Emmanuel: God With Us in Grief

Emmanuel, God With Us…
God With Us in Grief
The holidays can be difficult because they bring up so many emotions for all of us. Especially as single parents, it can be hard to celebrate when we are facing painful memories of lost dreams, broken family traditions, and at times, being apart from our kids. Our reality is far different from a Hallmark movie storyline. Celebrating the season can be a struggle because it highlights the pain of parenting alone.
Because we know the reality of loss can peak around the holidays, we want to offer some strategies that might help you embrace the truth that God is with us in grief.
  • Identify and confess your grief. We need to acknowledge and admit that our grief is real. We need to stop being afraid of it. There is no shame in grief. Yet, sometimes we shrink back from naming and facing it. But grief is a normal part of the human experience. Grief is a sign that our losses and pain matter because we matter. When we love someone and lose them, it’s sad. There is a painful void left behind. When we lose the dream of a typical family, it hurts.
  • Accept grief as normal.  It’s normal to feel grief and to struggle, especially during the holidays. We need to let ourselves feel it. We need to let go of the desire to push it aside and ignore it. If you are a single parent, you know a lot about grief and feeling loss. These feelings can become even stronger during the holiday season when the losses are highlighted. Remember though, you are not alone, and to struggle with grief and sadness is normal.
  • Invite God into your grief. Don’t be afraid to let your heart be known by God. That is where intimacy and trust are born. Go to Him honestly with all you are feeling. Don’t hide the dark places from Him. Let Him enter your highs, lows, and everything in between. He will meet you there, where you are.
  • Finally, recognize God’s presence with you in grief. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He is acquainted with grief and He will be with you in it. We can find a sense of peace even in sadness and loss because God promises to be with those crushed in spirit.
Single parent, Elizabeth, shares her experience with grief especially around the holidays. Christmas is hard being a solo parent. It’s just not easy. The loss of extended family because of divorce is painful. It just is. Seeing pictures of past celebrations pop up on your phone or just having memories come to mind is like a stab to the heart. Ornaments from past years highlight the changes we’ve experienced. Your kids leaving to go be with their other family hurts and feels like a loss in itself. Reminder after reminder comes up even as you’re getting through Thanksgiving Day and putting up a Christmas tree.
Even as the waves of emotion wash over you, it’s important to remember too that grief and gratitude can coexist. We can be thankful for our children’s connection to their other parent’s family even while we experience sadness at not being with them. And, it’s normal to have FOMO – fear of missing out – when we know traditions are continuing that we are no longer part of anymore. Being disconnected and excluded from special memories and experiences with our kids is hard.
That’s why this topic is so important. Grief around the holidays is real and normal. It’s healthy to acknowledge and accept it. We can also hold on to the truth that God is with us in that grief. He is Emmanuel. Especially during this pandemic, when everything feels heightened, it’s even more necessary to invite God into that reality. We are all under more stress and more easily triggered. We aren’t necessarily in the best place ourselves so we need God to be with us even more.
How do we embrace Emmanuel – God with us – in grief? 
Identifying and confessing grief is the first step.  We all experience sadness and hurt, but what we do with those emotions varies. We each handle our feelings differently. Some of us find ourselves staying busier, avoiding quiet times when the feelings will inevitably surface.  Distractions are easier than facing the sadness. Sometimes, our tendency is to try to control things, or work hard to numb out and ignore our grief. Others sink beneath the weight of the feelings and wallow and wade in sadness, perhaps isolating, unable to function. These reactions are common. But we don’t find genuine health or wholeness in these responses, only temporary relief. Rather, admitting and identifying our grief helps us process it. It’s normal to feel this way. Rather than suppressing it or becoming overwhelmed by it, we need to accept it and let ourselves feel it.
Grief that goes underground can become depression, anger, bitterness, or cynicism. We might find ourselves ignoring our feelings of hurt, sadness, and loneliness only to act them out in impatience, irritability, or isolation. Naming and facing our feelings is the first steps to experience God with us in grief.
