It’s interesting: if you had asked either Jordan or I just a week ago about how we have been doing with our loss lately, we would both have answered “fine!” We might say something along the lines of, “Of course we are still sad and miss our son, but overall we have been doing fine lately.” But this past week, our perception of how we have been handling it was blown out of the water. As we approach Salem’s due date this upcoming week, we have come to realize just how much our world has changed and how our mourning has shaped the ways that we have been functioning in life and in marriage.
July has been a busy month for us. The first week in July was spent packing everything we own in boxes. The second week was spent moving and unpacking. The third week we were at the beach with my side of the family. The fourth week we were in the mountains of Virginia with some friends for a spiritual retreat – which is where the heart of this blog post began.
On our beach trip, I wasn’t feeling or thinking much about anything really. I was just enjoying the sand and the water, the leisure and my family :). But Jordan and I had a bit of a rocky start to the week and even before the trip we had both referenced how our marriage seemed to be in a hard place and we weren’t entirely sure why. As the beach trip was coming to a close, I started feeling really sad. It was a heavy sadness that paralyzed me a bit. We stayed an extra day because I just didn’t want to leave, but the sadness still lingered deep within my soul in a way that kind of scared me. I knew that if I were to look that sadness in the face it might take over my whole being and cripple me. So I chose to avoid it instead, where it just simmered below the surface of my appearance, threatening to overtake me at any minute. It felt like it was slowly eating away at my heart, but I refused to acknowledge it.
Coming into the mountain trip, I started to fall apart. The sadness was getting stronger and I really started to shut down and withdraw into myself. When I mentioned to Jordan that I wasn’t sure why I was wrestling with sadness, he pointed out to me that we are getting really close to Salem’s due date. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I honestly had not thought about Salem or our loss recently. But it made so much sense as to why I would be feeling sad. It is crazy how our bodies and our emotions can respond to things that are in our subconscious even when they are not on our minds!
One morning on the trip, I found the sadness gripping me in such a strong way, I could not avoid it. With so many adults around to keep an eye on Riley, I escaped into a little garden area and just started weeping. I thought of Salem for the first time in a while and it was so painful that it almost took my breath away. As I sat there weeping, a very surprising question came to my mind: Do I really want to be in a relationship with God anymore? I’m not sure what caught me off guard more – the fact that I asked myself this question, or that my response was, “I’m not sure if I do.” As I sat there I thought about how appealing it sounded to just give up. To just pull away from everyone and everything and lock away the key to my heart. To just escape into myself and hibernate. At the same time, I knew that I could not actually walk away from God because I know the truth. I know why we are here and why this world is a mess and what happens in the end. I know the gospel and I believe the gospel. So I can’t really throw in the towel all together. I just don’t want a daily relationship with God right now. I don’t really want to read His word or talk to Him and meet with Him. BUT I also know that I can’t just have my ticket to salvation without a growing and daily relationship with God. It’s one or the other. This was conflicting my soul. I wondered how long I had felt this way without acknowledging it.
One thing that was a huge gift about this particular trip was that each couple there was given the opportunity to meet with a Spiritual Director for 2 hours while the other couples watched our kids, and then we would also have the opportunity to go out on a date so we could process it together. Our meeting with Joe (the Spiritual Director) was incredibly enlightening, helpful, and I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say it was life changing.
I realized that this was not the first time I had withdrawn. That actually, I have been slowly withdrawing since January when we lost our son. As Jordan put it – I have been externally functional, but internally I had been shutting down and shutting people out. Especially the Lord and Jordan. This has been affecting my life and my marriage. Perhaps some of my friendships as well, I’m not sure. I’ve been too busy licking my wounds to accurately evaluate the relationships in my life. But one of the things that has been happening (Joe helped to point this out) is that I have been feeling and saying that I want the Lord and Jordan to pursue me, but at the same time I am running 50 miles an hour in the opposite direction. I’ve been saying, “Come and get me!” but I won’t actually let them get to me. I remember there being a time a couple of months ago when I felt that God was asking me to give this pregnancy over to him. After a day of wrestling with that request and shedding many tears my final answer was, “No. I just can’t.” Jordan pointed out that there have been many days when he has come home from work and asked about my day but I would respond with, “I don’t have anything to tell you about my day.” I don’t think it was in a mean spirit or tone of voice, but I had started building walls around my heart in an effort to self-protect, even if I wasn’t aware of it.
