By P.A. Bragg—

After almost fifty years of living, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of pain: The pain of being outside God’s will, and the pain of being inside God’s will. Having experienced both, I’ve always said I’d take the latter any day. But, when my younger brother took his own life, I was tempted to rethink my preferences.

In the days following Jay’s death, grief paralyzed me in both body and soul. My journal from those first few weeks contained only two entries. The first was a black “X” across the entire page along with one sentence that read, “Everything—life as we knew it—changed forever.” The second entry simply said, “I can’t write.”

Someone once said, “Grief is life’s greatest teacher.” I’m not far enough into the journey to pass judgment. When a wound is gaping wide, you don’t care about learning anything. Grief burns a hole through the center of your chest and, frankly, most mourners just want to pick a different teacher.

My friend, Micki Ann, understands suffering because she has suffered. A lot. She says, “Suffering is a seed we’re given to steward.” Several months after Jay’s death, Micki Ann gave me a handful of seeds. Even though there were days when I wanted to throw them back at her, I couldn’t deny the fact that her wisdom invited intrigue to inhabit my despair.

In an effort to prove my friend’s theory, I searched the scriptures. It didn’t take long to realize that the Apostle Paul had a real knack for stewarding his suffering. Stonings? Shipwrecks? Paul went through the wringer. That’s what makes him so credible. Given his ordeals, Paul’s words stopped my self-pity in its tracks on many nights. “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)

I believe Paul. I really do. It’s just that in the face of our present pain, eternal glory can seem so very far away. When I glance up from my computer and see the photos of Jay posted above it, glory’s gates couldn’t feel any farther away. On days like this, grief outweighs glory—hands down.

When I used to write essays and articles, I would conclude my thoughts with some neat and tidy resolution. But, grief isn’t neat, or tidy. It’s sloppy and snotty. Inconsolable and distressing. There is no closure, especially with death by suicide. Instead, there are only endless questions that will never be answered.

Grief makes a writer ramble. But I should at least be woman enough to confess what I can’t gloss over: I have no prescription for this pain. Truth be told, if the J-shaped hole in my heart could be filled with a prescription, I’d be the first person in line for that pill. I’m not trying to sound dramatic, just honest.

The temptation to shrink back from my sorrow and suffering is immense. But, there’s no evidence that grief’s purpose is to make us give up. Paul never backed off from God’s mission. Actually, the opposite is true. It was Paul’s pain that propelled God’s purpose, and he knew it. “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12 NIV, emphasis added.)

By faith, Paul pressed into his pain and in doing so, his pain shaped his purpose; giving it color and contrast and depth. And so, that’s all I know to do.

I press into my pain as I ponder God’s Word. I press into my pain as I grasp for Micki Ann’s seeds. I press into my pain as I pray that somehow, my lament will offer hope to yours. And, somewhere amidst all this pain and pressing, a tiny bud bursts through the dirt: What if suffering isn’t supposed to be a hazard, but a hallmark? What if suffering isn’t supposed to be avoided, but embraced? What if, instead of shrinking back, I seized my suffering? And, what if I let God till this unplowed ground, hoping against all hope, that what sprouts forth will become “an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”? (Isaiah 61:3b NIV)

God only knows what the seed of suffering might become. And, although there are still days I want to throw my seeds back, I have a sense that if I press into this pain hard enough, redemption will tip the scales in glory’s favor.

 

 

Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. ThroughInverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at www.ForThoseWhoWeep.com.

7 Comments

  1. 2-28-2013

    such a heart-wrenching story makes my heart ache for you, Penny. please know that my arms are mentally wrapping you up and i hurt with you. you are wise to embrace your pain and allow your spirit and heart to heal, no matter how long that takes. you will always have the pain of the scar, but i pray you will continue to look to God for His comfort and love. He loves you so much. thank you for sharing your pain.

    • 3-4-2013

      Shirley, thank you for your kindness and compassion. Your comment was deeply meaningful.

  2. 2-28-2013

    Penny, this article is one of the reasons that I believe God is allowing you to reach others through your pain. You are a gifted writer and a dear friend.

    • 3-4-2013

      My friend…thank you for your affirmation and encouragement. Not only did you helped me craft this article, but your compassion shaped my grief journey as well. Bless you, dear one. Bless you.

  3. 3-1-2013

    Shirley, thank you for your kindness and compassion. Your comment was deeply meaningful.

  4. 3-11-2013

    As a fellow traveler on this trail of grief, thanks for your compassion and support, Penny!

  5. 3-11-2013

    Rich, isn’t God amazing to allow us to grieve in community? It’s too hard to do this alone. Looking forward to our next meeting with the special group God has brought together. I appreciate your leadership and heart for God.

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