Robbie Cansler: On Grief

Our post for September was written by Naztoo pastor, Robbie Cansler. Rev. Cansler is an ordained elder currently pastoring The Mission Church of the Nazarene in Hammond, IN. She is married to Mac Cansler, and together they try to live a life of radical hospitality towards others.

Nearly every day for the past few weeks I have woken up and reminded myself “our dog is dead. She isn’t coming back. We won’t see her anymore.” It’s become a sad mantra, to remind myself that our routine is different, and to keep myself from being shocked throughout the day when I don’t see her face in the window. Death feels incredibly and inevitably hopeless.

I’ve grieved many times in my short 33 year old life. From beloved pets, to friends, from classmates, to grandparents, and it never gets easier. It never feels less wrong, or less hollow, or less hopeless. Our world is often bathed in the uncompromising stench of death, and there is really no way to put into words the horrible and immense feeling of wrongness that accompanies it. The closest words I have found to describe the horror of losing a loved one, are actually from the children’s book series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events; it says:

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

When I read these words of falling through the air, I said “this is exactly what grief feels like.” It is like trying to get your footing when it feels as though there is nowhere to place your foot. It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, or how many people it happens to, death and the accompanying grief always feels this way.

I remember in college a professor telling us that death always feels wrong because it is, and that is why it is so important that we are not gnostics, but that we truly believe in the resurrection of the body. There is something so incredibly important about Jesus raising from the dead, because death is such an enemy. Conquering death is such an important act because every time death happens, it feels wrong, it feels disordered, it feels like something has won that shouldn’t. It feels like climbing up steps and falling into nothing.

It might be because of this immense feeling of wrongness that as we were making end of life decisions for our dog I gravitated towards these words in Romans 8:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

I used to read these verses as different little snippets, but as I was grieving this tremendous loss, I saw how they all work together. All of creation is longing for resurrection life. All of creation is longing for the redemption that comes when Christ makes all things right, and the suffering we experience now, the suffering that is often brought on by death, is nothing compared to the life that Christ is offering us through the power of the resurrection. Yet, while we long for the day where all things are made right, where death is completely swallowed up in the victory of resurrection, we have one who prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. When the seemingly never ending stench and pain of death makes us weak, when the decay of creation leaves us broken, we are not left abandoned or without hope, we have someone who enters into our grief with us. Who enters into our hearts as they express sounds and emotions we can’t even begin to put into words, and walks with us through our grief with understanding and love.

So while I know I will continue to walk through grief filled days, and that these will not be my last, I also am confident that death is not the author of the final word, but that resurrection is. I walk in hope, often painful, but still present, that I do not walk alone. The groans of creation, and the groans of my heart are heard by a God who understands, a Spirit who draws near and walks with me through my suffering.

It is my prayer that we would be people of the resurrection, who while walking at times upon stairs without ground, find hope in the One who hears our groans and walks with us. That we might join God on this mission to breathe life and hope into the dead places of the world, and that we might look ahead in hopeful anticipation of the day that this too shall be made right.