There’s an unbearable longing that can surface in the depths of grief.

Despair can prevent you from seeing beyond the present darkness and leave you looking backward – the only place where light seems to be. As “sorrows like sea billows roll” you ache for the days before death struck and stole. You grasp for the one who has been taken and for everything else that’s been ripped away with their loss.

This grasping for what you had pivots on one word: before.

Before we learned our son’s diagnosis. Before we knew we would lose him. Before he died.

We had dreams. We had joy. We had Eli.

It’s an agonizing nostalgia that longs for the reversal of time but is painfully aware that this nightmare is now your reality.

Job experienced this backward longing as he lamented: “Oh that I were as in the days of old, as in the days when God watched over me.” He remembers when the Lord felt close, when his children were alive, and when he eagerly served God and others. But those days are a distant memory. “Now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.”

The Lamenter, too, takes inventory of what he’s lost in his distress. “My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’” Peace, happiness, endurance, hope – it seems like all you once had has been washed away in the waves of suffering.

Conventional clichés can coerce us to replace this grief with gratitude, as if we must choose between being thankful and honest. But God’s response to our suffering is not a command to “count your blessings.” He does not look at our circumstances and begin sentences with “Well, at least…” No. He invites us to #lament, to cry out our complaints and list our losses.

He hears. He weeps. He stays.

It’s here, in the depths of upward and unsuppressed sorrow, that he begins to dissolve the darkness.