When Healing Causes Grief

There are days when I can see and feel that I am getting better and healthier. I rejoice in those days. With God’s help, I have climbed my mountain again, both literally and figuratively. I have been to church more weeks than not over the last few months. I have been to the grocery store with my husband. I can generally stop and talk to people without scanning my surroundings for the nearest chair. I have added several previously-forbidden foods to my diet. I haven’t had to get labs in five months. These things are celebration-worthy. Step-by-slow-step healing is meant to be savored and celebrated. So, I celebrate.

But something unexpected is putting a damper on my full celebration. My old frenemy, grief. I know what some of you are thinking, “Goodness, this girl will find anything to complain about. She’s even sad about healing.” I almost didn’t write this post because I know how it sounds. But, hello, #thisisdepression. Also, I cannot be the only one with a chronic illness who feels this way and I think we need to talk about it.

In her book, “Fully Alive” (see, I told you I’d never stop talking about this book), Susie Larson discusses the man in John 5 who Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well.” The man’s immediate response is, “I can’t, Sir.” Susie encourages us to explore our own “I can’ts.” And so, I have… often. I’ve been asked over the years by counselors and various health practitioners if there is something holding me back from accepting healing and I’ve done my best to come to grips with those things and give them up to God. I know that fear is an issue – fear of the unknown, fear of hope because if I get better I’m not sure I can emotionally handle getting sick again. There are other hindering beliefs that I have fully explored as well, but I kept having this nagging feeling that there is something else gripping me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. But God has recently opened my eyes and named it for me: GRIEF.

How can a person possibly grieve getting better? Well, after careful examination of my heart, I think I’ve nailed down one reason why each step forward is accompanied by a sharp stab to the heart. It’s because the people I’ve always imagined rejoicing with me in my healing are largely the ones who abandoned me in my suffering. They are the first people I imagined telling about my healing and yet, they are no longer in my life. Each step forward is a reminder of their absence and therefore, grows the intensity of my grief.

Not only is my celebration not happening in the way I imagined, but I see it as a final closure of the relationships I have lost. If I get better, the people who abandoned me are out of time and chances to show that they are willing to sit with me in my pain. If I heal, I have to finally accept that I will never receive what I want from them. I have to move on without them and I don’t know how to do that. It wasn’t “supposed” to be this way. I’ve been attempting the Dynamic Neural Retraining System, which uses a lot of visualization to help retrain the brain to wellness. I am supposed to visualize a future in which I am well. The problem I’m running into is, when I imagine my wellness, the people I thought would always be there are present in my visualizations… but they’re not with me now. And they haven’t been for a long time. So my visualizations are usually accompanied by grief, which kind of ruins the experience.

I don’t know how “normal” life goes without the people with whom I used to laugh. Those who were present in my healthy life have been largely absent during my sick life. Maybe my problem is that I’m trying to go back to a reality that no longer exists when God intends me to go forward with Him. I feel like I’m struggling for the right words so I’ll share a post by Sarah Panther, who speaks part of my heart a bit more clearly. I encourage you to read it here.

How do I celebrate when my heart breaks with loss for each step that I take? I guess the answer is that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. I can rejoice in my healing while grieving my losses. If I refuse to celebrate the victories, that discounts the work that God is doing and I never want to do that. He has been my constant through all of this and His work deserves every bit of recognition I give it and more. Healing is not only given to bring God glory in the eyes of the people who “deserve” to see it- those people who have held my hand in the trenches- but it is to reveal God’s glory to every eye who chooses to see. And maybe even more-so to the people who have misunderstood. Maybe those who feared my pain need to see that God is there and can heal even at length. Maybe those who couldn’t handle knowing that there can be long, intense suffering without God stepping in with a miracle need to know that He does still care. And maybe I need to fully recognize the miracle of God’s sustaining presence rather than pining for those I have lost.

So, I rejoice and grieve. I’m realizing that this may be life. Maybe the grief is our constant reminder that we are not Home where we belong. I don’t ever want to respond to Jesus’ offer of healing with, “I can’t, Sir.” This doesn’t sound like a very happy post, but we do have some celebrating to do. I invite you to rejoice with me and, if you have the heart, grieve with me as well. Together we will look forward to the final separation of joy and grief. Come, Lord Jesus.

Song I’m feeling: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet, by Avalon
“For the wounded, there is healing. Strength is given to the weak.
Broken hearts find love redeeming where joy and sorrow meet.”

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Author: Karina Baker

Hello, my dear friends! Glad to see you here. Thank you for reading about my beautiful rubble - my struggles with life, faith, and autoimmunity. Feel free to share your stories in the comments. My love and prayers to all of you!

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