“My heart throbs, my strength fails me; And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague; And my kinsmen stand afar off.” Psalm 38:10-11 [NASB]
I have been feeling a prompting to write on the topic of abandonment in grief for a while now, but have been hesitant to do so because it is such a delicate topic. Recently after praying and seeking the Lord’s guidance I proceeded in my quiet time by reading the next Psalm in my reading plan, Psalm 38. As I read verses 10-11 (above) they resonated as affirmation that it was His prompting and I was reassured that it is a subject worthy of prayerful thought and discussion.
In the midst of deep grief, opportunities for feelings of abandonment abound. As time wears on those opportunities only multiply. As I have interacted with many others also walking this painful path I have come to realize experiencing feelings of abandonment in one or more relationships is more likely the norm than the exception.
For months now I have been praying for wisdom to understand a proper heart response to such abandonment. I’ve had countless conversations with others who have experienced it, but have found very few Biblical resources acknowledging and addressing it.
I’m thankful it is not absent in God’s Word, though. We are not the first to struggle with being or feeling abandoned in the midst of deep grief, and we will not be the last. God’s Word faithfully addresses it and illumines our responsibility in the midst of it.
David and Job both felt the sting of abandonment in the midst of deep grief. Jesus Christ Himself felt the sting of abandonment in the midst of deep grief. Many others in scripture cried out to God in their isolation and desperation, and by the grace of God their prayers are recorded as testimony and encouragement for all who may journey that painful path behind them.
Types of Abandonment
Meditating on the account of Job, I realized he experienced several forms of abandonment in the midst of his suffering. In his despair he proclaimed the following: (Job 19:13-19)
- “He has removed my brothers far from me”
- “my acquaintances are completely estranged from me”
- “My relatives have failed”
- “my intimate friends have forgotten me”
- “All my associates abhor me”
- “those I love have turned against me.”
I have felt the pangs of some of these experiences. Perhaps you, too, can relate to one or more of Job’s abandonment experiences. If so, I hope the following will be of encouragement.
We may not be purposefully abandoned
Three of Job’s friends traveled from their homes “to sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). We are told in Job 2:12-13, “When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that [his] pain was very great.”
Scripture gives no indication that Job’s friend’s intentions were anything but pure when they came to comfort Job in the beginning. Unfortunately they began speaking on the eighth day and ended up speaking wrongly about both Job and God, leading to Job’s lament about his abandonment in Job 19.
Likewise, we know beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus’ inner circle (Peter, James and John) deeply loved Him. And yet, it is they who abandoned Him in the midst of His deepest grief.
“And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ And He went a little beyond [them,] and fell to the ground and [began] to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’ And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?'” [Mar 14:33-37 NASB]
I don’t believe either set of friends, Job’s or Jesus’, purposefully abandoned their grieving friend. I believe they were each compelled to come alongside their hurting friend and yet each failed in a different way. They had hearts to be present but human frailty led to their failure, just as Jesus warned in the garden, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
I suspect the same is true for many modern day friends who fail to come alongside their grieving friends. Feelings of abandonment may come from friends like Job’s friends who show up and say all the wrong things. Or they may be from friends like Jesus’ friends who after being told He was “deeply grieved to the point of death,” seem completely unaware of the depth of His anguish and grief and drift off to sleep instead. Whichever the case, if we are feeling abandoned it is helpful to realize that we have most likely not been purposefully abandoned.
We are not abandoned
Before I go any further I must declare a vital truth with boldness. No matter how alone or abandoned we may feel, we are not abandoned.
In spite of the presence of His friends, Jesus was alone in the garden. Those He asked to stay awake and pray for Him abandoned Him to sleep in the midst of His deepest anguish. Not once, not twice, but three times He had to awaken them as they slumbered through His agony. Immediately after He awakened them the third time, He was seized and we are told in response, “they all left Him and fled” (Mark 14:50).
Jesus knows abandonment. He knows the sting of aloneness. What tremendous comfort it is that it is He, the abandoned One, who now lives to intercede for us.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as [we are, yet] without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 [NASB]
Jesus Christ was willingly abandoned, tortured, crucified and killed to pay our sin debt. He then arose from death to life and reigns as our great High Priest. Because He as our great High Priest “always lives to make intercession for us” we will never be abandoned or alone.
He who knows and empathizes with the deepest, indescribable and un-utterable pains of my heart is continually interceding for me. Even if all others should fail and fall away, He will remain faithful still. We will never be completely abandoned, and we will never ever, under any circumstances be abandoned by the One who matters most of all.
How do I respond to abandonment?
