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The Secret Life of Grief

*Please remember that articles at Quivering Daughters are written primarily to adult women struggling with a fundamentalist or patriocentric upbringing. Bear in mind that some content might be triggering for parents or siblings to read. As a writer in keeping with my audience, it is not to "paint with a broad brush" or "condemn" those who believe differently but to address the concerns of those to whom I write. Thank you for understanding.*

by Hillary McFarland

It's cold here, this January. Even the sun chills earth and bone. A squash bakes in the oven and I stare at my screen wanting desperately to tell you that grief ends someday ~ in this life, I mean.

But I can't.

The truth is, grief ends some days.

Other days, it tears through heart-skin kept tender and transparent by hope and faith and love. And then we lash out at faith and hope and love, because ultimately, these are the faces that keep pain alive.

Pain indicates that something is not as it should be. We flinch at the sight of blood. We learn to bandage soul-wounds so tightly that bleeding stops, and we think the tougher the skin, the stronger we are. Sometimes we must be strong to survive those midnight moments when relief seems light-years away. But what if, in a frantic quest to end our grieving, we miss the secret treasures which can only be learned through grief?

A new book by author Kierstyn King illustrates the surprising life of grief experienced by those who become unwelcome in their families because they aren't good enough, godly enough, or ideal enough. For asking too many questions or the wrong kinds of questions; for understanding and believing differently. There aren't many things more agonizing than feeling unwanted, or wanted only-on-condition. 

Rejection hurts. It's an action that says, I don't want you in my life if you [behave, believe, think] like that. Instead of rejecting the belief, there is a rejection of the person behind the belief. This subtle distinction spells death, and with death comes a type of weeping and gnashing of teeth that many I know experience every day.

What do you do with that kind of pain?

Especially when it's administered in the name of God?

Or the Bible? Or righteousness? Or godly, biblical living?

This kind of pain is difficult and complex. Some suggest that abortion would have felt more merciful, for at least the rejection would be before birth and not after. Others mutilate their flesh, desperate to find release from unrelenting anguish. A dear young friend, tormented day after day through rampant twisting of Scripture and manipulation in the name of God, shared how she would cut her arms over the open pages of her Bible so that her own blood seeped into the verses used against her. Dare we ask: what kind of internal aching is so deep that self-mutilation is welcomed relief? 

What kind of internal aching is so deep that self-mutilation is welcomed relief?

A Quiverfull of Grief

There is a special place in my heart for quivering daughters who come from quiverfull families. To bear the weight of rejection, disappointment, and anger from not only one or two family members, but up to ten or twelve is a staggering burden indeed. To be held as the example of  'what happens when you rebel' to younger eyes who might not understand is a heavy cross to bear. Loss is a holy calling and aligns us with the Man of Sorrows whose grief was so great He described it as sorrow 'even unto death'. But loss is still loss, and when one's obedience to the heavenly Father requires us to lose our lives for Him, we begin to truly live the difficult part of the narrow way.

It is the willingness to embrace this sorrow-unto-death that the paradox emerges, and we find life ...

and joy.

Treasures of Darkness

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. Isaiah 45:3

Truth is, I still grieve sometimes. I've grieved a lot lately. And it takes me by surprise, like peeling an onion only to find an unexpected layer. I used to think that someone truly healed wouldn't feel such heartache but ... I was wrong. I'm heart-healed but there are days when I hide under blankets and shake with grief so palpable that I wonder if it will ever end. In His mercy, the Lord has given me courage to not run away but to stand and embrace whatever comes. Over time I've come to understand what this courage is. Scripture says that the joy of the Lord is your strength. Perhaps we can understand this another way: your strength is the joy of the Lord. The only way out of the aching is through it. Like precious oil, something priceless comes from the pressing of grief: a deep, sorrow-shaped joy that cannot be taught except by the living of it. 

And with it comes the fellowship of God.

