“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:18-23 [NASB]
Over the past eight months I’ve read countless articles imploring grieving people to not “fake being fine.” Many of the articles express deep concern over the importance of being open with everyone about your pain and never suppressing or stifling your emotions which is to the detriment of your own well being. Others express concern from the viewpoint that grieving people who “fake” well being unintentionally reinforce or perpetuate false beliefs and unrealistic expectations regarding the depth and longevity of grief, particularly the grief of parents who have lost a child. I understand both concerns and the validity of each, but have struggled to understand what really constitutes “faking fine.” I’m suspicious some would deem me a faker as I have struggled to navigate feeling lost between two seemingly opposing realities.
One reality is my family’s and my ongoing inner brokenness from Sarah’s sudden departure. This reality finds my husband’s and my hearts equally shattered, and our remaining children deeply wounded. It is a reality characterized by deep, inexpressible pain that regularly reverberates through our souls. None of us are who we were prior to Sarah’s departure. We have each been transformed by the cavernous wound of her absence. This reality requires inordinate amounts of energy and effort to be invested in understanding who we are now, both as individuals and as a family. Nurturing our remaining nuclear family relationships and seeking to ensure the well being of each individual as we learn how to move forward together is a staggering responsibility. On a nightly basis it takes Scott and me to our knees together in brokenness and desperation seeking God’s sustaining grace, wisdom and strength to persevere. This is the heart rending and exhausting reality of “child loss.” We are aware of this reality every moment of every day.
The other reality is equally unavoidable, it is the mundane reality of “every day life.” We must persevere in living daily life in a world that has more or less moved on without our daughter. In this reality there is Scott going to work each day, our meeting the daily needs of our remaining children, household management tasks, various errands, as well as church involvement, just to name a few. In this reality I interact superficially with most of the people I encounter. My focus in this reality is the task at hand, as well as the people each task brings me into contact with. I smile, I answer “fine” when casually asked as a greeting, “how are you?”, I reciprocate small talk, and I strive to be politely attentive and engaged in whatever topics, interests or concerns others choose to discuss. Sarah and our desperately missing her are rarely mentioned by anyone in this reality. In this reality my pain is not visible and I appear fine.
I’ve recognized from very early on the apparent dichotomy between these two realities. I have repeatedly pondered the possibility that I am “faking fine.” My concern that I might be perceived that way was recently reinforced by a friend. After I shared my perception of the two realities with her, she interjected, “but that’s faking it.” I was not surprised by her assessment, but I was disappointed because that is definitely not my intention. In my mind, instead of opposing realities where one is “real” and one is “fake,” they are actually both “real” or “true” realities. The more I’ve pondered it, I have come to believe they are actually joined together within a third overarching reality, the reality of our Hope.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 [NASB]
Sarah is alive. Though she died, she lives (John 11:25). She is absent from the body and present with the Lord, alive with Him in paradise today (2 Cor. 5:8; Luke 23:43). Though death has not been destroyed yet, it has been defeated through the shed blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I fix my eyes on the Hope I have in Christ, my heart becomes acutely aware of the distinction between the temporal and the eternal.
Strong’s defines the word translated “temporal” in 2 Corinthians 4:18 as “for the occasion only, i.e. temporary:—dur-(eth) for awhile, endure for a time, for a season, temporal.” My separation from Sarah is temporal, for a season. My deep heartache and that of my family is temporal, temporary. My opportunity to be used by Christ in this life to make an eternal impact is also a temporary fleeting opportunity. I can’t say it any better than Sarah did in one of her last text messages:
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’” 1 Peter 1:23-25 [NIV]
“This is such a great reminder! We are like a wisp of smoke. We are only here a moment. And this is not about us. Life is not about us. It’s about God who is eternal. So I want to dedicate the one moment I’m here completely and entirely to him.” ~Sarah Harmening
The clashing of the pain and Hope within me sparks an overwhelming awareness of the brevity of life and an urgent longing for my remaining days to be full of fruitful labor (Phil. 1:22). I am consumed with a desire to finish well (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Hope compels me to fix my eyes on the goal before me (Phil. 3:14). Obedience to my Lord in running the race marked out before me takes precedence over my pain (Heb. 12:1-3). Every day I acknowledge the presence of the pain to Him, the only One who can help. I entrust it to Him daily and then I fix my eyes on the goal and seek His leading for the day ahead. If He prompts the sharing of my testimony or pain to comfort or encourage another I will gladly share, but I am content to be silent about it otherwise.
I’m not faking fine, I am just learning to be content in Him. In accordance with His great faithfulness, He pours His sustaining grace and strength into my shattered heart alongside the pain and Hope to enable me to cry out with the Apostle Paul, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil.4:11b-13 [ESV]).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 [NIV]
Artwork: Sarah Harmening