God's Presence in Grief

I will be with you. God said this to Moses when He called him to bring His people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:11-12).

I will be with you. God spoke these words to Gideon when he called him to save Israel from the Midianites (Judges 6:15-16).

Where can I go from your presence? The psalmist beautifully reveals that there is not one place we can go where God is not. He leads us and holds us (Psalm 139).

They shall call him Immanuel.  A prophetic word spoken about Jesus meaning, “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).

God is always present with His love, His grace, His peace, and His mercy.  This is not some truth that I consent to for the sake of theological precision. It is Truth because His Word tells us, and because Jesus has made it experientially known to me in the most deepest of ways: processing the grief of losing my dad.

Experiencing God’s Presence in Grief

My dad was an amazing father. I’d like to think he was the best earthly example of our heavenly Father.  It is hard to articulate the relationship I had with my daddy…I can only tell you of the sweet memories I hold onto today.

Every evening before bed, my dad would kiss me goodnight and tell me he loved me. Sometimes he would linger to lay and talk with me, either because he wanted to know what I was thinking about or how my day was. He gave me hugs almost any chance he could get. The support and involvement of my dad in all the activities I was a part of was crazy.  I can still his voice yelling, “Run Forrest, Run,” as he cheered me on in cross country. Seeing the huge smile on my dad’s face, the look of pride for his eldest daughter when I shot my first deer, is something I will never forget.  I loved being his daughter.

When I was 14 years old, my dad suddenly passed away from complications of a brain tumor.  He had been getting such bad headaches for over a month, so he finally listened to my mom and went to see a doctor. The doctor found a brain tumor the size of an orange in the area of the brain stem. My dad and mom received the news on a Friday afternoon.  They told my sisters and I about it Sunday after church. That Wednesday, my parents left town to get a biopsy of the tumor to see if it was cancerous or benign. On Friday in the early hours of the morning, my dad was induced into a coma and flown to Mayo Clinic for emergency surgery.  The doctors were able to get 97% of the tumor resected, but the damage had already been done. The tumor caused a stroke in my dad’s brain that left him brain-dead. My dad was gone.

About a year ago, God brought my grief up to the surface in the rawest of ways. I was hesitant to step into this season of grieving and healing. You see, I did not want to grieve again. I did not want to enter into the suffering and loss.  I argued with God through prayer and hot tears, trying to hold it all in.  Why do I have to grieve again? God, I don’t think I can handle it. I had this attitude that God did not have permission into that area of my heart. I was believing a lie. A lie that said God wasn’t present and with me as I grieved and dealt with losing my dad.

What finally gave me courage to enter back into the grief was a picture that I’d received while in prayer.  It was of Jesus holding me, with big and strong arms. I was crying, and He was holding me. That image helped me become aware of His presence in my suffering. I did not have to encounter and experience the grief alone. God was showing me that Jesus was there with me, at age 14 and at age 23.

That vision spurred me on to journey back through all the memories surrounding my dad’s death. Revisiting the pain was so difficult, yet it was such a gift to understand that Jesus was holding me in the past, and He was holding me now as I mourned.  I started to understand why God was inviting me to grieve the loss of my dad again.  He was helping me see that He was present with me all along, in the heartache and the loss. God was beside me as I received the horrible news. God was with me when my uncle hugged and held me close. God was there when my mom encouraged my sisters and I to talk about dad. God held me when I cried. I can look back now and see that He was caring for me.

God is with You When You Grieve

Today I simply wanted to share what it was like for me to grieve again and how God’s presence changed the way I understood my loss. For those of you who are grieving or have grieved, this is an invitation to trust in God’s presence. Whether it is for today or for your past, God is there. God assures us over and over throughout Scripture, “I will be with you.” That is a promise that we can trust in.

Practicing God’s presence does not always look the same for everyone. For me, it meant praying as I thought through those memories of loss and asking God “Where were you when I cried?” and then praising and thanking Him for being present at every moment, knowing He was ultimately holding me through it all.

God’s presence can change the way you understand your loss. To know that you are not alone is a valuable step toward hope in the midst of grief. It means that there is a God that will not leave you or forsake you in the hardest moments of your life.

My hope is this spurs you on to seek His presence in your own life, in your grief, in your loss, in your struggles. The beautiful thing is that we do not have to ask God to come near to us. He is already with us! As we grow in awareness of His presence, the greater the desire to let Jesus into the pains and loss of our lives.  The beautiful truth in the midst of all the pain is that He is there with you.


About the Author

Jackie grew up along the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota.  In college, Jesus changed Jackie’s heart and reoriented her life for His glory. She met her handsome husband at school, and they moved to Denver after graduating and getting married.  She is pursuing her master’s degree in Christian Formation & Soul Care at Denver Seminary and expects to graduate in December 2015.