When the fog lifted after her husband’s sudden death, Jennifer began to realize that she was, in her words, “a widow, of all things.”
She could not imagine continuing in the ministry that had always involved both of them. The thought of taking on a new project or coming up with a fresh idea seemed impossible. She couldn’t even say a whole sentence without breaking into sobs.
She never knew what memory might ambush her and send her into a tailspin in public.
Jennifer explained to her friends and her sons, “A widow lives in my body and I don’t know her. I don’t know how she’ll act. I don’t know what to expect from her. I can’t let her out in public.”
One day it hit her.
She’d never been fragile before.
Loss can leave you in an identity crisis.
You were mom.
You were someone’s wife.
You were someone’s daughter or sister.
You were strong, but now you feel anything but.
The Jesus factors reminds us that we are still mom, someone’s wife, daughter, or sister. We cannot ignore the promise of eternity. That’s a gift and one that will sink in and one day be truth, but is there guidance in the meantime?
What do you do with the pain?
Both Amber and Jennifer (who shared their stories in The Mended Heart) shared that the biggest struggle was the overwhelming sense of loss and pain.
In Jennifer’s ministry (Praying Life), she had always taught women to identify with the pain Jesus suffered for us. She believed that when we embraced what He did for us, that we would discover the life that He offered through that sacrifice. But in the midst of her own sorrow, she wondered if she should have added, “except if your husband dies unexpectedly.”
That led to new questions for her.
What if she started embracing the pain of her loss, rather than seeing it as a stranger?
Would doing so lead to life?
Was there something in the midst of her pain that only Christ could give her?
Hard questions, right? Jennifer wasn’t trying to dismiss the loss of her husband or come up with answers to smooth away the rough edges of her pain. She truly wanted to see if there was something good to be found as she walked this path.
You don’t choose loss.
Jennifer says, “Now that I was on it, I couldn’t not follow it. So what did my faith offer me along the way?”
The immense loss of her husband made her desperately dependent on God in ways she had never known otherwise.
She found comfort in a Savior who pursued from the cross, knowing in advance that we would all need Him in our hour of unavoidable pain.
He understood loss. He understood suffering. He endured pain so that He could help carry ours.
Eight years have passed since Wayne’s death. “The widow and I have integrated,” Jennifer says. “I’m not fragile anymore, but I am patient with others who are fragile. I think it is easier to tell people that we can avoid suffering and be protected from all pain than it is to tell people that pain is unavoidable and is to be embraced for the work it will do in our lives.”
This is the exact opposite of the advice many might receive.
Pride, or a mistaken sense that you need to present a perfect front to those around you, can cause you to think of your wounds and scars as something to hide. Something ugly. Something demeaning. Something that lessens your value. Jennifer says that is far from true.
“Look at Jesus. Look at what Jesus thought of His wounds: ‘Here, Thomas. Look at My wounds. Touch My scars. These are the proof of My resurrection. I bear the marks of death, but I am alive!’ Jesus knew His wounds were beautiful.”
As Jennifer grieved, mourned, and eventually healed, she says, “At the places where I was broken, the power of Christ became authenticated in me for others. There came a time that I could say, “Look at my wounds. Touch my scars. I have death wounds, but I am alive. I can wear my wounds without shame.”
Jennifer didn’t try to hide her wounds, but embraced a Savior who understood suffering in the midst of them. It was healing. It also allowed her to find strength in her new normal.
One day she will walk into the arms of Wayne and see him in eternity. It’s a day she longs for, but until then she says that she lives with a heart “expanded by sorrow.”
She identifies with the pain of others who are feeling fragile because of loss. She says that her mourning, and the fact that Jesus grieves with her, altar’d her life. This led to a book with that same title, in which she describes what takes place when we offer up every aspect of our lives—including the harder parts, like grief—to God.
Q: Many advise, “Just move on.” How does that delay healing?
Q: How would embracing the pain and finding the gift within help you to heal?
Read Jennifer’s story (beginning on page 98) in The Mended Heart.
Q: When you experience grief, you can gain new insight through the process. Jennifer Kennedy Dean described this as being altar’d. What insight has come to you through your grief?
Tomorrow I’ll share The Mended Heart Challenge for Week #4. I want to hear from you as you work through this study. If you need prayer as you allow Jesus to work in you, let us know. I have a team of prayer warriors waiting to join me in prayer.