You have to let yourself grieve what you have lost. Otherwise it melts into your bones and becomes you, and  it's really hard to see clearly when grief shrouds your eyes. Let the Lord lead you through the valley of the shadow for He is the only Light you need. And as you go, don't waste your pain. Allow the Lord to sculpt it for His glory. Our Redeemer will redeem it!


The womb of sorrow and suffering brings forth many things ... what a responsibility it is to parent, as it were, what is birthed from this holy darkness. I want to tell you that the grief will end some day in this life. I can't tell you that, but I can tell you that God is faithful. That He promises there will be a day when He wipes every tear from our eyes and puts an end to sorrow, grief, and pain. I can tell you that embracing His holy calling, His calling to lose your life and take up the cross, brings sweetness I can't begin to describe. That the hope, faith and love keeping your pain alive are also keeping your heart alive. These are what abide when everything else falls away.

I used to stand over the sink washing dishes, singing along to this oldie by Margaret Becker, clinging to her words with longing. No matter how much grief you face, don't stop loving. Don't become hard. Be tender in the Father's hand. He who walked the road before you walks with you still.

Are you grieving something right now? What have you learned about your pain? How have you found comfort? What does don't waste your pain mean to you?

*Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Many times we need help to cope with the depths of sorrow and grief. Please consider seeing a trusted counselor, pastor, or other professional as you seek comfort and healing.*

You might also like: "When Parental Obedience Brings Rejection"


  1. I am glad you pointed out about the scripture of the joy of the Lord is my strength. So many misquote that and then accuse others who are grieving or going through a rough spot as failing God by not holding on to His joy. It is true the strength we have is His joy. And that kind of joy is not necessarily based upon an emotion but something much more than that; Mercy, comfort, hope, and finally a resolve and peace though grief may linger we still have these .. grief doesn't wipe those away and again none of them are based upon emotions alone..

    Thank you for sharing this article I really needed it

  2. Good article. I was thinking about the quivering kids the other day. I often wonder if in my family of just 4 kids, if I am expecting too much from my kids. If I am putting too much responsibility on them. So, I ask my oldest daughter, who is now 18, how she views her life being raised by me. Sometimes..some days are too much pressure for them, while other days they have no problem at all. I think we need to be wise about this with our children and not put an unbearable yoke on them. God doesn't do that to us, His yoke is light. May we not put a heavy burden on our kids, but be discerning about our everyday lives. And yet in the middle of that pressure, may we not use a lesson on embracing the pressure and pain as an excuse to keep inflicting it on others. Your article gives us a lot to think about. Thank you.

    p.s. my husband and I both came from families with just 2 kids..and we grew up wishing we had more siblings ;)

  3. I can tell that this one comes from especially deep in your heart, Hillary. It speaks a great deal to my own heart ordeal, so I can only imagine the relief and encouragement it brings to QDs.

    Thank you for putting this out there.

  4. while i didn't come from a "quivering" family, so much of what is taught to the daughters of these families was instilled into me...and as i face huge rejection and huge change, your words were exactly what i needed to read tonight.

    that something precious *will* come out of this pressing of grief. that my strength *is* the joy of the Lord.

    thank you for sharing from a place that is tender and vulnerable and beautiful...

  5. Maybe you are, or aren't aware of this, but the grief you describe so perfectly is experienced by those people who have left churches that raised them up from young Christians. New to the Lord, the gospel and Christianity many young people let their pastors rule over them with fundamental religion. They become surrogate parental/family authorities, by teaching that they are the "pastors" anointed, to be respected and adhered too. As time goes by, many can't adhere to the ridged requirements/expectations, sometimes unspoken, but all the same implied, of the "successful" "prosperous" godly life. When someone doesn't "fit" for whatever reason they are left out. There becomes an elitist group that believes the reward for their service is riches and honor, power and authority. As the deception evolves they climb ever higher until they have made their churches "powerful". As we/I fell away from this perspective of the Christian life, I grieved, became depressed and have struggled with it for many years. My feelings about this are so deep and confusing, and painful I haven't been able to move forward in my faith as I would like too. Thank you for your expression of this pain with words that I can feel and relate to.
    The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor. (Matt 5:20) The way IS narrow, indeed.

