Choosing Life in the Midst of Grief

Onward & Upward

Soul-sucking. That is the way that comes to mind to describe it. Soul-sucking loss that feels unbearable. Like being in active labor where there is no going back but you don’t know when you will give birth or, at times, if it will ever be over.

And yet even here, there is a choice.

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Duet. 30:19

And that is the greatest battle right now. Choosing life in the midst of grief. But choosing life is what Dad would want. It’s what God wants. It’s what I want for my kids. And despite how I feel, it is what I really want, too.

Choosing life does not mean you don’t fall to the floor and weep. It doesn’t mean acting happy clappy when your heart is laying in a million pieces. It is choosing, despite the feelings, the loss, the circumstances, to stand on what is true, despite the facts.

On that first day I struggled like I was in a physical battle, overcome with dark thoughts of my Dad who gave so much, dying alone, the heartbreak he has endured, how he worked his hind end off and did not get to see the rewards of so much effort and so much poured out. When I started to say this, my sister stopped me, grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Kristi! He is in HEAVEN now! There is no time distance so he is not mourning us, waiting until we get there. He is there and in the next second we will be there. He is not lacking a single thing. He is HOME. Do not feel sorry for Dad.” Her tone was, “it would be ridiculous to compare any lack Dad might have experienced here with the riches of heaven – do NOT feel sorry for Dad.” She’s good at giving it straight like that and in that moment I knew she was right. How can any lack or loss here that is temporary compare to HEAVEN forever? It simply cannot. It makes me fall in love with Jesus all over again. The price He paid for us. The provision He made for us. Knowing that no matter what happens in this life, we will be together forever in eternity. Keeping a heavenly perspective is choosing life.

Just this morning I was reading through comments and responding to messages of people who Dad was there for, people who wanted to help. I feel terrible for even saying this but some bitterness started to rise up in my heart and I started thinking, “Where were all these people when Dad was in his darkest season? When he bore such heavy things all alone? Why couldn’t they have filled his soul with these words of blessing while he was here to hear them?” And this time my precious mama said, “Kristi, give them grace.” And she is right. It reminds me of what a family friend said Dad’s last words were to him: “Grace. Nothing but Grace.” Grace feels so right. Not what my emotions always want, but what Dad would want. And ultimately, what I want. Entertaining accusation, against anyone, is the wrong battle to fight. The real battle is choosing to focus on what brings hope, what brings peace, what brings gratitude, the goodness in others, the goodness of God. Choosing Grace is choosing life.

The regrets try to come. The what-ifs, the should haves, the questions of why and what if I had done something different? But as Dad would say, “You don’t want to take that class!” They literally feel like arrows from the enemy sometimes, trying to shake the foundation we are standing on, trying to get us to question God’s Word, His heart. But NOTHING has changed about the Gospel. Not one thing. In those moments where I am tempted to look at anything and everything I did not do perfectly and judge myself, there is a choice to instead offer myself Grace. When I can’t get off the floor because my body hurts… Grace, Kristin, it is okay to be on the floor. When I can’t feel and I start to worry why I can’t feel more right now… still, Grace, Kristin, it is okay to not feel more. I think it is even God’s Grace that grief comes in waves because He knows everything all at once would be too much for any human to handle so instead, it comes in as waves and Grace lets us ride them, no matter what they look like.

When in the heat of emotion, a loved one gets short, does something or wants something different than I do and I’m tempted to get upset and point a finger, it is an opportunity to choose Grace. Choosing to extend Grace, to myself or to others, let them be imperfect, let myself be imperfect, let grief looks what it looks like and not what I think it should look like, all of these are choosing life.

Choosing to focus on the good when the temptation to crawl down into self-pity is choosing life. I want to feel bad for my
dad, for my mom, for myself, for my kids, for my siblings, for my husband. I find myself entertaining ruminating thoughts of how unfair it is, how it was theft and shouldn’t have happened. I know I will have some things to work through. I know I will have questions. I don’t understand why it happened the way it did – way too soon. Choosing life is choosing to believe God’s Word, all of it, is true no matter what. Even if it does not look like it now. Even if I don’t understand it all. This changes nothing about the Gospel. God is still a healing God. God is still God who promises protection and long life and blessing and provision. Now is the time to chase after that more than ever because what happened was theft. But I’m not going to condemn myself or anyone else for what we don’t see yet. God has not changed. There is simply more to understand about His Word and in the meantime, I’m going after healing. Choosing to press into God and His Word and His promises is choosing life.

My Mom told me that all these people telling her they are so worried about her or don’t know how she will do it or that it doesn’t really get better feels like death to her. She has had to reject some words spoken to her. Someone said all men in our family die of heart attack and we rejected it verbally immediately. People are coming to Mom pouring out their own stories of grief without offering much hope and those words void of life are not helpful. But she comes alive, she visibly rises, when someone says, “You can do this. I have no doubt. It is hard but there is no doubt in my mind that you can do this.” She said, the first time I told her, “Oh Mom, Dad is SO proud of you right now,” that it was so incredibly empowering. She burst into tears and said she could feel it lift her up and fill her soul. Today I told her when she was feeling weak that she is a woman of faith and power and she rose right up again. And she will continue to rise up. I have no doubt about this. We will all rise up. We NEED to speak life to people who are grieving. Not in a way that makes light of their grief but in a way that empowers them. We need to speak the promises of God.

Nothing has helped me so much as picturing how pleased Dad would be with me for choosing life. I picture Dad passing me the torch as he finished his run and I grab it, hold it high, and run on in his stead. What an honor. It is my own race but it is the same one he was running. Nothing has helped me so much as thinking that what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn around, kick his teeth in, and use it for my good. I think of doing things that would make Dad proud, I think of carrying the torch, I think that maybe I’m stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, and it causes such an uprising in me. It makes this seem like more of a momentary light affliction than a trauma I will never recover from.

Speak life over people. Tell them they are strong. Hold them tightly until they pull away. Cry with them. Send them heart texts at random times. Send verses. Send words about our victory and good future and righteousness because of Jesus, the devil defeated, redemption, restoration. We each must choose life for ourselves but we can also speak life over others and we are so, so thankful for the people who have spoken Grace to us when we start to doubt, life to us in the midst of death, and a good future over us when we have trouble seeing it quite yet.

Choosing life is pressing into the pain – you cannot get through what you do not face and walk through. Choosing life means giving Grace. Choosing life is speaking life. Choosing life is letting yourself be held, letting the tears come, letting the grief rattle your soul, but not letting doubt stay, not letting fear stay, not giving anger a foothold, not letting condemnation for any of the above take root… Choosing life is recalling God’s goodness and rehearsing sweet memories, laughing about and savoring the good times and only the good times.

Choosing life is deciding, moment by moment, what you are standing on – God’s Word? Or something else?

Dad would always ask when I was struggling, “What are you standing on?”

I’m standing on the Rock, Daddy. I’m standing on the Rock.

4 thoughts on “Choosing Life in the Midst of Grief

  1. Love you.This is beyond good. Thank you. You are one of the best writers I know. You certainly have helped me STAND and KNOW the TRUTH. I cannot help feeling You Kristin McNulty are skyrocketing wirh HIS LOVE, WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and Gazillions are going to be helped by you. You are the READY WRITER.

  2. I have never seen someone respond to grief like this. how life giving it is to me to read these words and better be able to comfort those around me by speaking life into them. Thank you Kristin for choosing to speak life in the midst of your grief and heartbreak. God is surely using you!

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