Prior to a year ago, these words could not have come from me, nor would they have resonated with me. My life before to my brother’s death was full of trauma, but never tragedy. I am 33 years old and I had no idea what it was like to “walk through the valley” until May 2017. (1)
Somewhere between the blur of 2 and 3am, my phone rang. Frazzled, half asleep, slurring words, and still blissfully mid-dream, no idea of what terrors awaited me… my pillow vibrated forcefully under my head, beckoning my wake. I usually don’t even hear calls or texts in the middle of the night; this call reverberated through my entire being.
My brother was gone.
Unexpectedly. No rhyme or reason. By his own hand. At the tender age of 22, his candle snuffed out.
And we scream “THIS IS NOT HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE! IT’S NOT RIGHT! IT’S NOT FAIR!”
And, it’s not.
“…creation waits with eager longing… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… for we know that the whole of creation has been groaning… and not only creation, but we ourselves… groan inwardly as we wait [for] the redemption of our bodies.” (2)
Perhaps you have or will experience some of the things in your tragedy that I did in mine:
guilt, anxiety, depression, night terrors, memories of things I’d never seen, visions in the pitch black (classic PTSD), weeks of sinking into the couch, and barely moving enough to get by.
The WHY and HOW questions would not relent. I never could have guessed these things would happen to me, to my family!
I wasn’t ready for it, I couldn’t have prepared for it, and even when it happened, *I had no idea my mind would react in ways that weren’t my choice.*
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear… I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says.” (3)
Where do you go from that place? What’s next? All I wanted was TRUTH. The day we found out, I remember sobbing on the phone with my pastor and thinking “PLEASE tell me what I need to know! Please tell me he’s okay! Please tell me God is sovereign even over suicide!”
I wanted to bathe in Scripture. But I couldn’t stop dry-heaving!!
Pull out my Bible?! Where would I turn? To which of the thousands of pages? Nothing comes into focus through pools filled with tears.
I couldn’t recall a single thing! Only death death death! Gone gone! Pain! Anger! Questions! And devastation!
I wanted Scripture to magically transport time right now to His Kingdom Come – no more suffering, no more pain, no more loss, no more death… and yet, there I still sat.
Nothing removed the pain; the black void of grief threatened to consume me. Complex bereavement they labeled it.
“I just want to break things. There are not enough broken things in this world. A world that desperately avoids its brokenness is no world at all for me. A gospel that avoids death is not good news… I mourn those stories never to be told, those dreams never to come true. There is a hollowness inside my bones that I have no idea what to do with… The unanswerable questions taunt me, haunt me.” (4)
And then, somewhere in the midst of the maddening chaos… the Holy Spirit gave me a word.
A word I had mulled over for years.
A word that means so much more than I can even fathom…
A word that combines my resolve to His praise all-the-while trusting His sovereignty over every detail of this life –
without understanding, without answered questions, without knowing what the future holds…
it didn’t remove the pain. But, in His grace and mercy, He has allowed me to rest here.
Hallelujah (/ˌhælɪˈluːjə/ HAL-i-LOO-yə) is an English interjection. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הַלְלוּיָהּ , which is composed of two elements: הַלְלוּ (an exhortation to “praise” addressed to several people) and יָהּ (the name of God Jah or Yah). Jah or Yah is a short form of Yahweh, the proper name of God in the Hebrew Bible. (5)
For man’s chief end is to GLORIFY God, and to enjoy Him forever. (6) In all of our humanity, let us cry out – hallelujah.
Fetal position on the cold bathroom floor? I will sob your holy hallelujah.
When depression steals away my will, want, care, desire, I will whisper hallelujah.
When standing over that empty crib, the smashed car, the hospital bed… when standing over your own empty womb which refuses to be filled… Don’t You know my heart’s desires!?! O Lord, hear my broken hallelujah.
When your brother takes his own life… when your parent is snatched away… when that precious child wanders too far… when that spouse slams the door… God of mercy! I can’t! Hallelujah.
When there’s an unexpected knock, the phone rings in the night, that gut-wrenching feeling that something is very wrong… I will seek refuge in the HALLELUJAH!
Through the anguish and the heartache; amidst the vomit and the mucous pouring from my nose and lips… I will wail hallelujah!!!
With my fist to the sky!! With rage spilling from my lips! I will scream! I will beat my chest! And I. will. force. the. hallelujah!
On the mountain top!!! And in the valley low.
On the days filled with beauty and love and celebration!!! In the moments when I cannot fathom inhaling another breath.
Up until the very end, I will not withhold my hallelujah.
Even if only a thought… a question (?)… O Lord, let me live your hallelujah.
Granted, I am a whole year into the thickness of this black, sticky grief. When the wounds are fresh, hours old, days new, that’s when it feels like the end of everything good… beloved, if I could tell you anything in those moments, I would tell you:
Grieve. Mourn. Wail. Fully. No timeline. No expectations. Walk it out. Feel the pain.
“The world tells me to move on, but my grief tells me to move in, lean in deeper, and make grief my friend. The paradox that few understand is that the only way out of grief is through it.” (4)
Find others to lament with… in person, in writing, in Scripture, in film…
Scripture is wise to command that we weep with those who weep. (7) Doesn’t matter the cause. There is healing in sharing the weight and burden of life, and of death. We find mercy when our cries of WHY are joined together.
Move. Even if only a smidgen, move.
“…our healing does not even look much like healing. It looks more like survival. Every day we get out of bed, tie our shoes, and bless that as enough. At times getting out of bed is the greatest act of faith and courage we can muster, but we declare it sufficient.” (4)
Rest, fight, wrestle in the Lord’s sovereignty.
Even if all you can do is utter a broken, desperate hallelujah.
He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (8)
And if you happen to be a person who gets to hold the hand of someone walking through this present darkness, I must ask –
Can you raise the dead? No.
Can you answer the cries of WHY? And WHAT IF? No.
Friend, I beg you, close your mouth and open your hands. However long it takes. Walk beside. Lend your shoulder. Make the food. Wipe the tears. Hold the hair. Listen. Sob alongside. No judgement. No expectations. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.
“If you have the courage to walk with us through this unspeakable evil, please don’t give me answers. I don’t want your pat Bible verses or your lofty promises of prayer… Don’t say you understand. Wail as I wail; curse as I curse; pray as I pray. Kneel with me by my bed feeling useless and helpless… Yes, for then you will understand a part of me that few have the courage to know.” (4)
The healing process will probably be lengthy, tiresome, painful, and never fully complete in this lifetime. But you must know, that even though you will forever bear a scar, your wounds are actively being bound, treated, and rebound by the One who has numbered your days and bottles your tears. (9)