Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

On Birthday Parties & Grief

I recently came across a powerful quote from C.S. Lewis, and its wisdom resonated deeply with me:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

I read this on a day when grief felt overpowering—a day we attended a birthday party with our young autistic son.

You may be thinking, A child’s birthday party and grief? How in the world do these go together?

But sweet reader, for many of us with special needs children, birthday parties can be tantamount to torture. Where you see fun, we see landmines.

Loud noises, lots of children, all the sugar, new and overwhelming sensory stimuli—basically, all the things that can lead to a meltdown of epic proportions.

So when my precious son did indeed begin melting down in the highly acoustic lobby of the trampoline park, I was done. Some days, I feel strong and competent as a special needs mama. But that day, the curious and judgmental stares from parents pierced me.

Grief sunk my weary soul. I slipped off from my husband to wipe the tears stinging my eyes and attempt to compose myself before devolving into an “ugly cry.”

And while I could wipe away the tears, I could not wipe away the heavy weight of unmet expectations. I could powder over my Rudolph-red nose, but not the sting of disappointment.

Sometimes, the hardest dreams to let go of are the ones we don’t even realize we’re carrying. I can’t recall ever consciously dreaming about what birthday parties would look like with my children … and yet, expectations planted themselves deep in my heart nonetheless.

I wonder if you can relate? Maybe your dreams of a happy marriage have smashed into pieces against a wall of infidelity. Maybe you’re still waiting on the children your heart felt sure would come. Maybe illness prevents you from pursuing a dream you just knew came from God. Or maybe financial pressure has squeezed every last ounce of dreaming from your soul.

Every time we’re forced let go of a dream or an expectation, grief comes rushing in. And as C.S. Lewis so wisely observed, our grief gives way to fear. What will the future look like—in this job, this marriage, this illness? It isn’t going to look like I thought it would—so now what?

In the book of Genesis, we read about Joseph, a man who was well acquainted with the shattering of dreams and the agony of asking now what?

After dreaming he would be lifted high, he ended up tossed in a well by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of assault, and sitting in a prison with no hope of ever escaping.

If anyone had reason to grieve the death of his dreams, it was Joseph. And yet, all along, those dreams never died. Only his expectations of how they would manifest.

We get to read the thrilling story of how, in the end, God did indeed elevate Joseph, and his brothers did indeed bow down to him (see Genesis 42). God paved the way to provide for the house of Jacob in the midst of famine, all of which ultimately let to the birth of the Nation of Israel. In this, we see a much bigger plan playing out:

“But Joseph said to [his brothers], ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’”

Genesis 50:19-20 ESV, emphasis added

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Joseph had no idea what hung in the balance of his dreams. Like us, his dreams probably began and ended with himself. But God is about so much more—for you, for me, and for this world He created and loves.

Sweet reader, do you see a dream dying? Let me encourage you to grieve the loss. True healing begins with grief, so give yourself time and space to grieve the loss and feel the fear … but oh, sweet soul, then let go of your fear and disappointment.

Perhaps your dream is taking a different form than you originally thought. But as Joseph learned full well, dreams in the hands of our Lord are far more beautiful and powerful than we could ever imagine.

Today, my heart prays that we may both have the courage to trust God’s good and loving heart, even as we wait with no clue what the future may hold. There is so much more at stake in God’s sovereign plan for you and for me.

For me, birthday parties are simply one example in a long line of things that will likely not look like I thought they would as I mother my son.

But I know my God is working out something bigger and greater, a plan that reaches beyond my own life. The same is true for you today, too, sweet reader.

And that is something to celebrate indeed.

With Grace,

2 Comments

  1. This reminds ME that HE is the author of this life as well as the next. HE has written this story…NOT me. And He already has the ending in mind. I need to just enjoy the fact that I’m allowed to be a character in this adventure. Thank you Lord for being author and finisher of my faith.

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