A Time to Walk Through the Dark Woods

Much of my life has been lived in a state of grief. Some of it has simply happened, some of it I have caused or contributed to. Divorce. Stepmom-hood. Loss. Depression. Change. Grief is mostly un-fun and it’s pain, and avoiding painful un-fun things is sometimes my favourite.

So it built up. 

It’s been a hard thing for me to explain or even understand myself. But here’s what it has looked like for me:

Grief is the dark woods that I have needed to walk through – that I still visit – in order to heal. 

We all walk our own life paths. There are always going to be obstacles. Grief is one of those unplanned and sometimes scary things that’s generally not on our to-do list.

When our lives and souls become shredded, and we numb or self-protect or distract ourselves, we are pacing back and forth and all around the outside of the woods. We are stuck on one side. And the forest might look too dark and too scary and too lonely to go in.

Sometimes, we finally dip one toe into the darkness. Sometimes, we plug our noses and dive right in. There are parts of the trail that we have to tumble down, rolling head over heels until by some act of mercy or by our own broken bones, we stop. There are thickets we have to hack our way through with every ounce of strength we can muster. There are thorns and barbs and creatures in the hidden spaces.

It’s a trust walk. Trust in God, trust in our ability to move, trust that whatever is out there won’t swallow us whole.

We don’t go through this unscathed.

Sometimes we trudge through, and other times we sprint out as fast as we can because we can’t breathe and need to move. Sometimes, we find resting spots within the forest itself. There are times we see light peeking through the trees, and other times we can’t see our hand in front of our face. The hardest times can be when it seems like the end is close, but it’s actually a trick, because the trail was a loop that led us back to the beginning again.

Sometimes we feel so alone that it feels hopeless. We’ll never make it out alive. So we find a cave and hide in the darkness, waiting for the end to come.

We scream and rage.

We trip on roots, on rocks, on the ground itself. We become completely lost and start to wonder if we’ll ever make it through. There are patches of total darkness, where we put our hands out and shuffle along, hoping we don’t cut ourselves or smack into a tree or fall off a cliff. There are times our feet are like lead blocks, but we manage to thunk them down and by some miracle, continue onwards.

But after a while, we start to see the path. We become more steady. We gain strength. We hear God’s whisper and we wonder if it’s going to be ok after all.

“Roll your path unto me. Ive got you.”*

Once we have spent some time in our forests, we become more familiar with the dark places and rocky trails. We start to navigate. We learn.

Grief remembers.

And one day, armed with the maps we have etched on our hearts, we help other humans walk through their own forests. We hold their hands. We stand back and allow them to create their own maps, to forge their paths.

We make spaces for them to rest when their legs shake. We don’t drag or force them through their forest. Space-makers don’t drag. There is wisdom in knowing that sometimes, the journey is slow. We weep with them and we stand in between them and the dark and we say “I still see you” or we say nothing at all because it’s time to be silent.

We simply exist together in this place and time.

Sometimes we find old familiar trails of our own. We find old gravestones we have left behind and flowers we have planted along the way. We reflect. We begin to understand that this place is known to us because it has become a part of us. Maybe we don’t live there, but we return and we rest. And we notice that it begins to look different. Maybe, it doesn’t look quite as scary anymore.

We remember those who wept and walked with us. We remember hope, and we share hope with one another.

We remember where God is and we remind our friends that sometimes we couldn’t see Him either. But He sees us.

He’s been with us the whole time. He never let go.

And there will be dancing.

*Proverbs 16:3 “commit your path unto the Lord” is also translated as “Roll your path unto the Lord.” – from the Hebrew word “gol” from the root word “galal.”

Trust, and give it to God. Release your burdens. This passage takes on a new meaning when put that way, doesn’t it?

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