On Grief and Quiet Prayer
by Caroline Coleman
Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how we pray when we are grieving. I've been wondering, How do we pray when we are grieving an unimaginable loss? It's not an academic question for me. Ten months ago, my beautiful daughter took her life at age 26 after a long battle with depression. I believe that my daughter is with Jesus. I know that I will see her again one day. I'm not mad at God, the way some people are after a loss. I love God. If I'm angry at anyone, it's Satan, who lied to my daughter and told her that her struggles were hopeless. But where I find myself emotionally—ten months after experiencing the worst thing that I could imagine—is numb.
Being numb can make it seem like it's hard to pray, hard to access our hearts. God promises to grant us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). But how can we articulate our desires when we feel numb? The answer, I believe, lies in delight.
Delight may seem like a strange concept when our hearts are weighed down with grief, when we feel broken, when someone or something that we most loved has been taken away from us for reasons that we will never understand this side of heaven. But I don't mean by delight that we delight in tragedy. Of course not. Jesus was a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. Jesus wept. God never calls bad good. He promises, however, to bring good out of bad. And He promises to be with us always, in sickness and in health, until Death do us unite.
The wonderful and paradoxical truth of grace is that the deeper the caverns carved in our hearts by our pain, the more room we have for God’s love. Jesus has been so close to me over the past months that I can almost hear Him breathing. And throughout it all, I’ve found myself spending wordless numb time in the Lord's presence. Usually, I'm a verbal person. I like to write. I like to speak. But in this season of grief, I find myself quiet. I have found a sweetness in sitting with Him. I don't have much to say. I don't really have anything to say. I just want to be with Him.
When I first heard the news, I wasn't quiet. My scream ripped through time and felt caught up—in a way I can't explain—with Christ's scream of passion on the cross: He was experiencing all our pain then, including my loss. He took it all on Himself, all the things we can’t deal with on our own.
But after that cry, in the minutes, hours and weeks after we heard the news—when we were shaking and weeping and wishing we could go back in time—I found myself just being quiet with God. I listened to Abide, a Christian meditation app, throughout the lonely night hours, just listening. The only place I could be was quiet.
I think God understands my quietness with Him. God knows what it's like to lose a child. He gave up His Son for us, to save us, to bring us to Himself. He made a way for me to be reunited with my daughter. That means everything to me.
And if we look at the full verse about desire, I think it affirms what I’ve experienced. King David, who also lost a child, wrote: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Even when we are too numb to know our hearts, we can delight ourselves in Him, trusting that He knows what we most need or want. Delighting in God doesn't have to be verbal, I don't think. At least, it hasn’t been for me. Like a weaned child, we can be still with Him. Delight can be quiet, not asking anything, not needing anything, except maybe to cry.
He loves us so much.
P.S. My daughter didn’t get to read my picture book about fear. It came out five months after she took her life. But she saw the cover, and my kind publisher was able to let me change the dedication, so that it is now in her honor, not just her brother’s. She knows the truth now about how loved she is and how precious her life is—as we will all know it when we see Jesus face to face. The truth is that God loves us in all our seasons, when we laugh and when we cry, when we have a lot to say and when we feel like we have nothing to say at all.
Caroline Coleman's debut picture book If I Were a Tiger (Waterbrook Oct 2022) was recently released by a Christian imprint of Penguin Random House. She is also the author of Loving Soren (B&H 2005), a Christian historical novel about the woman who loved the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. She lives in NYC with her family, where she also teaches English literature at Hunter College.