In the Desert: Coping With Grief During Lent

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Each year as Lent approaches, I spend time thinking about what I should do for the season. Should I give something up? If so, what should it be? Should I add something new to my life, like a new prayer devotion or more spiritual reading? Sometimes I wait until the last minute on Ash Wednesday to see what God invites me to do and I make a final decision on that day. I usually enjoy this time of preparation before Lent begins. One Lent, however, God turned my plans upside down.

A few years ago, I was excited for Lent to start. I made plans for Lent before Ash Wednesday, anticipating a great Lenten journey spent learning more about God and growing closer to him. Our five kids were young and we were expecting a new baby. Life was good.  

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The first pregnancy checkup was exciting. Our baby’s heart was beating and we could see our little one clearly in the ultrasound. The week of Ash Wednesday, I went in for a second checkup and the doctor was not able to detect our baby’s heartbeat. An ultrasound confirmed that our baby had died.

With this devastating news, all of my best-laid plans went right out the window. Plans for a new baby, plans for a happy time preparing for Easter, and my plans for Lent were all suddenly destroyed. Looking back, I can’t even remember now what my Lenten plans were that year, but I can tell you what I did do during that Lent. I traveled in the desert with Jesus. 

When I felt empty and alone, I thought of how Jesus felt abandoned and alone, even when he was around other people. As I gave my body time to heal after miscarrying our baby, I thought of how Jesus’ body was beaten down and tortured, yet he did not give up. As I carried my sorrow and grief in a world with new babies and people experiencing happiness in their lives, I thought of how Jesus carried his cross, stumbling along, but getting up and moving forward. As I dealt with the death of the new baby we had planned to add to our family, I thought of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. 

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During this time, the fact that it was Lent gave me hope. I knew that this dark time was temporary, that the pain of our loss would ease. I had to be patient. I found solace in thinking about God’s goodness and his promise of everlasting life. I played the song “Strong Enough” by Matthew West in my head over and over and over again. It reassured me that God is strong enough to carry me and that he would be with me at every step. My husband and I leaned on each other even more during this time, growing closer together. Our family and our close friends were there for us, bringing meals, helping take care of our other kids, praying for us, and listening when we wanted to talk.

As Catholics, we know that Jesus’ death was not the end. Jesus’ death was just the beginning. His death needed to occur so that he could rise from the grave on Easter Sunday, conquering death for all of us. As I looked forward to Easter during what felt like the longest Lent of my life, I held on to the promise of Jesus’ Resurrection to a new life. By looking at Jesus’ example, I trusted that I would smile again and that there was hope for happiness in my life. I knew that our little baby was with Jesus in heaven waiting for all of us one day. I knew that there would be a resurrection in my life. As Jesus experienced his agony and suffering before he rose from the dead, I trusted that the suffering I was experiencing would ease over time. As Lent went on, I tried to look forward to living without so much sorrow. 

We did give our baby a name: Faith Emmanuel. Faith for the faith we need to hold on to every day and Emmanuel because it means “God is with us.”

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Since that Lent, I feel that God is closer to me, standing right beside me. I can feel his presence more than I did before. I have learned to trust in him and rely on him, I have come to realize that any time I experience difficulty in my life, I am experiencing a little Lent; while it may be heartbreaking, it is an opportunity for me to draw closer to God and to understand his suffering, and his great love for me even more. I try to learn and grow from these little Lents and feel God’s presence through little Easters. Since we lost our Faith Emmanuel I have smiled again, lost again, and relied on God to see me through each suffering, knowing that there will be joy again.