  6. I've grieved a lot lately. And it takes me by surprise, like peeling an onion only to find an unexpected layer
    I so relate to that statement! Not a quiverful daughter, but a preachers daughter that lived the "wasted" life for nearly 30 years and came back to the Father 3+ yrs ago. My issues with Spiritual things shock me most of the time. I still carry much anger, confusion, condemnation and resentment. God has been incredibly patient with me and has shown me time and time again how wonderfully faithful He is. But you get me in a church and forget it!

    Gratefully my oldest daughter (25) was baptized this past weekend! Praise God! I went. For her. However, the sermon left me underwhelmed and angry. Again. Still. I wonder if I'll ever be able to sit in a church service and feel normal.

    And because I don't feel normal when I sit in a service, I don't attend. And because I don't attend, I feel less than. And because most pastors will tell you that you must attend, I feel condemned. As the pastor this past Sunday said, "If you aren't a part of a local church, you will fall away." Which couldn't be further from the truth! But I'm just a prodigal, what do I know? Compared to a pastor, right?

    He stood at his pulpit and said if he hears anyone talk badly about "the bride", you will have to hold him back. And Jesus too. That when Jesus hears people talk badly about His bride, He would have to be held back. And I sat there in my seat, tears stopped up and burning my throat wanting to stand up and scream out, "What about those the bride has bruised and broken, in the name of God?" But, I didn't.

  7. Dawn, Rebecca, I can very much identify with what you shared. There was a time when I thought I would never be able to trust a pastor again. It's taken many years and a couple of church changes to find some truly humble, trustworthy and highly competent pastors in whom I can have confidence with not only myself but my family as well. But I will never... ever... elevate a pastor to god-like status again.

    No one has the right to stand at a pulpit and abuse, browbeat or threaten a congregation. A man who is not humbled and broken at the responsibility he has before God and those he shepherds, who lacks compassion and empathy, who refuses meaningful accountability or who bruises and runs roughshod over a broken reed is, in my opinion, not fit for the ministry. Just because a person claims to be called of God doesn't mean he actually is. By their fruit...

    A good litmus test for a pastor is to consider a few things: How and why did he got into the ministry? What kind of training and mentoring did he have? What is the general spiritual, emotional condition of those whom he leads? What kind of general turnover does the congregation have? What is the pastor's reputation in the community (believers and non-believers alike)? What is the pastor's attitude toward other churches or people who believe differently?

    Of course, you can probably come up with other questions but those just popped into mind.


    Jim K.

  8. Oh... and of course, great article Hillary! You have a knack for speaking difficult truth in a most graceful and edifying way while leaving the reader with a great sense of hope.

  9. This really speaks to me because of what I have been going through very recently...
    My boyfriend and I have started our own blog; I hope to be a help to others who feel/have felt the same pain.
    Here is the blog address:

  10. sometimes the hardest thing to do is open the wounds let the pain out and let the Lord heal. Well, it's been very difficult but worth it for me. there are definitely days I want to hide run or walk away. We are all sort of cut from the same cloth aren't we? we need each other. we need to feel and to heal. we've all been cut deeply and it's not an easy journey to travel but doing it together gives me hope and courage and strength. Thnx for the beautiful post dear friend!