One thing that was interesting was that Joe asked us where we were angry and what we were angry at. While Jordan was able to list off several different things, I had said, “I don’t think I’m angry. I have felt angry at other people at times for saying insensitive things, but I have not felt angry at God at all.” But Joe pointed out that withdrawal can be a form of anger. It’s saying, “You can’t have any more of me!” I had never thought of that before and for the first time I realized that I probably am angry with God, even if I didn’t experience the emotion of anger.
Joe told me that I had a choice to make. I have the choice to shut down and withdraw into myself. To keep running from God and from my husband. But he cautioned that I should seriously consider the implications of that. He encouraged me to think about what that will really mean for my life and what it will look like if I continue down that path. And then I have to ask myself: is that really what I want? Is that really how I want to go through life? If my answer to that question is, “no” then I need to take small steps toward God and toward Jordan. It may not mean that I am able to quickly just jump back into the intimacy and the same place that I was in before; it may mean that each day I take whatever little space I do have and offer it to God and to Jordan. To say, “There is a small crack in the door to my heart right here, and I want to give it to you. I want you to walk into it.” Baby steps.
But perhaps the even greater question Joe pointed out was the same one I had asked myself earlier in the week: Do I still want a relationship with God?
He pointed out to us that after this huge loss in our lives, our entire understanding of the world and of God had been shattered. Now we are having to navigate this new world and form a new understanding of God. He said that even if we knew these things about God, this had not been our experience of God in our lives up until this point, and that changes everything. We are at a crossroads where we have to decide if we still want to walk with God given this new reality of Him. He said that he has known several grown men who have walked with God a long time (and even had ministry jobs like his) who had come to this crossroads and had chosen the path apart from God. The weight of this reality really pressed upon me. It is kind of scary how fickle our hearts can be and how quick we can be to turn away from our Savior.
I thought about this and told Joe that I know I do still want a relationship with God. Yes, shutting down can seem alluring to me at times, but I know that is no way to live life. I think that if I had continually walked with God since becoming a Christian at 11 years old, this might actually be a turning point for me. I might actually walk away from Him, at least for a little while. But since that is not the case, since I had walked away from Him for 4 years of my life already, I really don’t want to do it again. I want to stay with Him. Because I know how miserable it is to live without Him. I spent 4 years looking for what only Jesus can give me in everything but Him and I was always left wanting. I was empty and desperate for love and acceptance and purpose. I have experienced the fact that it can only be found in Him and I shudder at the thought of going back to a life without Him as the center of it. I never want that again.
I left our meeting with Joe feeling renewed and full of hope. For the first time in a while, I desired to meet with God. I craved His word. I told Him that I still want Him, and asked Him to help me each day to give Him whatever I have to offer and to let Him in. Jordan and I went on our date that night and really felt connected to each other for the first time in a long time. I actually gave him a little of my heart again that night. We ate delicious burgers and laughed together and dreamed about our future together and enjoyed the beautiful breeze and absence of humidity in Lexington.
Grief really is a process and loss re-shapes our life. When you lose someone you love, you never really “get over it.” I am so thankful that God doesn’t expect us to get over it and that He wants to get in it with us. With me. That He loves and pursues people as messy as me. It is humbling to realize just how quickly and easily I could walk away from Him. Praise Jesus that He has kept me in Him time and time again, no matter how often I have pulled away. These lyrics keep ringing in my head and they are my prayer today – both for myself and for any of you who may be experiencing similar things:
“O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.”
Some vacation pics: