Traces of grief may always remain, it changed me,
the real victory is not in the deleting the effects,
but in the triumphing over them. Paula Rose-Parish
When we plan to take a journey of some kind, we take time to prepare. We are savvy travellers, so we ensure that we have our navigation tools in hand, ensuring that they work as they should. We then become familiar with them before we get on the road. The visit to the fuel station guarantees that we will complete our journey. If we don’t, there is a good chance of getting lost, taking a detour, or not getting to our intended destination at all. Now we have a goal, we have a plan, we are ready to begin our journey. Approach this chapter in this same way. Use it as a preparation for your journey through this book. It will get you started on the path to recovery. I write in a particular way, and in this chapter, I reveal why. The usage of the Psalm and my specific application of words are explained. When we are bereaved, we can get exhausted. Therefore, I want this journey through grief to be straightforward as it possibly can be for you.
I am a child of the 50s and have seen a lot of life. I’ve lived and worked in four countries and visited a whole lot of others. The journey through life, from the very beginning to end, make us who we are. I must have been about ten years old when my very favourite saying became ‘Good Grief Charlie Brown!’ I would say it all the time, and it became somewhat of a trademark for me, it was my catchphrase. I didn’t know that I had dyslexia (not diagnosed until in my late 40s). Dyslexia was unknown within the educational system at the time. Therefore, there was no provision for remedial teaching. Without the support I needed, I hadn’t read a book in full until I was well into my 20s. Reading exhausted me, so I gave up in the first few pages, unable to comprehend the storyline, context or the words. Thinking back, I seriously tried my hardest at school, but not everyone saw it that way. I could read a little bit, but not enough to keep up with my grades. My teachers reported to my parents that I was lazy, which would add to my overwhelming sense of failure. Tearfully I shouted, ‘I am trying, I just can’t read, I just can’t’, and they would fire back at me ‘there’s no such word as can’t’ and told me to try harder. I was doing so badly that I had to repeat grade two twice! Then I failed in every year of primary school as well. I didn’t have the grades I need to attend high school, but because I was older than my peers; I was ‘put up’ to secondary school – as they called it. To be expected, I was put in the lowest set. Having an awful time, I only lasted there for six months; leaving in favour of the workplace at the age of fifteen years old. Try as I might, I just didn’t get hold of what was going on in the classroom. I couldn’t follow the thread of ideas, and the bullies duly took advantage of my weakness.
On several occasions, a group of boys and girls were waiting for me at the school gate and chased me all the way home after roughing me up. Growing up in the Australian school system in the 1950s and 60s wasn’t easy. We had to be tough enough to defend ourselves when needed. And it would always help of course if you were a fast runner, and I was. My inferiority heightened when my classmates and family devoured books like they were going out of fashion. They would tell me how easy it was to read, so why couldn’t I? Feeling very alone and misunderstood, I began to withdraw into myself. No way would I visit the school library except for a compulsory session in class. I didn’t understand why I had to attend the library when I couldn’t read properly. The whole system confused me. I quickly became overwhelmed by the hundreds of books housed on myriads of intimidating shelves.
Then one day, while trying to avoid the bullies, and I found myself wandering into the school library, and it was there that I discovered a small book. It was brief enough that I managed to read it almost to the end. I loved that little book, with its cute cartoons on every page which portrayed the adventures of Charlie Brown. I liked Charlie, he was an unusual little boy, and I found that I could relate to him, bless him. In Charlie, there was a small reflection of myself. Like me, Charlie was of short stature, inconspicuous, ordinary, and unremarkable. And like me, he was misunderstood. Charlie had a habit of making silly mistakes, he would say stupid things and did things out of the ordinary, and that is when his friends would exclaim, Good Grief Charlie Brown! I definitely could relate to him.
I suffered my first real experience of grief when I split from my fiancé of three years. I was still saying ‘good grief’ as my catchphrase, but now I knew that grief had nothing GOOD about it. In the end, my favourite little motto became a thing of the past -sorry Charlie! Whether it’s death, divorce a job loss or anything else that causes us to grieve, all are difficult to cope with. Whatever the circumstances, grief forces us to say goodbye to someone or something we hold dear. Grieving is such a personal and individual thing; we all experience it in our own way. I remember the sorrow I felt when I left my home country of Australia, creating a new home overseas. The anguish of saying goodbye to family. My obligations in ministry took me around the world, so I repeatedly had to leave dear friends behind, and sadness became a familiar figure. I was living 15,000 miles away from Australia, when my mother, who lived there died. I felt sad when I couldn’t be with her in her last days. The sorrow deepened when I couldn’t help my sisters to care for our aged Dad – there’s nothing good about grief.
You, Will, Have Troubles
I share a little my own story throughout this book, so you know that you are not alone in this. I want you to see that there is someone who can empathise. My purpose is to help you understand your own Troubles and learn to manage them, so you can live a happy and fulfilling life. No real language exists, that clearly expresses the reality of the deep pain of grief. In 1976 I came to faith in Christ and began to attend church and was told by well-meaning people, that all my problems have ended.
I believed them. They assured me that I had found a trouble-free life! It wasn’t long before I found out that this idea was terribly dishonest. When the problems began, I was convinced that something was wrong with me. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Discouraged and very confused, I believed that I must have done something wrong, it was my fault somehow. I already had low self-esteem, and this only compounded my sense of helplessness and hopelessness. My God encounter was genuine. I hung on tightly to that experience as the turmoil swirled around me. I began to research God’s word for myself and found the truth of the matter. What I was told was a lie, things do go wrong for people of faith. Bad things happen to good people. And that is OK, that’s life! Every human being on the planet lives through sorrow in different ways and measures, and always will. You can imagine my relief to find this was nothing unusual and that there was nothing wrong with me after all. Many teachings in the Scriptures point out that we will have troubles in this life, especially if we follow Christ closely as His disciples. Don’t be surprised by what you are experiencing, God is with you. The real problem arises when we don’t know what to do with our troubles. We wonder how on earth will we get through this! And how do we survive this phase of mourning, and not allow it to immobilise us in some way? How can we make sense of what is happening?
In God’s Name
To be able to embrace God as a friend as we journey through the valley of the shadow, we need to identify who God actually is. One of the ways we do this is by looking into His Name. This is because God’s Name reveals His character, intention, and fundamental nature. When we name our children, we give them a first and surname, and sometimes more. And we often don’t consider what the meaning of it may be. However, this rule does not apply to God. Meanings of names are particularly important. The babies of the bible were named according to the particular meaning of that name. Some people may not realise it but, there is no first name or surname that is applied to the Creator of the Universe. God is not a John or an Eric or even a Fred, for example. But what we believe are names for God are actually descriptions of Gods nature, character, and actions. For instance, Jehovah-Raah, which means The Lord, my Shepherd. A shepherd is a role description, not a name of a person. Jehovah is not a name either. Translated as The Existing One or Lord. So again, it describes who God is. Also, it suggests becoming or specifically to become known. This implies that God always discloses who He is. A shepherd is the one who feeds or leads his flock to pasture (Ezekiel 34:11-15). An extended translation is a friend or companion. This indicates the intimacy that God desires between Himself and His people and can be understood as The Lord, my Friend. Untangling the Name like this reveals to us that God is our friend, guide, companion and is the ever-existing One. The One who loves and cares for His sheep. The Lord, my Shepherd.and we see who God is in the Good Shepherd who is Jesus Christ.
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