Most of the time, we think of grief as losing a loved one. But loss of faith, a marriage, a hope or dream, or even a way of life can also shake our world to its very foundations.
Just this Sunday, I substituted for a Sunday School class to teach teenagers how following the commandments can help us be like Heavenly Father. Never before have I struggled with a topic the way I struggled with this one, and I didn't expect it. Not only did it tap into my understanding that I can never be like Heavenly Father, not really (since I'm a woman,) but it tapped into the biggest source of my grief. It is not my marriage that still haunts me, my fears and pain regarding that are long resolved. It isn't even my relationships afterwards to which my intermittent sorrow clings. It is that I have lost faith that "after much tribulation, cometh the blessings." Believing that has lost meaning. It is the things I have worked the hardest at that fail most spectacularly. I have struggled long and hard within myself and with the Lord to discover what I'm doing wrong, what I could do better, without answer. Whatever it might be, I am at a loss to change it.
Giving up on expecting the fulfillment of the Lord's promised blessings doesn't mean my life is devoid of joy. Far from. By giving up any hope of blessings, I am becoming better able to focus on trying to become a blessing. While turning my heart to the service of others does nothing to remove my occasional loneliness, sorrow, or feelings of failure, it gives me something to do with my life that is unconnected with success. In serving others, there is usually no way to measure success, and no expectations of reward.
After asking the teens to list the qualities of God the Father, I realized that this, perhaps, will be the meaning of my life. It is not likely for me to marry again and raise a family with a man I respect and love, which seems to be the vigilant focus of other singles. It seems to be the focus of the Church's teachings, for that matter. But none of God's most important qualities which I can develop in this life are solely dependent on a spouse.
Loving. Patient. Gentle. Merciful. Comforting. Truthfully, we know little of who God the Father is, barely more than we know of our Heavenly Mother. But we can extrapolate the qualities of the Savior onto Him. I believe God, with all His power, is able to sacrifice completely.
Long ago, I began pleading with God that I might become someone able to inherit all that He has. Looking at these qualities, there is no doubt in my mind that my life has become a tool by which I might learn some of these things. Despite this, I have not entirely accepted my grief. At times I feel guilty for it, knowing that it makes me less desirable as a friend, feeling like I should be over it, hoping I am successful in hiding it from others. (Online, I speak of things I rarely speak of elsewhere. It is one thing to read about someone's grief, it is another to be faced with it.) As I am naturally a rather cheerful and playful person, few who know me offline would guess at the depth of sorrow I carry in my heart. It grates on my being in opposition to who I want to be.
Distasteful as I find it, that thick strand of grief woven in the fabric of my life has the capacity to teach me to be like Christ as nothing else might. Christ learned compassion by the things He suffered, learned how to succor His people. If I can learn even one small part of that, then I will have gained everything for which I once plead.
It matters less why or when we experience sorrow and grief than how we choose to experience it. We can grieve and turn away from everyone, perhaps out of shame for an emotion we find ugly, out of a desire not to burden our friends or loved ones, or out of anger and desire to punish the world that would deal us such a heavy blow. Or, in our grief, we can turn towards God and His children, reach out our hands of love and support to those around us, even if we feel woefully inadequate at it. Even when we feel we have nothing to give.
Most of the time, when I "mourn with those that mourn," or "comfort those that stand in need of comfort," I feel very awkward, like an unwanted intruder. But I would rather suffer the embarrassment of not being wanted than the shame of not offering myself in the first place. Compassion is the purpose of sorrow. Grief isn't meant to hurt us, but to temper us and make us stronger. When we long to serve and help—though we carry the heavy burden of grief in our own hearts—we ultimately turn to Christ for comfort.
His heart is always open to us. He shoulder is always available for our tears, when no one else is. We make "his soul an offering for sin," rely on Him to make our mistakes and inadequacies right again. Consecrated to Him, our sorrow and grief sanctify us rather than tear us apart.
In Him, I have found the strength to try to heal others, even though I no longer expect particular blessings for my efforts. The things He has promised me, that I learned to expect, don't matter so much any more. Their loss still causes me sorrow from time to time. I am very human. But I am able to grieve them while knowing that those blessings are in His hands, without blaming myself for not being worthy of them yet, and without being afraid of my own failure.
"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief....Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows....but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes, we are healed."