A Broken Hallelujah: Practicing Gratitude in Seasons of Grief

Small baby hand in larger hand | A Broken Hallelujah: Practicing Gratitude in Seasons of Grief

By Donna Bucher

Along with our youngest daughter, my husband and I stood in a hospital room gathered with my son, his wife, her parents and grandfather. We were all excited for the much-anticipated day of the birth of my son’s first child.

 For first-time parents and grandparents, the long months of pregnancy often drag on with expectation.

But in this case, it indeed was “long-awaited” as my son and his wife experienced multiple miscarriages and failed in vitro fertilization before arriving at the moment when their daughter, Indigo Evangeline, would be born.

I stood cradling Indigo in my arms, lingering over every perfect feature. 

Her tiny hands, with her straight, long fingers, rested on her pink and white blanket. Though closed, I knew her eyes were large—just like her mama’s beautiful eyes. 

Oh, how I longed to know their color! Did they hold the deep blue of my son’s eyes or the trusting brown of her mama? 

Alas, the answer remains a mystery, for her eyes would never open on this earth.

Indigo Evangeline’s eyes opened for the first time in her heavenly home with Jesus.

During times of suffering, our first thought is seldom thanksgiving. Offering gratitude from a broken heart is a sacrifice. Click to Tweet
pile of baby blankets with booties on top | A Broken Hallelujah: Practicing Gratitude in Seasons of Grief

Holding Broken Dreams

Just one week before Indigo’s birth, our family gathered for New Year’s and celebrated the arrival of a year full of promise for my son and his wife after so many disappointments.

Sharing the dreams we each harbored for Indie, we brought special gifts for her and discussed our plans for the future.

The pregnancy had progressed uneventfully as we all prayed and trusted in God’s abundant care. 

My daughter-in-law glowed throughout the pregnancy and was the model expectant mother. A talented artist, she had recently completed a beautiful floral rendition of Indigo’s name for her arrival home.

Yet now, my daughter-in-law’s parents frantically planned to remove Indie’s welcome home gifts in the hope of lessening the pain of the arrival home without her.

 We were viewing the vestiges acknowledging Indie’s life while simultaneously planning the funeral service.

At that moment, dreams, plans, and hopes stood scattered like broken seashells on the shore.

The rejoicing of months prior died in our throats, replaced by groans of grief. Receiving the gift of Indie’s life with gratitude from the hands of God came naturally, but how could we offer gratitude while holding her lifeless body?

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. Psalm 116:17 ESV Click to Tweet

A Broken Hallelujah

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:17 ESV

In a dimly lit hospital room, standing with the salty taste of tears in my mouth, I heard it. It, too, came spoken through tears, a broken hallelujah. It came softly at first, then filled the room with bold declarations of thanksgiving.

My daughter-in-law’s grandfather, who was also a seasoned pastor, began a prayer of praise, joined by her father, also a pastor. 

Words of gratitude, praise, and strength poured forth with such power—kindling a spiritual fire within each soul there. 

My view of gratitude changed that day. 

Sometimes gratitude flows easily, and we eagerly give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:20 ESV).” 

At other times, however, God calls us to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Ps 116:17).

In those moments, our broken hallelujah was placed on the altar, covered with tears of grief—a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Him whose tears mingled with ours.

people at a funeral holding roses | A Broken Hallelujah: Practicing Gratitude in Seasons of Grief

The Hardest Goodbye

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 ESV

Harsher than placing Indie in the Cuddle Cot, keeping her lifeless body “cool,” was observing my son carry the tiny white coffin containing his firstborn daughter to the gravesite. 

Watching him and his wife gently tuck a blanket around her before closing the coffin took my breath away.

Standing at the gravesite while my son placed the coffin next to the freshly dug grave pierced my heart with the hardest goodbye. Images of my arms holding him as an infant flashed across my mind. Rather than bringing his baby home,  He kissed the coffin in words of farewell, “for now.”

The hardest goodbye is the one we say, “for now”; the one for which, while we have assurance of meeting again, but we know not “when.”

At the gravesite, gratitude flowed from hearts that believe the hardest goodbye is not final. Jesus held Indie for us, and one day when we meet again, “goodbye” is a word we will never speak.

At the gravesite, gratitude flowed from hearts that believe the hardest goodbye is not final. Click to Tweet

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Hebrews 13:15 ESV

During times of suffering, our first thought is seldom thanksgiving. Offering thanksgiving from a broken heart is a sacrifice. By definition, sacrifice implies an offering to God that cost us something. 

David declares this truth to Araunah when attempting to buy his threshing floor: “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing (2 Sam 24:24 ESV).”

Walking through the loss of Indie taught me how to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

 The temple sacrifices of the Jews held great importance and required time, effort and expense. The sacrifices were no casual affair for the devout Jew.

In the same way, offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving for us requires a cost. 

More than a perfunctory issuance of gratitude for the good things in life: a fine home, good food, and health, a sacrifice of thanksgiving speaks to more than the overflow of blessings. It digs deep into the essence of who God is and His eternal favor towards us.

girl holding a paper heart | A Broken Hallelujah: Practicing Gratitude in Seasons of Grief

What exactly are we giving up when we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving?

  1. Fears. Losing Indie sapped my faith initially. If God allowed this to happen, what else might happen? I began living in fear of the next “bad thing” instead of trusting in God’s sovereign care. Fear and thanksgiving cannot co-exist.
  2. Desires. For gratitude to spring from my heart as I held Indie’s lifeless body, my desires for her life were placed on the altar. It seems hard to accept, as most of the time, our desires are for good things. But as Jesus prayed in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done (Lk 22:42 ESV).”
  3. Expectations. I expected God to write my story in a particular way—fulfilling my desires. Gratitude cannot fill a space already full of expectations. Releasing those expectations frees us to express thanksgiving for what we hold in our hands.
  4. Discontent. Discontent with God’s will in any situation is the door through which bitterness enters. Displeasure with God’s will for my life leaves no space for genuine gratitude. Accepting what God ordains for our benefit opens our eyes to His goodness in His dealings with us.
What exactly are we giving up when we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving? Click to Tweet

Gratitude in the Hard Places

Offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving gives us an eternal perspective on the hard places of life. That day five years ago, in the hospital room, my grief transformed into gratitude. 

It was a broken hallelujah at first. 

Eventually, as desires, expectations, discontent and fears were placed on the altar, a sweet-smelling savor of surrender rose upward.

I still have grief. Truthfully,  when you lose a child or grandchild, you lose an entire lifetime. 

Indigo will never have first steps, words, birthdays, or holidays. She will never learn to ride a bike, wave to us from the bus stop, graduate high school, or get married. 

A pink candle burns at every family event, and holiday reminding us her life mattered.

Her death taught me to look beyond the harshness of the moment and search for the beauty in the eternal.

I thank God for Indie’s life and the promise of the resurrection and the hope of future reunification in heaven. 

Until that day, I will continue to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for my precious granddaughter.

-Donna Bucher

Donna Bucher is a women’s ministry leader, teacher, speaker, retired missionary, CASA volunteer, experienced counselor and hospice and palliative care support personnel. Her personal writing ministry was born out of personal struggles and the spiritual growth she experienced walking through the hard places of life. At her Serenity in Suffering blog, Donna shares ways to find spiritual intimacy with Christ and purpose in the trials you face. You can also connect with Donna on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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