Ultimately, as believers, we practice emotional avoidance when we fail to accept and process our emotions in light of the gospel. Now, the gospel is not just a “get of hell free card” that tells us how to make it into heaven. It is the good news of redemption for us individually and for the entire world. The gospel tells us the news of how God has redeemed the brokenness of humanity through the life and work of Jesus Christ. This redemption not only has implications for our life after death, it has implications for our life on earth now. As we walk in step with his gospel, God transforms our lived experience on earth as we await eternity with him, and this transformation includes our emotions. Only as we live in the truth of the gospel are we able to rightly process the longing we feel.
During my second year in seminary my grandmother died. She had been diagnosed with cancer that previous summer and within seven months the cancer took her life. I don’t have words for how hard it was to see my grandmother deteriorate over those few months. One of the reasons I had moved down to Dallas two years earlier was to be with her and now she was gone. My grief was overwhelming, appearing in sporadic, but raging, waves of tears and deep sorrow. Noticing my emotional struggles, a friend invited me to join her for an art class at a local art studio. For the next three months, every week I would spend three hours in a mosaics class, cutting glass, and gluing it to a wooden picture frame.
Honestly, the time I spent in that class was so healing for me. Each week I would spend those three hours working on my art project while being present with the Lord in the silence of my pain. Somehow, in that space, the Lord brought healing for my soul. My grief didn’t go away completely, but, with the Lord, I was able to process my pain through my art. Now, the Bible doesn’t prescribe art classes as the standard way for dealing with the loss of a loved one. But, I know enough about the gospel to know that the art wasn’t what healed me. For those few months, the gospel helped me to rightly understand my grief and through that lens, I could see how God used art to heal my heart and refresh my soul. Why? Because with the precision by which I had to cut and place each tile piece, I was reminded about the precise way in which God made a beautiful world, and then followed through with his plans for its restoration, even when sin and suffering turned it ugly. As I was reminded of his faithfulness to restore all of creation, I could confidently trust that he would be faithful to bring beauty from the ashes of my pain. So I grew to expect his character to show up in my life, reminding me of the beauty of my grandmother’s life and the hope that, because of her faith, I would see her again in eternity.
I will be the first to say that the truth I clung to in that season of loss, I have quickly forgotten in other seasons. I have forgotten that God is present with me in my pain, and that he is better than any coping mechanism I could try to replace him with. For, in the moments I need comfort, he is who true comfort comes from. When I feel unsafe, he is my refuge and protector. When I feel ashamed and embarrassed, he welcomes me with the same love by which he saved me. And, when I feel angry, he is my advocate and avenger. Most of all, his comfort, protection, love and justice never expire and never fail.
*Excerpted with permission from Embrace Your Life by Elizabeth Woodson. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.