During times of disaster, heartache, and loss, it can become difficult to believe that life will ever return to any semblance of normalcy. The emotions we feel during such life-changing moments are important, as they represent signposts on our journey. Whether we’ve lost a home, a loved one, or a relationship, often the feelings of loss are the same. We may feel like we are alone or abandoned, like our world is crumbling around us, like we will never get through it, that nothing will ever be the same again or that the loss will be unrecoverable. These feelings are absolutely normal when navigating a traumatic event.
It is important to take time to feel these feelings, and fully experience the loss in order to heal and recover. The Bible tells us that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3.4). So often in our fast-paced society, it’s more common to stuff our feelings down - denying them - especially when they’re inconvenient and painful. But there is wisdom in what the Bible says: to take time and really experience what you’re going through. There will be time again for laughter and joy, once you’ve felt the pain and grieved the loss. When we don’t deal with our pain, it will resurface again in our life at another equally inconvenient time.
During these kinds of experiences, fear and trauma can take root in our hearts, too. Where I live in Redding, CA, we recently experienced an out-of-control wildfire - The Carr Fire. Over 37,000 people were displaced from their homes. This fire, a fire so hot that it created its own weather system, is now considered the 6th most destructive fire in California’s history, and at the time of this writing is currently still burning. It was one of the scariest things that I’ve ever lived through. I had my elderly Mom with me, and as I made decisions about what would be best for both of us and packed to evacuate my home, I deeply felt the weight of it all. I had to ask myself what was important enough to take with me, knowing we might never return again to find our house still standing. The questions came near relentlessly: am I making the right decision? did I leave at the right time? do I have to leave? what’s best for Mom? what should I take? how are others doing? where will we go? where is safe to go? Being driven from my home by something outside of my control was a powerless feeling, and it was challenging not to feel fear through it all. Multiple times over the past week I have burst into tears because what I just went through was hard, as it was for everyone else who was here when the fire broke out, too. And my home was spared. Others were not so fortunate.
What I and others have experienced through this fire reminds me of other times in my life that I’ve felt loss: the loss of my Dad and other family members, the loss of relationships I’ve cared about, loss of connection, the loss of dreams. For most of my life I haven’t had tools to deal with pain in a healthy way. Only recently have I learned how to to recognize what I’m feeling, assess what I need, and get my needs met. And I’m still learning.
Pain beckons relentlessly to be faced. It will continue calling to us until we are brave enough to look straight at it and feel it. Even though we may think it will destroy us, it won’t. It is actually when we allow ourselves to experience the pain that we’re feeling and exist through it that we can be healed. Even now, allow the Comforter into your heart to quiet your fears and encourage you. Take solace in knowing that you are never alone, just as Jesus tells us in Matthew 28.19: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I’m still processing the loss that we’ve just been through and the devastation of our city and county, as I’m sure I will be for months. I am taking the time to grieve - to grieve my peace that was threatened, to grieve for my friends who lost everything, and to grieve our community that once was. I know that God is a good God. He is kind, loving, and gracious. I know that through Him, anything is possible, and He restores all things. Today I’m standing on these truths, as well as taking time to process.
Right now I know that we are stronger together. In times of loss, we always are. We need to share our stories, express our feelings, and talk about what has scared us. Our presence and comfort to one another during this time can change another’s story. We are called to mourn with those who mourn. We must push past our discomfort with pain to comfort those around us who need it. What would it cost you to sit with someone near you who has experienced loss? To hold them as they cry? To find out what they need and do for them, give to them? We cannot escape loss; it’s a part of life. But we can come out stronger on the other side - when we take the time to feel, lending our strength to those beside us. So often, it is in supporting those that need it most that we realize our own strength.
We are stronger together.
We will rebuild.
We will rise from the ashes.
God is still good.
Written by Anne E. Ballard