I only left the worship because of my allergies.
I never leave church mid-service, but something in the fall air had me sneezing. Thankfully, it was a rare Sunday where I was in the pew and not leading worship. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even in my home church. I was attending with a friend in a different province. The worship was beautiful but I was sniffling and needed a tissue, so off I snuck to the ladies room.
When I opened the door, I found that I wasn't alone. A young woman turned into one of the stalls. I could hear her sniffling, but not from allergies. She was crying.
Not just crying...
I was a guest in this church. I knew from the morning's prayers that they had just lost a senior member of the congregation, but I didn't know the depth or extent of the loss.
I wanted to step lightly...
"Worship songs make me cry sometimes, too..." I shared softly.
She turned to face me.
"Are you okay?"
With that, her floodgates opened. The senior church member was her grandfather. He'd been sick for a while, and was quite old, but the loss was still so powerful. She shared the difficulties of sitting in church this morning - the same space where, just a few days ago, she and her family had gathered for the funeral. Her eyes overflowed as she talked about seeing her strong tough uncles break down in tears, and the heartbreak of watching her grandmother bury the only man she'd loved.
I wanted to step lightly,
but so often when we're with someone in grief,
stepping is barely needed.
Standing, listening, being present.
I listened to this young woman pour out her pain.
But I also listened for God.
"Okay Lord, I'm here in the ladies room, with a worship service happening just on the other side of the door. I know you brought me in here for a reason. What do you want me to do? Is there anything I can say that will help? If not, please keep me quiet. Just don't let me say anything that will make it worse!"
As she spoke, my heart was taken back to my own experiences with grief. I thought about the recent loss of my beautiful aunt, and the pain that moved through my family. I remembered my own grandmother's funeral. I was just a teenager when it happened, and I also remember being shaken by the tears and grief of the "strong tough" men in my family.
So, when I felt she needed a breath, I gently shared a bit of my story.
We talked about things that can make grief harder, like holidays or familiar spaces.
We acknowledged the very real hurt of loss, and the heartrending struggle of watching those you love in pain.
And we also talked about Heaven. How it doesn't erase the pain of losing someone, but that the promise of seeing one another again brings hope into the most unbearable of seasons.
And after a while of chatting, her tears lightened, and I was able to see her beautiful smile.
As I returned to my pew, I lifted a quiet prayer.
First, I prayed for this young woman and all those grieving in the church that Sunday.
And second, I lifted a prayer of gratitude for my own pain.
I've had some very dark seasons of grief in my life. And this particular year, I've experienced two terrible losses, both tragic in their own ways.
I will never be thankful for the loss of someone I love.
But today, I was thankful for the lessons that I've learned in my grief.
I'm thankful to know what it is to be in pain, so that I can empathize with someone whose heart has been broken by loss.
I'm thankful that I've had terrible things said to me in my grief, because it's taught me to be gentle in my own choice of words.
I'm thankful that I've had people ignore me in my grief because they "didn't know what to say," because it's taught me that it's okay to be be present but silent with someone who's hurting.
And I'm thankful that I don't need to rely on my own limited strength or wisdom in these moments. I can be still, and listen for the One who always responds in love, and encourages us to do the same.
Being grateful for our own pain doesn't come easy. It's been a long journey for me.
But today, I felt the fulfilment of that journey, and I am thankful for every step.