By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
When we are grieving a personal loss, especially a recent one, pain in the soul is real and profound. And the sorrow in our heart can evoke a sense of despair that does not quickly go away.
We echo the above words of the psalmist as we too wonder “How long?” When will the day come when I can wake up and not feel the pain? Or at least not feel the pain “all day long?" When can I expect relief from the persistent suffering that continues to accompany this loss?
If we have seen ourselves as persons of faith, we may even find that our trust in God is shaken, and that we can also echo this further cry of despair expressed in the same Psalm:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
There is no easy answer to these questions, and we have a right to be wary of friends, and even professional counselors, who attempt to assure us that we can expect relief after a certain amount of time has passed—e.g. three to six months.
But if the cry “How long?” is a cry of despair, it is also a cry of hope. The very question implies at least a small kernel of belief that there will be a time when relief will come and sorrow will not be a constant companion. It may come later that we would wish, and later than our well-meaning friends have predicted, but it will surely come.
And when it comes we may also discover that our pain during those many weeks and months was not, after all, an indication that God had forgotten us, but only that God was as helpless as we were to make the pain go away even while being present with us all along the way!
Actually, God may not be any more able than are we to answer the question, ‘How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?’ But to the question, ‘How long will you hide your face from me,' the answer is clear: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
In other words God can’t take away the pain of my grief. But God will not fail to be with me as I move through the pain that God cannot prevent!
Those of you who are familiar with the book Tear Soup have noticed the dog that appears in almost every one of the beautiful illustrations. The dog serves as an ever-present, always faithful, silent witness to the pain that Grandy is experiencing as she moves through weeks and months and years of grief.
To my mind that dog represents the loving God who waits quietly but constantly beside us in our times of grief. How long will this steadfast God remain with us while we grieve? As long as it takes!