This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.
On a Friday morning, at 23 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, I went to my OB for a routine check-up. She couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. The ultrasound confirmed that our baby had died sometime in the previous couple of weeks.
My husband hurried to the hospital, and we endured the long and devastating next 24 hours together. Having given birth to three healthy babies in the last six years, the labor and delivery room was familiar, but everything happening was all wrong. All our emotions were inverted. Instead of waiting with anticipation to meet our new baby, we were waiting with grief to deliver the child we would never know this side of heaven. I had never felt so heartbroken.
Early Saturday morning, we held our stillborn daughter for a short time and said a few words in prayer. A song by Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” came to my mind. It was one that had been meaningful to good friends of ours after they had endured a similar loss.
The image of Zion in the Old Testament seems to describe a reality where life is spent with God forever. In the song, Sandra points to a time when “we will sing with our hearts restored.” As we cried, we listened to her earnest declaration of hope in God and her encouragement, “In the dark of night, before the dawn/my soul be not afraid.” I think that in the midst of such intense grief, I was desperate to hold on to the fact that one day we would be able to sing of the great things God has done in making all things new—even this child’s life. We named our baby Zion.
One of the dominant thoughts I had as I returned home and waded into my grief was that I wanted to “grieve well.” I wanted to do it “right.” People told me that there was not a right way to grieve. And although there was some comfort in that, it conflicted with my innate desire to learn the correct, or best, way to do something and then follow a plan to enact that best way. The problem was that this was my first experience with this kind of grief, and I didn’t know how to do it or what kind of plan to make. We had recently moved to a new home, in a new community, and were attending a new church—new territory all around. I did not know what I needed.
In addition, I think that during times of grief, we become extra sensitive to, well, pretty much everything. Every regular comment or experience, from people who knew of our loss and from those who knew nothing of it, was filtered through my lens of grief. Something even as simple as hearing the upbeat Raffi song “Everything Grows” come on for the kids in the car made me burst into tears. “No, not everything grows,” I thought. “The baby that was in my womb stopped growing and died.”
We did not know why our baby had stopped growing, why her heart had stopped beating. The doctor assured me that it was not anything I could have prevented. I could accept not knowing; after all, tragedies happen every day with no apparent reason except that we exist in a fallen world, not the Garden of Eden in which we were intended to live. But as I stood in the unknown, I wanted to find something that I did know.
I wanted to speak rightly of God; however, during my grief, I found it was difficult to read certain verses in the Bible, and difficult to say words to prayers and hymns that used to be comforting and familiar. One such hymn for me was a childhood favorite: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I chided myself for being so self-focused, but all I could think about was how Zion’s death was not a sign of God’s faithfulness.
Yet, here’s the thing: I knew Zion’s death did not change the fact the God is faithful. We proclaim God’s faithfulness not because all is right with the world, but because it is true. It is what scripture tells us (Lam. 3:22-23). About a week after I delivered Zion, my dear friend Jenny texted me that she was praying for me with the line, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” also from the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” These were the new words I clung to while listening to this song. I could not sing the line, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” without sobbing, but I held out hope that someday I would. For right now, I sang, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” with all my heart. This line resonated truth for me. God was continuing to provide strength for one day at a time, and glimpses of a better tomorrow. I did not know why Zion died, but I did know God was near to me in my grief (Ps. 34:18) and that was surely a sign of God’s faithfulness. I thought back to the song we played as we held Zion’s lifeless body, and it reminded me of some more things that I knew to be true. There will be a day when, as Sandra sings in the chorus, “We will feast and weep no more.” In the book of Revelation we read John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). This was a truth about the future to which I could hold.
And so I stumbled into a practice that helped me mourn and look forward at the same time: listening to music; music that reminded me of what I believed about God and held true to my current experience at the same time. When I started to get swallowed in all the unknowns, I needed to surround myself with words that I did know to be true. So, I gave my husband a few ideas—songs that had words and phrases that I could embrace because they were true but not in opposition to my very tender, broken heart—and he made a play list for me to listen to during my days at home with our three young boys. Many mornings it felt like a battle not to relive the trauma of our heartbreaking weekend, and the curated songs in the background helped me fight that battle, as I scrambled eggs, changed diapers, and folded laundry. It certainly wasn’t a complete plan for journeying through the grief, but choosing to turn on songs of hope and love helped me put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.
Invitation to Practice
The Question: How do we listen for and hold on to truth from Scripture during times of grief, confusion, or doubt?
The Longing: To acknowledge real emotion, particularly of sorrow, and to hold it hand in hand with good biblical theology of God’s character.
The Plan: Make a playlist of songs that speak to the season and emotions you are experiencing. Or, better yet, ask someone who loves you to make the list for you—a spouse or a close friend. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and choose songs carefully; find music and lyrics that are honest to where you are. Don’t rush to make a play list that works as a “pep talk,” pulling you towards feelings that don’t accurately portray or acknowledge where you are. There is no reason to rush a grief process.
What it looks like for me:
For me, the idea of finding and putting together a list of songs was just too overwhelming. (I tend to identify songs by saying, “you know that one song that one group sings with that line about sowing seeds?”) So, I asked my husband to make a playlist of songs that I could listen to while I was home with our young children. Here are a few songs that spoke to me as I worked to put one foot in front of the other in the days after I delivered our stillborn daughter.
- “Healing Song” by Bebo Norman (“I don’t know if you can tell, but Love is pushing me along/I’m pressing up against the veil”)
- “I will Praise Him Still” by Fernando Ortega
- “Psalm 126” by Bifrost Arts (“Although we are weeping/Lord help us keep sowing/The Seeds of Your Kingdom/For the day you will reap them…All those who sow weeping/Will go out with songs of joy”)
Katie Novak spent six years teaching and adventuring in the Los Angeles area followed by four years at a slower pace in rural Michigan, where she tried out her new hobbies of sewing and gardening. Now Katie and her husband Joey, a Presbyterian minister, are back in their hometown of Flint, Michigan, raising three lively boys—there’s rarely a dull moment!