  11. I'm still grieving..2 nights earlier this week I cried and cried in bed. Then I got up and read in the living room some of the message version of the Bible NT (please don't judge me for reading the Message and tell me to read the KJ version or the ESV version I just felt God's closeness in the every day words of the Message the other night when I was grieving the loss of my relationship (still living parents who only live an house away). I do see my parents at holidays and invite them to my kid's birthday parties. But, there is not a relationship and I still crave one. Why I still hope for them to love is beyond me. I'm still tender at their continutal rejection and it makes me feel like I'm weak. I still don't know what to do with my pain but, when the ugly cry comes I try to talk but, often its too hard to explain all the pain lurking inside so the other night I curled up on the couch and read the Message NT. I wish i knew how to heal and not feel the pain but, even if I'm good for months it sneaks up on me and it is a sinking feeling of deep rejection and pain that I wonder if God will ever heal.

    ~ Ali

  12. What a touching post. Again, you speak to my heart, Hilary, on so many levels...even though I am not a QF daughter.

    There is so much to grief...grieving what was as well as what wasn't.

    I really like your take on the joy of the Lord is my strength. I shared that with my hubby and he liked that, too. Neither of us had ever considered it that way.

    I used to listen to that song a lot when I was dealing with my ex. It helped to give me strength when I really needed it.

    Thank you again, Hillary, for your words that touch my soul.

  13. What does not wasting my pain mean to me? I don't know that this makes sense, but the first thing that came to mind was not sharing my pain with those who cannot understand. I would rather share my pain with those who DO understand. Chances are, if they really understand, then it means that I might be able to minister to them...and them to me. I believe that is where a lot of healing takes place.

    Your question breaks my heart: What kind of internal aching is so deep that self-mutilation is welcomed relief?

    I know so many who hurt themselves because of the pain they are in. It is bad enough that they were abused in the first place, but to have that abuse done in the name of "G-d" just makes me want to cry...both for the wounded and for Yahweh. It is not supposed to be like this. The body of Yeshua is supposed to be a healing place. His Word is supposed to bring life and light...not pain and darkness.

    I know so many abuse survivors, especially Ritual Abuse, who cannot sit in a congregational service because they are rejected. They feel less than everyone else. I know that I rarely truly feel as if I belong much of anywhere...but I think the abuse is only part of the reason why.

    We are not to forsake the assembling together. That is not talking about what so many mistakenly call "church". It is talking about fellowshipping with other believers. We should not be on our own. However, how often do you see the kind of gathering together that is described in Acts in a typical congregational gathering? It is time we separate the traditions of men from the what G-d really says in His word so that we can come together and love one another and minister to one another in our pain instead of judging.

    It is also time that the truth is spoken in the body of Yeshua. Healing truth.

  14. Hillary,

    I am grateful that you continue to bare your soul to us with all its raw and immediate pain. I am humbled that you are willing to share and pleased to be able to bear the pain with you. My break with religion did not particularly involve my family (well, not directly) but I have certainly endured (still endure) grief in my life.

    Grief, once experienced, is always present, adding definition and piquancy to every moment forever. Grief holds within its grasp the seed of greater joy than would ever be possible without the deep soil of grief.

    Grief is universal, everyone in every place in every time has and will grieve some bitter loss. It is one of the key ingredients in the development of compassion. The deeper one's realization of the universality of suffering, the wider one's compassion.

    It is truly heartbreaking that you felt the need to write a disclaimer against those who are so mired in their own pain that they cannot respect the pain of others as legitimate, that they cannot develop compassion.

    Much love to you, Hillary, and to those to whom you minister.

  15. I am undone by all the feedback I've received from this article, both here and in emails and messages.

    Sometimes I falter trying to discern what and how to write; have I said too much? Too little? And I pray and weep and try not to get caught up in the compulsion to write for writing's sake but to be quiet and listen, hoping that the Lord will give me a word in season for those who are weary.

    If these words have blessed you, to God be the glory.

    Thank all of you for taking time to leave your responses and thoughts. So many of you ache and I remember you before the Father ... and others have proven to be such indispensable support to em... being the Father's hands and heart. Thank you.

