Grief ebbed onto my shore last year. It came at first just slapping at my ankles with a catastrophic rift in my family. Then a dream died and it sucked the hope like sand from beneath my feet. Months of chronic pain that no one could explain or alleviate brought it higher still. Finally, with the awakening of past trauma I had never quite confronted, sadness like the tide rose to my waist and chin. I stood stoically and stupidly on that shore, saltwater biting and open wounds stinging, until the betrayal of a loved one and the death of my estranged father swept me wholly out into a sea of sorrow. There, I bobbed along in waves of grief, determined to stay afloat on my own. After all, I had Jesus.
But grief is a trickster. While you are fighting with all your might to keep your head above the water, it secretly hollows you out beneath the surface until you spring a leak and it finally floods you entirely. Too ashamed to wear my sadness upon my face for all to see, I tucked it into the furtive corners of my core, determined not to duty anyone with my despair. There in the darkness, it mutated into raven rage, which at first was much more bearable a burden and quite delightful in comparison. But what began as my pet soon became my master. Fury festered and flourished and then blanketed me, eventually proving more cumbersome than comforting. I finally began to flounder and flail, and the sudden sinking somehow shocked me. Well-acquainted with both his goodness and my brokenness, I knew that God was plenty—even in the wildest of waves. So how could I, a person and proclaimer of faith, be so easily engulfed by suffering? How, even tethered to his truth, did I still struggle so mightily against the sadness that tugged and towed at my feet and legs and hair? After all, I had Jesus.
I came to see the problem clearly, as only one can do in the depths of desolation. I was afraid that needing help somehow proved that God wasn’t enough when in truth it simply exposed that I wasn’t. I realized then that while faith renders us never alone because of the prevailing presence of God with us and within us, even God kept company. Yes, even the sovereign creator himself has always been in community and has always willed that we be as well. For it was in Eden, a garden flush with the bounty of his physical presence and perfection, that God declared that it is not good for man to be alone and gave him a helper. And yet I had arbitrarily decided that my asking for my own helper would somehow displease or discredit God. The conviction from that realization threatened to overwhelm me, but the mercy in it buoyed me instead. I recognized the lie and loosed it accordingly. God is indeed plenty all on his own. But he often provides his plenty through his people.
With that epiphany, I used the last of my strength to cry out and reach out, this time toward the shore as well as toward the sky. I admitted the gravity of my grief to my husband, who encouraged me to talk to a care pastor at our church. I mustered all my courage, went to his office and, mortified (because after all, I have Jesus), reluctantly revealed my angst and rage to him. Knowing that the devil does his dirtiest work in the darkness, the pastor kindly shone the light of compassion into those murky corners, forcing the shadows to flee. He also referred me to a trauma therapist who, over the next several months and through gallons of snot and tears, began to walk me through the haunting memories that have bound and broken me all these years. I kept asking if it was all necessary and Hebrews 12:1 kept assuring me it was. So I set forth to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so I could better run the race before me. My therapist and I still sit in the midst of that misery, but I am so thankful for her willingness to swim me back to the safety of the sand, wipe the salt from my mouth, and breathe life back into my being. When at last my lungs were filled again and I could open my eyes to meet the eyes of my best friend, I confessed the depth of my recent darkness and braved asking for her support. She, tearful and trembling, replied, “Of course. I had no idea. I thought you were fine. You said you were fine.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry,” I said. I was not fine. I’m still not.
It is only now, when I am finally beginning to get my land legs back under me, that I can see how not fine I really was and the level of danger I was in. My pride lured me to stand alone on that shoreline and my fear of need and others left me unmoored. If I hadn’t been so isolated during that season, I likely wouldn’t have slipped so far out into sorrow’s sea and been so brutally battered by the enemy’s waves of condemnation. If surviving grief has taught me anything, it is that we all have life to live and God to glorify and we are purposed to do that in community. I am no exception. He created us all for connection and community—being an introvert with limited social skills does not exempt me from that universal need. While I have been proudly applauding myself for the bravery of bearing my own burdens, God has been calling me to have the courage for community all along.
But how do I enter into godly community? How do I discern the whos and whys and whens of connection? What about when people can’t or won’t reciprocate? How do I bear the sting of rejection when my needs go unmet, unanswered, or even outright refused in a relationship? I don’t know the answers to all those questions. But I do know that if I don’t have the courage to try, I will drown in this loneliness.
God knew, as we know, that we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Yet, Jesus, even in his fullness and perfection, lived in community and nurtured an inner circle with whom he shared his greatest moments of joy and angst. He loved and served his disciples, fully knowing that they would each disappoint him, doubt him, abandon him, and even betray him. Yes, Jesus—in his very sovereignty and divinity—showed us humanity’s need for community. Is it any wonder then that Paul, who knew well the will of God and the comfort of companionship, spent much of his letters to the churches encouraging them to bear each other’s burdens and build each other up? Likewise, Hebrews implores us to “. . . consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” As a seminary student and an avid studier of the word, I do not need as much help understanding the promises of God as I do believing and applying them. I am convinced that God uses Spirit-equipped counselors and community as his agents of sanctification and to help shine his light and truth into our darkest corners.
I was wrong about needing help. Needing others is not selfish or weak, and it in no way negates the power of God. Community isn’t a forsaking of God, it is obedience to him. Christ will always be my closest friend and prayer will always be my true anchor. But emboldened by both faith and desperation, I reach out as well as up and am mustering the courage to pursue godly community. I am daring to show up and speak up and even have needs of my own. I continue to bear others’ burdens, but I’m being brazen enough to draw healthy boundaries and ask that they also share in mine. It has been terrifying at times—awkward at others—and discernment has proven a key component in this pursuit. Make no mistake: good community requires great courage. But to my surprise, God’s people are shockingly willing to be part of his provision. After all, we all need Jesus. And we all need each other too.
Cover image by nikko macaspac.