When we are faced with loss – be that the loss of a person, the loss of a friendship or other relationship, the loss of a pet, the loss of a job or even the loss of a dream or hope – there is bereavement and often a period of grieving. That period has no set time limit and we often feel adrift on a sea of unfamiliarity. Life seems to lose its colour; we can become listless, apathetic, as though there seems little point in carrying on. All the things we took for granted suddenly seem shaken; grief takes us through different stages, including sadness, anger, resentment, bewilderment and that terrible feeling of isolation. Grief is a profoundly lonely journey, even when others long to walk with us through that time.

The truths we know about God – His goodness, love, grace, mercy, faithfulness and comfort – may seem like distant memories at best, glimpses of a land we no longer seem able to reach. At worst, we feel like Jeremiah: deceived, seduced, abandoned (see Jer 15:18, Jer 20:7). This is a time when many walk away from the Lord, convinced that He has in fact walked away from them.

How do we survive such times? How do we come through loss and grief with faith intact and even strengthened?

I believe one way is through mercy hooks, those tiny reminders of who God is and what He is really like which shine into our darkness, at first with all the force of a flickering candle, but gradually blazing forth in dazzling light which dispels every darkness and overcomes every sorrow.

Mercy, love and grace are at the heart of who God is, and He tailors these to meet us in those dark valleys. If we look, we will find these present in our darkness. It might be a friend who phones you when you’re desolate and just listens to you without judgment. It might be a sunrise whose beauty reminds you that hope comes in the morning. It might be a song whose lyrics pierce to the heart because they say what you can no longer articulate for yourself. It’s impossible to predict how God will reveal Himself in the darkness because He does this in ways that are tailor-made for you. There is no one-size-fits-all plaster for grief. Instead, there is a suffering Saviour who knows what you need.

These mercy hooks are slivers of hope when all hope seems to be gone. They are there to strengthen on an hourly basis. I remember driving to pick up a parcel on the morning after my mother had died, a tedious job to be fitted in when numbness and exhaustion from lack of sleep meant I just wanted to hide under the quilt in bed. As we drove, the most beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, a mercy hook from God, a reminder that He always keeps His promises. I went into the depot to pick up this unknown and unwanted parcel, and opened it to find a small teddy bear wearing a jumper that said, ‘Julie’s Big Hug Bear’, a gift posted weeks before by a friend of mine in Australia who desperately wanted to offer comfort and solace to me as she walked through my mother’s cancer journey with me, arriving at exactly the right time to remind me not only of her love and support but of God’s. It didn’t stop the pain of loss, but it was a reminder, something I could physically hold onto, that I was loved, that both my friend and God cared about me. Mercy hooks.

You might have to dig in the darkness to find these rays of light, but I guarantee they are there. God cares for us so personally, so intimately, that He will not leave us comfortless. The Holy Spirit will come alongside us in our grief and give us what we need, tailor-made for us. In God’s mercy, I sat with my father doing crossword puzzles hours before a fall down the stairs unexpectedly ended his life. A mercy hook of normality that gave me strength to face sudden loss. What mercy hooks can you find in the darkness? These are not flimsy like the coat pegs on which we hang our coats and jackets. They have enough strength to steer us through the journey of grief and bring us safely home to God.