Summary: A grief anticipating what will happen is difficult, but can be handled if we ask and accept forgiveness. When the grief is fulfilled, then we are ready to do what our hearts tell us. God suffered anticipating grief and so understands.
Only someone who has done some grieving can help those who now grieve. A hundred "I’m sorries" and a thousand "I know how you feels" are worthless when you feel profound grief. You need at your side someone who has been through loss.
And if yours is anticipating grief; that is, if yours is the kind of grief that is building up because of something you know is going to happen, then you truly need someone beside you who has suffered. The last thing you need is someone who just refuses to understand why you are grieving, someone who brushes you aside and chirps, "Get over it."
No, if yours is anticipating grief, if yours is grief over something you know is going to happen, then you need at your side someone who knows what that is about. Someone who has endured some sleepless nights. Someone whose heart has been in his throat. Someone whose voice chokes from time to time.
Anticipating grief. Does that phrase make sense to you? Grief for things that have not yet happened, but you know they will. The physician’s diagnosis is clear; there are only a scant few months to live. A grief process begins right then and there. It will come to a climax when death occurs, but you are going to have to endure it and deal with it for many months first. Anticipating grief.
You’ve felt something go out of a friendship. Some relationship is deflating, like a flat tire on the road. It’s not gone yet, but you can feel it flattening out. There have been no arguments, no fights, no harsh words; just a weariness, a boredom, blah. A friendship is dying, and you don’t know exactly why. But a grief is born. Anticipating grief.
You’re a parent who has invested so much in a child. That child grows up and goes to college and does well; you never expected anything to be particularly different. But it is. He comes home and seems distant; he has new ideas, he speaks of friends that you don’t even know, he muses that maybe at Christmas he will go somewhere else this year. And a tiny grief is born, because something tells you this child will never be the same, never your child again. Something tells you the connection is not what it used to be. A tiny grief is born. Anticipating grief.
I suspect that anticipating grief is more intense than sudden grief, more difficult than catastrophic grief. I remember, early in my pastoral career, of making the mistake of saying to someone whose elderly parent had died, "Well, you had her for a good long time. I guess you were ready for her to go home." And swift and sharp came back the answer, "She may have been ready, but I’m not ready. Don’t you be telling me what to feel." I deserved that! Never again have I suggested that because someone’s ninety-plus-year-old parent is gone, it’s a good thing, and you ought to just get over it. Never again. I have learned that anticipating grief is the most painful kind. The knowledge that a train wreck is coming and, no matter what I do, I cannot stop it: that’s tough.
The king of Israel had been caught, stopped dead in his tracks. The palace preacher, from whom David wanted sweet and soothing sermons, did not cooperate. The pulpit-pounding Nathan instead rang out in accusation, "You are the man." And David stood condemned of terrible wrongs: he had seduced another man’s wife, he had covered up his crime, and, most terrible of all, he had arranged the man’s death. The king’s crimes were incredibly horrible. And Nathan had nailed him to the wall.
David could do nothing but admit his guilt. His only recourse was the poignant cry, "I have sinned against the Lord." A grief was born right there. An anticipating grief. For the prophet told the king that the child which Bathsheba would bear, the product of David’s sin, that child would not live. Think about how that would feel. Even before the child is born, David knows that the child will not live, and that he must suffer the grief of that loss. That, I submit, is a terrifying anticipating grief. You have done wrong; the consequences of your sin will be here, but someone innocent will suffer. Awesome, heavy grief.
But I want you to notice that David set the stage for handling his grief. Did you hear what David did in response to this? He did something that would pave the way through that intense and terrible grief. David asked for and received forgiveness. David made sure that his relationship with God was made whole.
When David began his grief, he could have done many things: he could have collapsed into a bowl of quivering jelly, unable to function; he could have lashed out in anger at Nathan … believe me, I know that sometimes when people don’t like the message, they want to hurt the messenger; or he could have wallowed in destructive guilt. After all, he had a lot to feel guilty for. He could have allowed any of these things to take over his life.