Is life possible after grief? Yes, but you have to do the work.
I've heard a few sermons on the book of Job in my time, but never specifically about that bit at the end. You know, in chapter 42, verse 10, where it says, so simply, 'the Lord restored Job's fortunes and gave him twice what he had before.'
The end of the story is happy. We can all settle and relax. Go home.
But it's not that simple.
How exactly did the restoration of Job's fortunes happen? Did thousands of sheep and goats just turn up on Job’s doorstep? Did buildings rebuild themselves? Did Job's new brood of 10 well-adjusted, happy, grown-up children materialise out of nowhere?
God restores fortunes. He restores us after grief.
But he doesn't do it by dropping miracles on people. Let's not kid ourselves here. God restored his fortunes, but Job still had to work for it.
He had to get over his grief and loss. Get past his anxiety and sorrow. He had to make decisions, make plans, re-invest, hire people, think through strategy, persuade his wife to have ten more children. Even go through the fathering thing all over again.
That’s work. That's emotional effort. That’s creating a new life.
Many grieving people can’t get past their grief. They stay stuck in it forever, maybe emotionally, maybe physically, maybe even financially. They don’t look for ways out of their anxiety or their troubles. They can’t see a future so they settle for a miserable present and dull the pain with TV and a steady diet of bitterness.
Job could have been the same.
He could have built shrines to his dead children. He could have constantly told stories of ‘the old days’. He could have succumbed to fear of losing everything all over again and deliberately sabotaged his own successes.
Instead, he answered the question: What now? What happens next? And moved though his grief and into a new lease of life.
I think there are six stages of grief and recovery.
1. Crisis: This is when things are as bad as they can be. Job was in crisis at the time of hearing about his losses and when he was afflicted by the sores.
2. Emergency over: The storm has passed, but all you can see is the clean up you’ve got to do. You’re exhausted by what you’ve been through and what you can see ahead. Often this is where we have our big arguments with God.
3. Decision making time. We leave Job in chapter 41 when he is just at the beginning of this stage. He’s just come to the point of saying, “Okay, God, you’re the author.” After that, he decides that a future in a rubbish pit is not very viable. He is ready to start looking ahead. In the same way, you can't make a life unless you decide you want to. Restoration begins with decision, with working out what you're heading for. Where you're going.
4. Making more history. This is a crucial part of moving through grief. This is where you do things, meet people and get out there. You'll probably still feel intensely sad and still have harsh memories, but you do it anyway. You make decisions. You make plans. You figure out ways to move ahead. What you're doing is creating recent history for yourself so that you don't just look back to the tragedy. Other things can take up the space in your brain.
5. Resurgences. The book of Job doesn’t tell us about the fears and anxieties – maybe even PTSD – that Job experienced every year on the anniversary of the first loss, and each loss after that. It doesn’t tell us that Job probably fell into states of melancholy every so often, that his personality changed slightly. Grief and loss have a profound long term effect on us and recovery is not a one-time thing. We can ‘get over’ things but still have patches of intense grief and sadness, sometimes out of the blue. And that’s okay.
6. Healing. I love the immense pride and satisfaction Job had in his family at the very end of his story. We see three beautiful daughters that Job gave inheritances to – which was clearly out of the ordinary for those times. Here was a man who was clearly involved in his new life, loving and living, and acknowledging God who gave it back all to him. He's a person who has moved on and largely healed from the pain that's so intensely explored in the story.
Job shows us that life is possible after loss. It will take a while. It will be difficult, it will be emotional and it will be challenging. But it is possible, if we're prepared to do the work, along with God who restores.