Next, as we  recognize and normalize our grief, we can start to notice our default settings. Are we avoiding it, getting stuck in it, or pretending it’s not there? Instead of reacting by default, we can be patient with ourselves as we process it in an intentional way, with God and with safe people in our lives.
Grief doesn’t mean you’re in a bad place. In fact, sometimes the most incredible breakthroughs happen because of a breakdown. Instead of trying to escape our grief, we can sit with God in it. It’s normal to feel sadness and hurt after loss. And, it’s normal to be triggered emotionally because of our story. This is just part of life.
As we get honest about these losses and all that is going on inside of us as a result, we can bring our whole heart to God. Instead of reacting in a “knee-jerk” kind of way, we can cope with our feelings of grief more intentionally. We can acknowledge and accept them and bring them to God.
Another thing to remember about grief is that it can make us long for what we once had. Even if what we lost was toxic or harmful, it’s normal to sometimes want it back. Don’t be surprised if you miss, sentimentally, what you once had. It doesn’t mean you want your former partner or old life back. Rather, missing those things is a reflection that you experienced a loss that still hurts. These thoughts and feelings are a normal part of the grieving process. We might even idealize and long for those things again. But just because we miss being a family unit or being married doesn’t mean you should go back to it. Feeling sadness at the loss doesn’t mean it’s a healthier or better path for you or for your kids.
Transitions as single parents are hard. Having mixed emotions and thoughts of regret are normal and will happen as we grieve so it’s especially important to ask God to be with us in it. We need the peace of His presence and His guidance as we move ahead.
The more we identify and normalize our grief, and as we invite God into it with us, the more we can offer that experience to our kids. We can empathize with them instead of subconsciously trying to manage their feelings. Instead of modeling avoidance or numbing out, we can help them acknowledge and accept sadness and grief as normal. Our example gives them permission to feel all the emotions themselves and to process them in a healthy way. We can sit with them and talk through it so they don’t feel alone.
So, how do we invite God into our grief? What are practical ways we can recognize His presence in it? We can invite Him in by expressing it honestly. We can do that through tears, journaling, talking out loud with trusted friends about it, and admitting when we are angry and afraid because of the losses we’ve experienced. We can ask God to be with as we feel sad, hurt, and lonely. Sometimes it helps to imagine sitting at God’s feet or to visualize being held by Him, as we grieve and cry. That picture of Him, acting as our loving Father, one who brings comfort and who cares deeply about us, is helpful.
Worshipping God while we’re facing our grief helps too. It reminds me us of who He is and what He has done. His Word can bring comfort even as we are feeling painful things. When God says He is with us, it’s not just words on a page. He sent His Spirit to comfort us, to guide us, and to help us – in the here and now, in the reality of our pain. We can pour out our hearts to God. We can give it all to Him as we picture Him near us, acting on our behalf.
Another thing to remember is that God doesn’t restore everything the way we expect or the way we might want. God with us in grief doesn’t mean He comes and gives back whatever we lost. Rather, He redeems us where we are now and where we are going. He gives us a richer understanding of who He is and all He has done for us.
Psalm 34 says the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit. God walks with us along painful pathways. He will not leave us to face them alone. We can bring our hurts to Him and He will help us with them. Sometimes it is only in going through hardship that we realize and recognize His presence. Confessing and acknowledging our pain helps us know God in a deeper way and this intimacy with Him is transformational. God may not restore our circumstances, but He restores our heart and redeems our hurts. In the process of facing our pain, God will meet us in it. We can feel His kindness, mercy, and grace in our suffering. God transforms what we bring to Him. He can make beauty from ashes. He truly is Emmanuel – God with us, no matter what we are facing.
As you walk the journey of single parenting, we want to offer encouragement and hope any way we can. Join our Solo Parent Society community by participating in one of our online groups meeting every week. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety). Subscribe to our weekly podcast via AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts and download our Solo Parent app FREE in the app store. We love to connect single parents to resources that offer hope and help. If you want to donate so we can reach more single-parent families, go to www.soloparentsociety.com. Questions? Email us at info@spsociety.com.

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