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When Payton died, it felt like a part of me was taken away. The closest thing I can use to explain what it feels like to lose a child is it’s like an amputation – a part of you is gone, and you go on with life from that point on learning how to live life again with that part of you gone. And life starts to get a new normal, but there’s still always the reality that there’s a part of you missing.
The pain at that point was a gaping hole – it was big and there was no avoiding it. I understood then, why people turn to alcohol or drugs – and there was a part of me that wanted to – to just escape the pain for a moment. I became aware very soon after that grief was going to be a journey, and I could choose to grieve now or grieve years down the road. I wanted, as much as I could, to work through the grief now. And so I made a decision to do that.
Grief, or processing anything hard in life, is a choice and it is work. As much as I could I tried to lean on the Lord – I knew He was there, and that wasn’t always a tangible feeling – sometimes it was just a belief in what I knew, that He’d never leave me or forsake me. That He was aware of every hurt I felt, every tear I cried, every memory I had to process. I knew He was with me through all of it, though I didn’t always “feel” it. Even in the tears, it was almost a cognitive decision to believe that He was with me in that moment and that these tears weren’t wasted, that I needed to keep leaning into Him and not away from Him.
That first year after Payton’s death was hard. We had some really close friends who were so supportive, but it took me 10 months before the Lord began bringing me into a really sweet place of healing and growth. Since then it’s been incredible to see the change He’s brought about in my life and in my heart. It’s been hard for me to articulate exactly what it’s looked like, but I’ll do my best.
I just had a desire to grow in my relationship with the Lord and have an older, wiser woman to talk to. I also knew I was at was at a place in grief where I knew I needed someone to help me continue to take steps forward in that. The Lord really led me to a friend who had been overseas with us. We hadn’t talked in years, but we began having weekly phone appointments. She really challenged me and continued to encourage me to take next steps. The Lord has really used her throughout this whole process.
I just want to use an illustration from John Eldredge to show what Jesus has been doing in me.
ICU: The purposes of Jesus Christ are not finished when one of his precious ones is forgiven. Not at all. Would a good father feel satisfied when his daughter is rescued from a car accident, but left in ICU? Doesn’t he want her to be healed as well? So God has much more in mind for us. Listen to this passage from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1–3)
Of all the Scriptures Jesus could have chosen, this is the one he picked on the day he first publicly announced his mission. It must be important to him. It must be central. What does it mean? It has something to do with healing hearts, setting someone free.
Now that is an offer worth considering. What if it were true? I mean, what if Jesus really could and would do this for your broken heart? Read it again, and ask, Jesus, is this true for me? Would you do this for me? He can, and He will . . . if you’ll let Him.
Isn’t this an amazing reminder? I feel like this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me – He can and is healing my broken heart. It started with Him bringing comfort and healing through some of the grief I was going through, but now He just keeps going and continues to bring healing to other parts of my heart as well. And as I’m encountering Jesus in a whole new way, it makes me want to know Him more.
I had been going to counseling off and on, but that fall I began talking with a mentor and also going to counseling. Initially it was talking about some of the pain and grief I was walking through – sometimes it was the actual sadness or feeling of loss, but other times it was an actual memory that just brought a lot of pain to just think about it.
We not only talked about it; we also prayed about those feelings or that memory and brought it to God and asked Him for healing. As we did that He brought healing and the comfort of His truth to that part of my life. It’s so difficult to put into words other than that’s the most amazing thing that I’ve experienced. It’s not that I didn’t still feel sad about the things we had prayed through, but it’s that the Lord took away the bitter pain that was there – and it’s still gone. I still experience the healing from the prayer in those areas. It’s not like a spiritual high that’s faded, but it’s been a permanent change to those areas of my life.
We then began to pray through other areas of my life – fears, lies I was believing, other painful memories, and the same thing happened. The Lord removed the bitter pain or the root of the fear or the lies and replaced it with truth and wholeness and healing, and I’m still experiencing that wholeness.
As I think about that process, I feel like the Lord’s helped me illustrate it with this picture – think of looking at a weed from the side. You can see both above the soil and below. In the Christian world, there’s so much we can do to remove the weed from the ground up – things like prayer, counseling, talking with friends, but only Jesus can really remove the root of that weed and bring total healing. If only Jesus knows the deepest parts of me, things I may not even realize about myself, and if only Jesus has the power and victory over sin and death, then only Jesus can really, permanently remove that root from my heart.
As I was finishing up one of the prayer times this past fall, the Lord gave me this picture, and it’s one I continue to go back to as I continue on this journey. I just had this picture of a huge field with various plants scattered throughout. Some were good plants and some were weeds. And there were these giant hands that were tenderly pulling out the weeds and planting good plants. These hands were full of such love and tenderness and peace and kindness, and I knew they were the Lord’s. My heart felt as open as the field. I have never felt so open and free and at peace. I just wanted the Lord to continue to work in my heart in any way He wanted. This is a picture I come back to often as I continue to have moments of both uprooting (lies, fears, pain) and planting (truth, hope, love).
As this “uprooting” happened, then there was more room for truth and for me to continue to grow in my relationship with Him and be transformed by Him.
I feel like it brings new meaning to Psalm 51:6,10: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God desires truth in the deepest parts of my heart, and that’s what He’s doing.
I feel like what I’m learning is that the Christian life isn’t a 3 step or 10 step or 20 step process to “get there.” I AM THERE – I feel like I’ve been learning how to live there. God has been breaking me of fear and the legalism of “I just need to do this to get that” or “Do this to please God and make Him happy.” But the truth is God has already given me everything. I have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; I already have God’s total love and delight for me. I think it’s been such a transformational year because even though I’ve known this stuff for years, it’s REAL to me now. It had to start with the uprooting because God had to remove what was hindering my growth, but as that’s been taken away, God’s truth has been planted in my heart. It was in my head, but it wasn’t deeply rooted in my heart.
“The Christian Life is not outward conformity to rules – it is God’s life in us. Real knowledge of God comes only when the Lord puts His truth in us. To know God is to receive Him. We must learn to yield to the Groom’s gracious embrace. We must discover how to welcome His holy entrance into our hearts.”
Sometimes we just try to make a plan to try harder, to read the Bible more, to pray more (and hear me say those are GOOD things) – but when it’s a plan like this, it’s legalism; we’re putting ourselves back under the law. But Christ has freed us from the law. I need to be unguarded and let Him do for me what I can’t do for myself. It’s not about thinking up a plan but listening to God – responding to Him in relationship, connecting with Him, receiving His presence, and doing what He asks us to do. There’s nothing I can do to improve upon what God has already done. I want to listen to God and do what He wants me to do in that moment. He LOVES you! He LOVES you just as you are. Humble yourself and let him just love you.
Often we can be afraid of God and move away from Him because of lies we believe about Him. When we believe those lies, we won’t come to Him which could perpetuate more lies and keep us further from Him. But I’ve seen the opposite be just as true. As God has uprooted lies in my life and replaced it with truth, it draws me closer to Him. I continue to lean into Him more. I know His love for me even more. I know His character more.
God did not heal Payton’s Heart, but He chose to heal mine. God redeemed an awful situation and has brought about more good than I could have ever thought possible. Only God can do that.
Even though God is not the author of death and pain, He’s big enough to use it and He used it to help deliver me.
Kevin Shorter is the founder of this prayer-coach site and have served for several years in ministry and churches teaching on a variety of Biblical topics. Go to the contact page to request him to speak at your conferences and seminars.