Last week, I talked about The Slow Leak… grief that saps the emotional energy of parents as they deal with their children’s special needs. But The Slow Leak can also occur during what I call Waiting Weeks.
Some of the most difficult times in my life have been Waiting Weeks. Weeks (and months and years) of waiting to be pregnant. Weeks of waiting to find out if my unborn daughter Amelia had a disability beyond the obvious holes in her heart. Waiting for her heart-failure to bring her to the brink of death before they would do her open-heart surgery (they wanted her to weigh as much as possible before operating). Waiting to find out why my daughter was experiencing pain when walking. Waiting now to see if Amelia’s pain treatment for her arthritis will work.
Before I had my first miscarriage (with our fourth child), I had no idea how much waiting could be involved in that process. But then, a couple weeks ago I had another long week, between no heartbeat and follow-up appointment to see if the baby was still with us or not. And though this time, I knew that waiting was part of the deal, I still wasn’t used to it. Waiting is just so, so hard. We did in fact, say goodbye to our fifth baby, before we ever got to hold our precious child in our arms.
Waiting can involve a particularly messy grieving. We feel like we’re grieving, but we’re not sure yet what we’re grieving, or what life will look like when the dust settles. When grieving over something specific, we can hope that every day we’ve survived is a step in the right direction. But waiting-grief is nebulous – we can feel like we’re grieving in circles.
So I wrote the following to myself during my most recent Waiting Week, as a reminder to myself of how to wait well. I want to wait to the glory of God. But how? How can we avoid being pulled under by grief?
- Take it to God. I heard a pastor once teach, “Don’t vent or suppress your emotions; process them before the throne.” I love this idea, but how should we process our complicated grief before the throne? Read the Bible daily. Ask God to help us wait well. Ask Him to use the process to teach us. In many cases, taking it to God involves surrender. Much of the anxiety in waiting is caused by our fear that God will take from us the one thing we really want. Pray daily that God will help us to surrender to His loving care.
- When taking our burdens to God, remember to give thanks. It is all too easy to become hyper-focused on the object of our waiting, so much so that we miss the many ways we’re being blessed.
- Stay busy. Meet with friends, choose a book of the Bible to memorize or a hymn we never learned and have that on repeat all day long. Our family started the day by singing “And Can It Be?” and that has been running through my head all day, comforting me with ancient truths. Giving the gears of our minds something to hum to when we slip into neutral can help to stave off a lot of anxiety. Music in the background can be beneficial, too (I love this and this, Scripture set to music). If we have hobbies, this is a good time to pull them out. Paint or draw? Sing? Write? Run? Play the piano? Bake? Hike? This is a good time for distraction.
- Make space to daily grieve. Stay busy, but not too busy. When grief is complicated, sometimes it is difficult to process emotions as we go because we’re not sure which emotions to process. But the emotions of waiting will take a toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually if we don’t take time to process them. Plan something into every day that gives space for praying (and maybe a good cry): a long shower, a run, time to sit alone outside, etc.
- Share your struggles. Ask people to pray. This one has a drawback in complicated grief situations: because there’s not a definite thing to focus on, I’ve sometimes found myself talking in circles and working myself up rather than resolving anything. But asking for prayer is a wonderful idea, and mindful processing with a trusted friend who won’t let us chase our thoughts into a frenzy can be valuable.
- Give help. We can reach out to others as we are able. While we’re waiting, maybe we’ll have extra time and can bring someone a meal or write a kind note. Maybe we’ll have a few extra minutes to send a text to a hurting friend or say a prayer for another’s needs. We should take care to avoid becoming myopically self-focused.
- Accept help. A precious woman I’ve only recently gotten to know offered to watch my kids last week so that my husband could come to my ultrasound with me. Even when one child was throwing up, this sweet woman and her daughter still insisted on coming over. And she brought dinner (with cookies!). Many others brought us delicious meals, flowers, and wine. One dear friend folded laundry and straightened up my house! It is humbling to accept help, not knowing when we’ll have the capacity to reciprocate, but doing so makes us eager to help others when we get the chance because we know how much it’s appreciated.
In the Waiting Weeks, we can begin to feel that our anxieties are ruling us and will certainly destroy us. But they give us the opportunity to practice trusting in our good God as we confess our worry, knowing that, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, for his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). We can seek to glorify God, even in the complicated grief of the Waiting Weeks, and we can trust that He will be faithful.
“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”
Psalm 31:5, ESV