The Refining Fire of Grief

Excerpts from an essay by Ashley Isaacson Woolley, CA
Though Ms. Woolley writes about the grief that came with her son’s illness, as I read this, I thought it paralleled the feelings of grief and refining fire that members of the triad experience as well. 
A Manifestation of Love 
Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus member of the Seventy, explained: “Grief is the natural by-product of love. One cannot selflessly love another person and not grieve at his [absence]. The only way to avoid the grief would be to not experience the love; and it is love that gives life its richness and meaning.” Accepting my grief as part of love finally allowed me to work through my pain and rise above discouragement. 
When I turned to the scriptures for comfort, I learned that grief is a godlike attribute that goes hand in hand with love. Jesus grieved alongside Mary and Martha at Lazarus’s death (see John 11:33–36). Isaiah said that the Savior would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). God wept as He spoke to Enoch about the wickedness of the world and judgments to come on His beloved children: “Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:37). As I studied the scriptures, I realized that God’s grief, like mine, was a manifestation of love. 
A Lesson in Compassion 
Letting myself grieve taught me how to show Christlike compassion for and sensitivity to others. In my observation, grief can change our nature if we let it turn us to the Savior. I have seen grief transform strangers into loving sisters. Once when my son was hospitalized, I was in the room with him, crying. There was another family with their own sick child on the other side of the room. Eventually I heard the curtain between us drawn aside, and I looked up to see the mother approaching me. She had been a stranger until then—she was from a different country, spoke a different native language, and knew no details of my son’s condition. Wrapping her arms tightly around me while I cried, she said in her language, “It’s going to be OK. He’s going to be OK. He really is.” That mother had surely experienced grief in her own life that had transformed her into a Christlike person who could wrap her arms around a grieving stranger. 
My own grief changed the way I respond to others’ sorrow. I once saw a distraught family with name tags from a children’s hospital enter a restaurant as I sat at dinner. In the past I would have felt sympathy but kept my distance. Instead, I approached them with concern and learned that their newborn daughter had died that morning. I embraced the mother and we cried together for some time.  
A Motivational Power 
Grief motivated me to seek positive changes for my family. Just as physical injury causes physical pain, emotional injury causes emotional pain. Because I was in pain, I sought a remedy for the situation and relief for my emotional wounds. 
Hannah of the Old Testament demonstrated the power of grief to motivate in positive ways. For years Hannah was unable to have children, a condition that caused her deep heartache. As her grief overwhelmed her, she knelt near the temple and prayed fervently for a child. She explained to the priest Eli that she was “of a sorrowful spirit” and that she was praying “out of the abundance of [her] complaint and grief” (1 Samuel 1:15–16). In time, the Lord answered her prayer by giving her a son, Samuel, who became a great prophet and leader. 
Hannah’s grief over her childlessness led her to pray, which in turn led to an answer to her prayer. If Hannah had not felt grief, she might not have offered that important prayer. The circumstances that cause grief cannot always be changed the way God healed Hannah’s childlessness or my son’s illness through medical assistance. Some losses, such as the death of a loved one, cannot be altered. But grief motivates us to act, even if only to seek counsel, to reach out to others, or to pray for strength and understanding. 
Faith amid Grief 
Even as grief refined me in important ways, it also challenged my faith to the core. But prayer and the whisperings of the Spirit helped me to emerge on the other side of grief with faith that is even stronger than before. 
God is there, and He did not leave me feeling alone forever. Once when I was feeling particularly upset about my son’s health and especially forsaken by God, I prayed. Soon afterward, a phrase came to my mind: “God makes a way where there is no way.” I looked up the phrase and discovered a quotation by Martin Luther King Jr.: 
“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that … [God] is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”2 
This thought reminded me that I could hope for a bright tomorrow without denying the darkness of today. I could keep my faith in God and hope for a happier future while allowing myself to grieve in the present. In God’s own time, He spoke comfort and reassurance to me. 
Because God loved me and desired my progress, He would not spare me the refining fire of grief. But God made a way where there was no way. Not every loss can be healed in this life, but lives broken by grief can be healed. Because I remained close to God even when I could not see or hear Him, I felt Him when He reached out to me in my darkest night.
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