It’s taken me a while to close these brief reflections, as I honestly couldn’t summarise what I wanted to say. As far as grief is concerned, it is true that grief does subside (though suffering may not). Even if your suffering does not disappear in this life, it will at the coming of Jesus Christ for those that trust and love Him.
I recognise that much of what I say right now will be fairly common knowledge, at least, common if you have been through similar experiences of break up and straining of relationships. I guess I write this because sometimes when you’re actually in it, you don’t think there’s a way out, or ever going to be a way out. Deeply painful – and I mean, deeply painful – things happened during the initial period, but I look back to see how it has repositioned myself as a Christian and also as one who now has the ability to help others through similar trauma. I hope you are helped through what is written.
One thing I noticed as a sensible gauge on my own heartache subsiding is that I stopped keeping count on how long ago the event was. I stopped counting the months and days and recounting key moments of what happened and when. It’s helpful to a degree to think through how long ago certain things happened, but like all anniversaries, they may bring up some painful reminders, but hopefully they do not linger for prolonged periods of time. In fact, it becomes easier to make decisions with our thoughts and feelings when these reminders come.
Having said that, this ‘recent’ experience brought up new emotions and thoughts I’d not had before. There were moments of such intense isolation and pain, I honestly wanted to die. Psalm 88 vividly describes this torturous position:
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths.
Your wrath weighs heavily on me;
You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.Selah
You have distanced my friends from me;
You have made me repulsive to them.
I am shut in and cannot go out.
My eyes are worn out from crying.
Lord, I cry out to You all day long;
I spread out my hands to You. (Psalm 88:6-9, HCSB)
The Psalm ends with the line in v. 18, ‘You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend’. I felt totally isolated.
For months on end, I would be engulfed in this miserable and isolated position. Some of my friends would reach out, but new hues had coloured all of my relationships to the point where I felt ashamed in their presence from my actions. I felt embarrassment in the community where I felt most at home and accepted. This inevitably lead to absolute despair.
Having read books on loneliness and studying Japanese/shame-based cultures, I can readily understand how people resort to suicide. Suicidal ideation or even the contemplation beyond philosophical problems (see Albert Camus!) was something I’d never had personal dealings with. Thankfully, the actual act was not something I ever planned on doing, and my observation/thoughts are simply that I understand what can drive people to despair through their choices and perceptions of community.
The other side of this however is the realisation that people can only do so much. I had some friends that sat and listened to me through everything that was going on. My family was amazing through the whole ordeal and brought closer than before. In retrospect I do ask, What can people actually do when you’re suffering, particularly beyond a certain point? I still think this through when I consider those that I perceive as having ‘failed’ me during that difficult time.
I admittedly failed a friend several years ago during a difficult time in his life, but I often think about what that friend could actually want from me besides my presence. It definitely means a lot to support people going through trouble – please don’t get me wrong! – but beyond that support there is so little – humanly speaking – that can be done. We do feel powerless, which is why we resort to empty platitudes about suffering.'(Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, eh?’). There is a lot that people can do to help you feel safe and encouraged, like treating you in the same way; or, simply listening with a non-judgemental ear – gently prodding and looking ‘under the lid’ of what you’re saying. This is mercy.
But at some point, one has to think differently about everything.
This point was raised in A Philosophy of Loneliness by Lars Svendson where he discusses for some being alone does not equate to loneliness, but for others, they can feel lonely even amongst many others in a group. Why is this the case? It is the perception that the person has with their connection with others – which is based on a feeling or mood. Obviously when you are in the thick of it all, you are not thinking clearly or rationally about how you relate to others. In that state, you feel that you are completely isolated and loathed by those whom your actions have touched.
I think we desire that people could reach deep inside hearts and bridge the gulf between our selves for the truest understanding. Empathy is powerful, but it is not complete. When we observe suffering, we can provide touch, words, or a listening ear, but we cannot bridge that gulf. I don’t think it is wrong that we desire this, but it is wrong that we demand it. Adam was called to be ‘not good’ when he was alone without relationship with any other humans, but he’s worse when he’s separated from God. This presence of loneliness in suffering points to a greater desire that I needed to think through differently in order to find the true soul’s comfort.
What separates the Christian God from other Gods is the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a perfect community from eternity past. That gulf that we wish to be bridged by others in our wandering hearts is bridged by God, who reaches down into the depths of our souls. The first aspect of this bridging is the forgiveness of sins and propitiation by Jesus on the Cross. This brings us into God’s presence as forgiven sinners – as His newly adopted children (whom He loves!). The second is the sealing by which the Holy Spirit enters the believer, to declare them God’s and to help them understand the Bible and live a God-honouring and God-fearing life. The Holy Spirit is not a mere force as a group such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, but an actual personality – part of the Godhead. There is no closer place that someone can be other than God’s Spirit indwelling the believer.
This brings me to the final point, which I have already stated: we need to think differently. This is why time, conversation and contemplation is so necessary, but even more so from the point of view of what God may be doing in the midst of the affliction. To be sure, much of what happened to me was part of my own stupidity and waywardness. But even so, I can state as the Psalmist says:
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I could learn Your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
God can allow the feelings and emotions resulting from our actions to run their course for us to see how truly awful our sinfulness can be. Yet God uses these experiences to discipline those whom He loves (Heb 12:1), to make them better lovers of Himself and lovers of others.
My hope is that what I’ve written in the last few posts is somewhat helpful and beyond what is trite when it comes to these kinds of posts about relationship trauma. This is mostly much of what I wished I could have read when I was in the thick of it.
The whole experience pushed me out of many cycles that had been inhibiting progress in my life on fronts that go beyond relationships. I am so thankful to God for that.
I hope that what you’re experiencing (or have experienced) may do this for you too.