What do you do when life shatters and you’re navigating a life you didn’t sign up for? Lisa Appelo understands the raw emotions and fearful uncertainty that come when life falls apart. Lisa went to bed happily married and woke up a widow and single mom to seven children. Wrestling through deep pain and paralyzing overwhelm, Lisa shares the tender steps she took with hope to find that life could be good again. It’s a grace to welcome Lisa to the farm’s table today…
The most brutal pain often careens into the most ordinary days.
“The most brutal pain often careens into the most ordinary days.”
Mine was an early morning in June when I woke to my husband’s deep breathing on the pillow next to me. “Hon, it’s just a nightmare,” I said groggily, still half asleep. With my eyes too heavy to open, I extended an arm over to Dan’s side of the bed to nudge him from the nightmare. As a mom to seven, I’m a super-light sleeper. I thought Dan would turn over and we’d go back to sleep until his alarm sounded in a couple hours.
Instead, I awoke fully to his continued heavy breathing. Flipping on the overhead light, I saw instantly something was very wrong. Had he choked? Was he conscious? My mind raced.
I held my hands to the sides of his face and blurted out questions. “Dan! Can you hear me?” He didn’t respond and there was no sign he’d registered any of my questions. I went into crisis management mode, calling 9-1-1, starting CPR, and praying my guts out that God would spare the husband I had kissed good-night only hours earlier. But in the next two hours, an ER doctor would tell me they’d tried everything but couldn’t revive him.
I bent to kiss him one last time, hot tears spilling over my cheeks. This was the man I was supposed to do the rest of life with. I willed myself to memorize every feature of the face I had loved since I was sixteen. Two decades earlier, I had slipped a wedding band on his finger with such anticipation. Now, in a mix of gut-searing pain and hazy shock, I slipped it off and turned to tell our seven children waiting at home that their dad was in heaven.
There are no scripts for these moments in life. These kinds of moments aren’t supposed to be in the script. And the waves of grief that come in life-shattering loss bring all kinds of hard emotions. Each morning I’d wake and, for the briefest moment, life felt normal—and then wham! The despair, fear, and gloom fell heavier than an X-ray blanket.
I felt gutted, carrying the raw ache of loss throughout the day. Normal errands and routines were a minefield of triggers that screamed, This is your life now! I longed to fast-forward through the pain and emotions pulling me under day after excruciating day.
“If we don’t deal with hard emotions on our terms, they will come back on their terms later.”
But there are no shortcuts through seasons of deep loss, and there is no bypassing the myriad hard emotions that come with them. If we don’t deal with hard emotions on our terms, they will come back on their terms later.
While we may try to stuff or escape or self-medicate the pain away, the only way to deal with our hard emotions is to meet them head on and process through them.
And that’s where it gets tricky, because when was the last time you welcomed your negative emotions?
Most of us have been raised to get rid of our negative emotions. We learn to cry into the privacy of our pillows, to suck it up buttercup, and to will our way through sadness. Our culture is good at celebrating the wins but not so much at mourning the losses.
“Our culture is good at celebrating the wins but not so much at mourning the losses.”
So when life shatters like a Venetian glass vase and we’re left with shards of pain, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, anger, and more—where do we take these emotions that overwhelm us mind, body, and soul?
We can take every hard emotion to Jesus. We don’t have to fake that we’re okay or hide our emotions with Jesus. You may want to fast-forward through hard emotions or avoid them altogether, but you can be sure of this: Jesus welcomes your most difficult emotions.
While we may be uncomfortable with hard emotions, God is not. God who created us also created our emotions. When God created us fearfully and wonderfully, it included our emotions as much as it included our organs and bones. We are made to think and do and feel.
We so often fall into the trap of thinking we can only present our perfect selves before God when the opposite is true. God tells us to come to him with our weariness and burdens. Come to him with our pain and despair. Come to him with our struggles and fear. God understands our difficult feelings, and he makes space for them.
Our hard emotions aren’t signs that we’re handling our hurt all wrong, but indicators we’re responding to circumstances gone wrong.
Our emotions are not only safe with God, they are safest with God. They don’t surprise God or put him off. Nor does he give us a timer for our pain. God welcomes them as we see all through Scripture.
But bringing our raw emotions to God is only the first step of processing our pain. We then have a choice: to sit and stew in them in a cul-de-sac of pain, or trust that God knows what he’s doing, he is bringing us through, and life can be good again.
“Our emotions only tell us about the pain of the moment; they cannot tell us the truth of our future.”
The brutal emotions of my loss would often lie that because I felt awful, life would always be awful. Each hard emotion was a choice to trust. In my pain, I could cry out against God or cry out to God. I could sulk that I deserved different and accuse God that he was against me, or I could surrender what I wished was different and trust that God was for me.
Our emotions only tell us about the pain of the moment; they cannot tell us the truth of our future.
The hard emotions that come in shattering loss can’t tell us the end of our story. If instead of faking we’re okay or masking our pain or trying to fast-forward through it, if we do the hard work of taking our emotions to God and trusting our pain to him, one day we’ll be able to tell the whole story.
A story of brutal loss and beautiful restoration.
A story of unexpected emptiness and unimagined fullness.
A story of earthly pain and eternal purpose.
If you’re navigating shattering loss and devastating disappointment, you’re invited to find the steps you need to move forward with hope.
In Life Can Be Good Again: Putting Your World Back Together After It All Falls Apart, Lisa Appelo offers compassion and rich biblical insight to help you find your footing, process your hard emotions with God, overcome paralyzing fear, and anchor your faith when hope seems threadbare.
Your circumstances may feel like the leftovers of the life you wanted, but they are not unexpected to God. They are not a Plan B, but God’s purposeful Chapter Two for you as he reshapes your shattered heart. With each tender, intentional step, you’ll see you will not merely survive this, but that life can be good again.
[ Our humble thanks to Bethany House Publishers for their partnership in today’s devotion. ]