It is tremendous comfort that Jesus understands the sting of both deep grief and abandonment, and that He will never abandon us. But the sting of abandonment by earthly companions remains real none the less, so how are we to respond?
Job endured relentless accusations and offenses from his friends as they rebuked him for sin they wrongly presumed to be in his life. In the end of the account of Job God rebukes the friends of Job for not speaking what was right about Him as Job had. He then tells them to make an offering and have Job pray for them and He would accept Job’s prayer on their behalf (Job 42:6-7).
“the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends…” Job 42:10 [KJV]
The Lord has spoken powerfully to my heart through this verse, “the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends…” Prior to this Job had “repented in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6), but it was when he prayed for the friends who had inflicted so much unnecessary hurt in the midst of his despair that the Lord “turned his captivity” or released him from the oppression he had been suffering and restored his well being.
Scripture goes on to say, “Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him…” (Job 42:11 [NASB]). Job welcomed all those who had previously abandoned him in his suffering back into his home, and they consoled and comforted him.
Forgiveness following Repentance
Part of my hesitation in broaching this subject is that I would be perceived as advocating a requirement for forgiveness in the absence of repentance. For those already deeply wounded through heavy grief or suffering that would be yet another heavy burden to place on their weary backs. My personal conviction is that would also be an inappropriate burden requiring of them more than scripture itself requires. For more on Biblical repentance and forgiveness I strongly recommend the book Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns.
The book of Job cannot be used to support requiring forgiveness in the absence of repentance. Though it does not clearly say Job’s friends and family sought forgiveness from him, we clearly see the three primary friends in the account repenting through making the offering required by God and requesting or accepting Job’s intercession on their behalf. The family and friends that had previously abandoned him all returned bearing gifts for him and seeking to comfort and console him. This returning would also be reflective of repentance or “turning” from their previous actions of abandonment.
Forgiveness is very clearly Biblically mandated in the presence of repentance (Luke 17:3-4). Job responded in righteousness as he prayed for his three friends and welcomed his other friends and family back into his home.
Grace, Grace, God’s Grace
Where wounds are deep and raw it is God’s grace alone that grants us the willingness, strength and power to choose to look beyond those wounds. Through His divine power I can lift my eyes from focusing on the pain of those wounds to instead focus on His eternal purposes. As I meditate on who He is and on eternity, my focus will shift to that which brings Him the greatest glory and honor.
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 [ESV]
What great encouragement that we are given the example of Job doing exactly that. After God confronted Job with the majesty of who He is, Job recognized how his temporal tragedies paled in comparison. As Job’s eyes were fixed on the eternal God of the universe he was strengthened to forgive his friends and let go of the deep pains of betrayal and abandonment by them, his family and other friends.
God is glorified through repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation within the body of Christ. God is glorified as His love abounds in us and is extended to one another. Praise Him that, like Job, it is His grace, His strength, His power and His love in us that enables us to love those who have wounded us through abandonment.
Turned Captivity, Comfort and Consoling
Job’s humbly praying for his friends is directly linked in scripture to his “turned captivity,” or restoration of his fortunes and well being. Scripture also says those who had previously abandoned Job, “consoled him and comforted him” upon their return. While we absolutely should not fix our hope or our focus on liberation from temporal captivity, comfort or consoling, we would be foolish to overlook these connections.
If I refuse to forgive where necessary, and receive back those who have previously abandoned, I may well forego some degree of liberation from temporal captivity, or consoling and comforting that God is making available through my acceptance of my returning friends. In short, my failure to trust Him enough to walk in obedience in this regard will not only dishonor Him, but may also result in missed personal blessings.
Longing to Come Out as Pure Gold
“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11 [ESV]
Though Job did not fully understand all that was happening in the heavens throughout his ordeal, he recognized his suffering as a trial or test. I believe the final testing of Job was of his willingness to intercede on behalf of those friends who had so terribly wronged him and receive back into fellowship those who had previously abandoned him.
In the midst of his suffering Job was able to shift his focus back to eternity, confidently proclaiming God had not lost sight of him, and in the end He would bring him forth sanctified and purified as pure gold.
“He knows the way I take; [When] He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” Job 23:10 [NASB]
May our wounds of abandonment be redemptively used as a sanctifying flame. May we be marked by willing surrender to allow the God of peace to sanctify us completely. May we overflow with His grace and love toward one another in such a way that the world may know we are His (John 13:35). May we continually have our hope fixed completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:13). And may that hope fuel our passion to be kept blameless at His coming so that we, too, may come forth as pure gold.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 [ESV]
Artwork: Sarah Harmening