So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. (Matthew 27:66 NLT)
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. (John 20:1 NLT)
Holy Saturday is the day between these two verses—the day between what we now call Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On this day Jesus’ followers were grief stricken. Their Lord, whom they believed to be the Messiah, had been killed—and all their hopes and dreams died with him. In this time of “in between,” darkness reigned. They couldn’t fathom what was coming—resurrection—even though Jesus had told them to expect it. Grief is like that, rendering us helpless against the blinding waves of despair.
Because it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ followers rested. But I imagine there was no rest for their souls on that Sabbath. Surely they were overcome with fear and uncertainty, wondering what they would do now.
We have our own days and seasons of “in between”—times when our hopes and dreams seem to be dead and buried in a sealed tomb. Times when sadness and disappointment crowd out joy and celebration. Times when doubt and confusion yield uncertainty, making us unsure of what to do.
What are we to do when we find ourselves stuck “in between”? Here are three suggestions for these times of grief, struggle, or waiting.
1. Give yourself permission to feel however you feel.
The “in between” is not a time to power through with positive thinking or spiritual platitudes. Though we may be able to distract ourselves from our feelings for a time, the only healthy way to handle emotions is to move through them—to allow our feelings to move through us. There are no “bad” feelings. In fact, every feeling is a gift, because it has something important to tell us about what’s happening inside us. Judging our emotions or being critical of how we are feeling only makes matters worse, but welcoming our emotions with grace lessens their heaviness and enables us to listen with compassion. Then, as we talk about our feelings with God and with safe people in our lives, we open ourselves to receive God’s comfort and healing.
On a two-day personal retreat recently, I became aware during the prolonged hours of silence that a part of me was judging myself for holding certain feelings. Once I had that awareness and began to welcome those feelings, I felt that critical part of myself softening. The remainder of the retreat I was able to rest fully in the all-encompassing, unconditional love of God, which is exactly what I needed.
2. Give yourself permission to grieve however you need to grieve.
No two people are alike, and this includes the way that we grieve and process loss—whatever that loss might be. Whether it is a death, illness, move, disappointment, or other loss, we all go through similar stages in our grieving. However, the timing, expression, and duration of those stages differ from person to person. There’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to grief. What is universal is the need to give ourselves time and space to grieve—whatever that might look like for each of us. Rather than conforming to societal expectations regarding when, where, how, and how long we grieve, we can give ourselves the freedom to grieve in the times and ways that are helpful and meaningful to us.
My mother passed in October 2002, and my children were ages five and eight. In many ways caring for them helped me to process my grief, enabling me to honor the memory of Mom as I poured my love into my own daughters. I also discovered that the lack of her presence at different stages and milestones of their lives made it necessary for my grief to be an ongoing process, one in which I allowed myself to acknowledge and express my loss and sadness through the years.
When my dad passed in December 2019 and the pandemic began just a few months later, I learned that my grief would be more complicated than I had experienced previously because of the collective and personal loss that resulted from lockdowns and isolation. My grief was further compounded when I lost my job in 2021. A combination of seeing a counselor, talking regularly with my spiritual director, journaling, and doing a lot of walking and hiking helped me process my grief in ways that were meaingful to me. Though I have grieved well, I continue to allow layers of grief to surface as needed, offering myself generous doses of self-compassion whenever they do and remaining open to God's ongoing healing work within me.
3. Give yourself permission to do the necessary next thing.
Recently I ran into a friend who has been going through a challenging time ripe with loss and grief. She said that she has been holding onto these words from scripture: “While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb” (John 20:1 NLT). In the darkness that cloaked both the garden and her heart, Mary went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Perhaps she knew the tomb had been sealed, or perhaps she didn't. All she knew was that she had to participate in the burial custom of anointing the body of her Lord. She needed to participate in that rite. It was the next necessary thing to do—or as author Emily P. Freeman says, “the next right thing.” There was nothing “magical” about anointing Jesus’ body. It wouldn’t end Mary's grief. But it was the thing she felt compelled to do. And it was as she set out to do this next necessary thing that she encountered the living Christ!
What is the next necessary thing for you? What is it for me? This is an especially helpful question to ask ourselves when we’re in a season of “in between.” When we’re sad and disappointed and don’t know what to do, the next necessary thing, or next right thing, is always a good choice.
Just as the Risen Jesus met Mary in the garden, where she had intended to fulfill a burial custom, so he meets us in the ordinary tasks of our everyday lives—as we walk the dog, pick up the kids or grandkids from school, go about our work, visit a friend, volunteer, tend a garden, or a million other things. If we’re open to the possibility, these experiences can become holy moments when we encounter the living God.
At first Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, thinking he was the gardener. In the same way, Jesus may make himself known to us through ordinary people and experiences as we do the next necessary thing. May we have eyes to see him. For it is as we become aware of Jesus in the ordinary and everyday moments of our lives that the light dispels the darkness and the hope of resurrection—renewed life—takes hold of our hearts once again.
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.