The Living Grief of Broken Relationships
I was eight when my mother dropped me off at a friend’s house and drove away to another country. When I returned home, she was gone.
She could not be present. Her personal struggles were too great to bear alongside her life of marriage and children. Thankfully, I had a father who was present, loving, kind and caring. Yet, I have found that the loss of the role of a mother fades, but doesn’t disappear. For a few years I struggled immensely to balance the longing for who she could be with the reality of who she was able to be.
There is such a tangible grief that comes with living a life missing out on something we were built to have. Many of us live without pivotal relationships in our lives, either by our own doing or because they have been taken from us.
Maybe you are someone who lacks genuine close-knit friendships. Maybe you didn’t have a stable mother and father figure, or they were taken too soon. Maybe you are a widow or an orphan.
Maybe you’ve had a spouse leave you, a mother or father who were emotionally or physically unavailable, or maybe you’ve had painful broken relationships with your siblings for many years. Maybe your children are estranged from you.
It could also be that close relationships have not been deeply grievous for you. But perhaps you grew up with siblings or parents who were there for you and checked off a lot of your boxes by doing their best, and still managed to pass along hurt, causing you to grieve the loss of what you hoped for in a sister, brother, friend, father or mother.
In every case, we all experience some form of grief that comes with never having had these relationships, or from having suffered loss within them.
So how do we grieve relationships that were “supposed” to be good?
My mother’s absence consumed many of my days after she left. For years she overwhelmed my thoughts and so many conversations as I wrestled out loud with my boundaries, my hunger for a mother figure and with the very high emotional need she placed on me even from a great physical distance. Those years I spent longing, hungering for her to be more were so painful.
“We don’t get that”, my older sister told me. Those words were a small stepping stone to realizing that I cannot change my mother, and that in this lifetime she may never be what I long for her to be.
I don’t get that.
Our world is broken. In it, we see sickness, sin, selfishness and sorrow consume so many and it can be devastating to wrestle with God over these things.
There is an amazing truth, though, that follows in the life of a believer.
Jesus is with us.
He is Father to the orphan, Friend to the friendless.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Throughout my life, the moments that led me to crushing grief came suddenly and often repeatedly. Sometimes I felt like I was a sinking stone in deep water. Milestones, in particular, were very hard.
I didn’t have the warm, prayerful mother in the dressing room at my wedding, holding my hand and celebrating with me.
I did not get the mom who came to stay for a week after I had my first child, to help with dishes, talk me through postpartum struggles, or make my family hot comforting meals.
I am sure there are moments that have yet to happen when I will again face the sinking feeling of loss in this relationship, or other ones.
But I know that this is not what God intended and designed. I know He is faithful to meet me when the grief comes. So I can be like a stone skipping across the surface of the deep water instead of sinking into the depths because I know he is with me.
I have had to grieve moments I didn’t know would hurt me until the pain of their loss was already heavy on me. And through those experiences I have learned that grief is good. Many of us wrestle with grief, for so many reasons.
God grieves with you, friend.
He doesn’t expect us to ignore or push down the recurring moments of grief that arise, but as time passes I think we can learn to skip along the surface of it, acknowledging it, and still moving forward all the while. We don’t have to sink to the very bottom where we lose sight of our Heavenly Father.
Although there will be waves of new and unexpected grief, seasons that take us out, and sometimes a storm that seems unsurvivable, Jesus will bring His peace. And He will once again be our rescuer. As life unfolds we get to meet Him along these unexpected touch points where we are reminded of our sorrow. We get to move with our grief into the love and grace of Jesus.
We can find everything we need in our relationship with Him. It may not look that way to this world and it may not come how you were expecting. It might look nothing like you ever imagined. But He is faithful to care for you. He is faithful to give your heart what it needs.
Maybe what you need is a safe place to finally grieve deeply for the first time. He will go there with you.
Grief is what challenges our thinking of who God is and who we must be. In our grief we are either going to trust God, or we aren’t.
In my grief I came to realize that grieving is living. It’s not a destination we can get past. It ebbs and flows and changes, and we grow around it. It makes us question God’s goodness and sovereignty, but working through it can deepen our knowledge of His character. We shouldn’t be afraid to wrestle with God in these hard questions.
When we look at the root systems of plants we sometimes see that roots must grow around an object, a rock, a house or other roots. This natural phenomenon is called an inosculation. The object that is being surrounded by the root system is then referred to as an inclusion.
So, let me ask, do you grow around your grief, including it, while moving forward on the new path, or do you meet the challenge, halt growth and deplete your resources?
Living most of my life without a present mother took a major toll on me for a long time. It was hard to move forward. Eventually, the grief faded but I’ve seen it return with new seasons and events in my life. Yet, instead of sinking to the bottom of constant grief each time I am faced with a painful new reminder of my lack, I can instead skip across the surface, just touching the water briefly. It’s as if I can kiss the moment of grief, while still being able to move forward.
My roots are full of inosculations and inclusions, but I have wholeheartedly learned God’s deep ability to meet what my heart longs for. And He has shown me how beautifully He heals and provides for my needs and those of others. His reach is far beyond our imaginations and His understanding is infinite.
So I hope that when you meet the next recurring moment of grief, you can skip along the surface and trust the God of the universe to meet you.
“…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” – John 16:22
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” – Philippians 4:19