On the warm summer day that young Cherise married her husband, she never thought that her marriage would end. Life wasn’t perfect, but they laughed together every day and loved each other through mistakes.
As Cherise looks back, she couldn’t put her finger on when their lives changed. Even as she and her husband went on date nights and called each other everyday, there were some troubling shifts. Cherise realized that there were secrets being kept from her and unexplained behaviors causing more arguments.
She spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out what was going wrong. Did something happen during a particular fight? Did she do something wrong?
Most of her prayers during that time were simple, “God, please help!” or “God, please fix this!” No matter what she tried, a hidden addiction made itself known in difficult and heart-breaking ways. Their first marriage separation happened right before their twentieth anniversary, followed by a second separation four years later.
Although Cherise continued to pray for her marriage, a few years later her husband decided that he no longer wanted to be married. She was devastated but realized that God had blessed her years before by drawing her in close so that she discovered the blessing of His presence. That blessing sustained Cherise through an unanswered prayer that eventually turned into a heartbreaking “no.”
Stories like Cherise’s aren’t easy to read. You may know from experience that these stories aren’t easy to live, either. In fact, Cherise’s story is my story.
In our idealized version of Christianity, we like to think that we pray, God answers, and we live happily ever after. However, I believe that cemeteries are a reminder that God never wants us to dream of happily ever after while we’re living on earth because our broken, fallen world will rob us of that dream one way or another.
Sometimes, the job isn’t saved or there won’t be a baby, even after all of the fertility treatments. At times we pray, but our spouse or our parent still abandons us. While God doesn’t cause our pain, sometimes, He allows our lives to travel down an undesired path. Even as there is blessing no matter what happens in our lives, that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the searing pain. How do we deal with the raw emotions and let go when God seems to say no.
There’s a ritual that I’ve been doing once or twice a year for the past decade to help me to deal with the pain and keep my heart on the path toward hope, even as my heart hurts.
I call this ritual my annual “funeral”. One day each spring I pack a blanket, my Bible, a notebook, and a packet of tissues. Then I drive down to a beautiful river a few miles from my house. I find a secluded space so as not to draw too much attention to myself and lay out my blanket. For whatever reason, this exercise works best for me when I’m outdoors under the vast sky that reminds me of God’s glory (Psalm 19:1).
There’s three parts to my annual funeral: Be real, write down, and release. First, I’m real before God. Through my tears, I’m honest about the unanswered prayers, unmet expectations, rejection, disappointment and dreams that have died. Then, I write down what I’m grieving in my notebook. That makes it more real. Here are some of my funeral notebook entries:
I wished that I had more time with my dad…
God, I really prayed hard for You to remove the addiction from our home…
God, I’m really sad that those family members no longer speak to me…
Like the laments of the prophets, I cry out to God on paper, at times bitterly angry over what I’m grieving or what I’ve lost. It’s okay to cry and scream at God. Lots of people in the Bible have done it.
Once I empty myself of disappointments and dead dreams, I grab my Bible and read pre-marked verses on hope such as Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 61:1-3. These verses do not make me feel better immediately, but these words are a reminder of God’s glory, greatness, and power beyond my circumstances.
Finally, I pray and release the dreams or hopes that will not be. Through my tears I prayer something like this: I dreamed that (name dream), but that dream isn’t going to come true. I really wanted it, God! And it hurts. But I need to let that dream die. I need to mourn it and move it out of my heart so that You can fill the space with a new thing for me.
This powerful, yet simple ritual gives me a tangible way to release the weight of what could mess me up, slow me down or keep me stuck in the past. I want God’s blessing for my future, so I have to let go!
Do you need to have a funeral for something in your life today? Be real before God. Write down your pain, anger, disappointment and hurt. Release it all to God and trust that He will heal your heart and soul with His love and mercy.
Content excerpted from I’m Waiting, God: Finding Blessing in God’s Delay by Barb Roose