This article is an excerpt from the book, We’re Stronger than We Look: Insights and Encouragement for the Caregiver’s Journey. Jill and David Brown lived full and healthy lives until David took a violent fall off his bicycle and into a wheelchair in 2009. Jill now serves as his primary caregiver.
“Then wash your face.”
That’s the bridge in the center of the quote I like so much: “Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.” Those four words stand as the transition between looking back at what we’ve lost and moving toward what we have in its place.
It’s a good metaphor. But how do we turn that into reality? What does “washing your face” look like?
A Grace Disguised, a rich, deep, honest book, came out of Jerry Sittser’s experience of losing his mother, wife, and daughter to a drunk driver. I treasured and learned from the whole book, but one section surprised me.
“Sorrow,” Sittser writes, “is noble and gracious. It enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously. . . . However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.”1
Is it? Sorrow can rip and twist the soul, leaving it in bitter shreds. It can numb the soul, so a person is never fully alive again. It can turn people against God, so they never trust him again. I’ve seen all of that happen. But for sorrow to be good for the soul, maybe “washing your face” is an essential step.
Sittser writes about a night when his young son expressed anguish and rage, wanting to make the drunk driver suffer as he’d made their family suffer. Sittser held him, and they sat in silence. Then his son said, “You know, Dad, I bet someone hurt him, too, like maybe his parents. That’s why he did something to hurt us. And then I bet someone else hurt his parents. It just keeps going on and on. When will it ever stop?”2
Listen to those words! You can hear sorrow enlarging that child’s soul. He hadn’t reached the place of rejoicing, but he was edging onto that road. He had begun to look beyond himself, beyond the now.
In that story, I saw four parts of “washing your face”:
- Be with someone you trust.
- Talk honestly. Express your feelings.
- Allow yourself times of silence, making room for truth to shift within you.
- If there’s a place for forgiveness, forgive.
During our worst-vacation-day-ever, when grief for what we’d lost knocked David and me for an unexpected loop, we talked it out. We didn’t try to solve or fix anything. We just expressed. Some parts we went into more deeply or from a different angle than ever before, and I had a sense of something happening in me.
My soul, enlarging? A bridge, leading me to trust God more than before?
For Sittser, “washing his face” doesn’t mean denying his grief. He doesn’t leave sorrow behind. He takes it with him and allows it to coexist with the joy he finds in life. I don’t know how to do that, but I don’t think he did either. Not at first.
We learn along the way.