My eyelids slowly blinked the sleep away, groggily struggling to greet the new day. Foggy shapes started to find their edges as the soft blue glow of morning light peeked in from behind the closed curtains. There was always this fleeting moment of comfort as my mind lingered in dreamland. But as reality came more clearly into focus, an electrifying jolt of shock would inevitably strike my heart. Once again, I’d be jarred awake to the living nightmare that was now my life.
I would not awaken to find my one-month-old daughter sleeping peacefully in her pink bassinet beside the bed. I would not hear the gentle sound of her nasally breathing or her small cry for milk. Instead, I would live another day as a mother without her child.
I dreaded waking up in the days and months following her death. Our empty house felt like a tomb. Facing the days without my baby girl filled me with a new type of morning sickness — a mourning sickness that really felt more like a soul sickness.
No one wants their worst fears to be realized. No one chooses to wake up under a weighted blanket of dread. Yet, there I was. I found my thoughts repeated in Job’s first lament:
For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.
Job 3:25 (CSB)
In thinking not only of Job, but of Jesus and all the saints who walked unwanted paths and knew dread and fear, I discovered a truth I struggled to accept for myself. There is no skipping over dread. There is no pushing away the pain or running from the path set before us, although we might be tempted to try and do so.
This temptation to skip over the things we dread is one our Savior knew. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus to bypass the way of suffering. But Jesus chose the way of suffering and endured by turning to the Word of God.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of His crucifixion, grief and dread filled Jesus to the brim. Blood-like sweat dripped from Jesus’ forehead, mixing with the salty tears streaming down His distraught face. He prayed and asked for another way. Jesus knew what it meant to face a path He asked not to take, but He surrendered to God’s will and endured.
I used to think, with some snark: Sure, Jesus can endure suffering. He is God, after all. But, focused on Jesus’ divinity, I dismissed the fullness of His humanity. The more I leaned into the frailty found in Jesus’ humanity, I began to wonder: How do we — like Jesus — endure the days ahead?
Jesus did not endure the eve of His crucifixion by human strength. He endured it through supernatural equipping and provision — an angel that appears and strengthens Him. Jesus, the pioneer who walked unwanted paths, endured suffering by God’s strength . . . and by fixing His eyes on the joy set before Him.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)
We endure the days ahead by acknowledging the dread and then choosing to fix our eyes upon Jesus. We follow where Jesus leads, not where dread leads.
Dread tried to pull me deep into my bed and deep into the dark, hopeless places in my head. Dread tried to predict future pain and push away possibility.
As much as I thought I knew what each day would hold after my daughter died, I didn’t. As I focused on the Lord and processed all my dread with Him, I was able to stay awake to new possibilities: How might God make His presence known to me? In what unexpected ways might God surprise me with His lovingkindness today?
I found help in practices like journaling prayers of lament, meditating on Scripture, and immersing myself in the beauty of God’s creation. It wasn’t easy, comfortable, or quick, but my newfound expectancy and delight in the Lord helped me face, move through, and eventually release the dread that held me captive.
Maybe you know this type of dread that comes with life after loss. But dread can come in other forms, too. Maybe your dread has to do with anticipating a difficult conversation, awaiting a phone call from the doctor’s office, or enduring another day in chronic pain.
When we’re facing dread over the days ahead, difficult paths and uncharted territory we’re struggling to navigate, we can seek the One who gets it — the One who has gone and goes before us . . . and whose Spirit strengthens and leads us.