our good. We can grieve over things we are missing, and be hopeful that God is doing big important things in his time; these two things can coincide. It is not either or, it is all of it, together.
I think that God wants us to lean into what we’ve lost in the midst of trusting that he’s got a plan; he wants us to lean into his comfort. I think it’s okay for me to be sad that my eldest daughter doesn’t get to finish out kindergarten with her friends, and my middle daughter doesn’t get to finish out her last year at the preschool that has grown her so much. I think it’s okay to grieve the fact that my best friend is on the other side of the country and hurting, and if this were a year ago, she’d be here and we’d be surviving this together. I think its okay to grieve these things, and also believe and trust that God is good, and sovereign, and planning something huge in the midst of all of this pain.
I don’t think I need to just push it all down and be grateful that my family and I don’t have the virus. I don’t think I need to hide my sadness because my kids are relatively unaffected and not missing graduation or lasts of any major kind. I don’t need to hide my grief over missing my family, and my gym membership because I should be grateful that my husband has a job, and my family is safe. We need to be grateful of course, but we also need to be allowed and encouraged to grieve.
When Jesus went to the cross to be crucified, he knew the greater plan. He knew that when he went up to the cross and endured terrible pain, and left his friends alone, and his family in sorrow that he would also be saving all of mankind. He knew all of this, yet he begged for mercy from his father, and cried out in agony that if there was any other way to let it be so. He cried literal blood from his eyes in grief. He knew this moment was good, great, life-changing, but he also knew there would be loss and sorrow attached. He knew the greater good would be his death on the cross and resurrection, but he grieved the temporary pain it would cause. He grieved his friends finding out he was dead, even though he knew they’d soon see him alive again. He grieved not living on this earth any longer, even though it meant he’d be in heaven with his father.
If Jesus can grieve when he knew his actions would save the world and change the course of mankind forever, then we can grieve our littles not seeing their friends for months on end, and still trust that he’s got a plan. We can grieve not being able to hold our friends newborns that are born in this time, and believe that God is working for our good. We can grieve not seeing our elderly grandparents, or parents, yet also know that there is deep growth happening. We can grieve missing graduations, proms, church services, birthdays, and coffee dates, and have faith that God is completing a work in our world. In the midst of our trusting that God’s got this under control, we can still grieve what we’re missing.
We can grieve our temporary pain even when we know the greater good is coming. This sorrow and grief is not a sign that we don’t trust God, it’s a sign that we have loved the gifts he’s given us and feel so deeply their absence. If you’re hesitant to grieve because it’s not the worst that could happen, don’t be. If you feel like grieving means you don’t trust that God has a plan, that’s not how it is. Jesus was full of grief as he went to the cross, yet he trusted God more than anyone ever has. His grief did not negate his trust, and neither does yours. This is hard. We’re missing out on the life we once knew, the life we had planned for our future. We can know and trust in God, and still miss what we thought would be good.
I grieved the small losses of my Dad as my coach for every practice, picking me up from school, leading worship, and giving the sermon at church. Even in my gratitude for life, and no chemo, and no recurrence of cancer, I grieved the tiny losses that hurt my heart. If it hurts your heart, even a little, give yourself the freedom to grieve. We know this time will be good, eventually, but we don’t need to hide that it hurts.