  16. Thank you. I'm not sure why, but this last month has been expecially heavy for me.

  17. While my abuse was different from yours, my grief is the same. When I first remembered the sexual abuse from my father, which I beleive began around age two, I went through many emotions... but result of accepting all that has happened - the abuse I've always remembered and the things that I hid from myself for so long - has been an intense grief. While my father is still alive, I've given up, finally, on ever having the father I wanted and needed as a child. That grief has been very hard. It hits me like a train, out of no where, and the tears I didn't know how to find for most of my life seem unending in those hours.

    I looked for grief groups, but how does one explain the grief for someone who hasn't died in a room full of people with "real" physical losses?

    Thank you for understanding this grief. Now, as I try to understand what my relationship with my mother is meant to be - what hope I can hold onto and what I need tol let go - I am falling into that dark place again and it is good not to feel so alone.

  18. I wasn't raised in a QF family, just a fundamental Christian one. Luckily, my family was being abused by their church, and saw that, so we were all emancipated together. But the pain of the spiritual abuse is sometimes even worse when experienced by a whole group, I think. I have noticed lately that we are amplifying each other's pain from time to time...if you're on a bad day, and the person you're talking to is actually on a "good" day, then it brings them down so much to spill the bad onto them as well. Just something I'm dealing with at the moment.

  19. Heavenly Father,

    I cry out for the grief, oppression, and all else of slavery which quivering daughters must face day to day, night to night.

    I cry out and ask forgiveness, as a sister in Christ. I see the pain, I place my cheek on the feet of Jesus, and I weep for them. I ask forgiveness for the raping of their souls. I ask them to forgive me, us, the Body of Christ, and I ask You to have mercy and show Yourself in tangible ways to them.

    Thank you, oh Lord God, for Hillary McFarland and her testimony of Your faithfulness, love, and hope in all places. I lift her up to You as I thank You for the miracle of Your love that she is. Bless her richly with healing, but also with more comfort because she is a vessel who gives it to those in quivering need. In Jesus' Name..

    Love to you, Hillary. Thank you so much for writing the pain. Beautiful article here.

  20. Hilary,

    Once again you put into words what hundreds can only groan from the depths of their souls. I am much more acquainted with grief than so many other emotions and you said it well. I don't think it ever totally goes away...like a scab on a wound..then a scar but scars or old wounds can hurt when it rains and gets cloudy. Some days are like that and those old wounds begin to ache.

    That is when I go to the Rock for some "buffering Balm of Gilead" and allow Him to massage the wound once again. Selah~

    I am facing some big mountains of grief in my personal life as many old friends are dying from Hep C. We all used needles as foolish, 70s hippies and now it has become the "Titanic" while I hold onto the Plank and watch them die. Thankfully most have accepted Jesus on their death beds. And the bittersweet miracle? I tested negative...wow.

    Anyway, enough about my grief and thank you once again for this safe blogging field of dreams. Much love. <3

  21. Grief and suffering are some of the hardest things to reconcile with faith aren't they? Yet, I wonder if they don't magnify the experience of joy that much more? I spent a long time asking and wondering why so many happened - there are no answers sometimes. But one thing that I have realized is that you can appreciate the heights of bliss and joy much more through the depths of grief.

    Thanks, as always for your pasts.

  22. Thank you for this post. I honestly had to skip through some of it because of my own struggles with self-harm, but I really wanted to answer your question "What does 'don't waste your pain' mean to you." I understand - and cling to - the intended, good, meaning of the phrase.

    However, that phrase, and similar ones, have become so associated with people telling me that I should "get over" my pain because I should be trusting in God's future use of it, that I cringe every time I encounter it.

    At some point, translating this and other phrases into their *intended* meaning from true friends becomes so emotionally exhausting, that I don't share my past until I am ready to explain the really bad spiritual responses I've gotten.

    I'm hoping this may bring some insight to some others. Blessings to all of you who are seeking to receive or give help to those who are broken.


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