FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Lost: How Grief Brought Me Closer to God: Sara Hagerty

with Sara Hagerty | May 3, 2024
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When you're stuck in the middle of a tough time, dealing with heartache and pain, it can feel like there's no way out: No matter what you try, that heavy cloud of grief still follows you. Author Sara Hagerty sits with you in your pain as she talks about how to work through the pain, face it head-on, and find a path through the grief, denial, and all those other messy emotions.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

When you’re stuck with heartache in tough times, you might feel there’s no escape. Sara Hagerty guides through grief, denial, and messy emotions.

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Lost: How Grief Brought Me Closer to God: Sara Hagerty

With Sara Hagerty
May 03, 2024
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Ann: Do you think you’re good at grieving?

Dave: Can we talk about something else? [Laughter] Are you serious?

Ann: Yes. I’m just curious. I was thinking [of it] as we’re going to be talking about this a little bit today.

Dave: I feel like you already know the answer, or you wouldn’t have asked me. [Laughter]

Ann: Instead of grieving, what do you think you do?

Dave: I deny, and withdraw, and avoid.

Ann: I don’t think I’m very good at it either. I think I just move; I keep moving and doing instead of sitting. I don’t think we know how to grieve sometimes.


Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: I think that’s a great question because “How do you grieve well?” I think grieving, when I hear the word, it’s like, “Let’s do it; let’s do it quickly; and let’s get back to life.”

Sara: Serve the purpose.

Dave: I don’t want to live there.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: And that’s terrible! That is not grieving, +and that’s not healthy.

Sara: But that’s how most of us live, myself included.

Ann: Yes. We’re talking with Sara Hagerty today. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Sara: Thank you!

Ann: I’m so glad that you’re with us. We’re going to talk about this as we’ve been talking about your book a little bit. You hit grieving in your book, The Gift of Limitations: Finding Beauty in Your Boundaries.

Sara: Yes.

Ann: That part—

Dave: —Iwas going to say, I don’t like the “gift.”

Ann: How do we find beauty in our boundaries? We’re all breaking and pushing against the boundaries. Do you grieve well, Sara?

Sara: I don’t, by nature, but I feel like I’m learning; I’m learning. Because I think, when we start to see the power that grief has for us as believers—to grow us; to give us a greater connection to God; and that it doesn’t mean we’re going to stay there forever—it becomes a little bit easier to do it.

I think my mind is getting there [more quickly] than my body and my life. But my mind— I’m beginning to see [that] the Bible is full of people who grieved with God. There are Psalms where you see, at the beginning, deep grief—like Psalm 22—and then, you watch a transition into really understanding an aspect of God’s nature and His character. I start to think, “I think there’s a purpose in it.” The more my mind can get around that, the more I start to think, “Yes, maybe running away from my grief isn’t the best thing right now.”

I think we all have this question: “If I grieve this moment, am I going to stay here forever? If I open the door to grief, what if I’m just Eeyore forever?” [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, exactly! I think people are like, “When they say, ‘Grieve well’—it’s important you grieve—"

Sara: “—What does that mean?” Right!

Ann: Exactly. “What does it mean?”

Sara: There’s the real—for those of us who lost someone (my dad died when I was young; younger), and that felt tangible—like I knew, when I missed him, grief was coming on, and you can’t really avoid that. I think a lot of us have the bigger things in our life, where grief becomes familiar.

What we don’t really have a grid for is: “Can I grieve that I have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of needs in my home, and I can’t meet them all?” That feels like throwing a tantrum. I don’t really want to grieve, but could there be a middle ground, where I’m actually maybe not throwing a tantrum; but instead of snapping at my kids because they’re not making my life any easier, could I actually take three minutes alone in my room, with a cup of coffee or tea, and say, “This is really hard, God?”

Ann: I like that because, as a mom, when our kids were little, I’d say, “Stop being a whiner,” to myself, not to my kids. [Laughter]

Sara: Yes!

Ann: My kids were whining, but I’m saying it to myself, “Stop being a whiner.”

Dave: You might have said it to our kids, too. [Laughter]

Ann: Oh, of course, I said it to my kids; but I’m saying, I also said it to myself as a self-motivation.

Sara: Yes, “Slap some water on your face and keep going!”

Ann: Exactly! But to go into the closet, and just to be sad; and to grieve the moment, and maybe even the stage that you’re in, I feel guilty about that; because “shouldn’t I feel thankful?”

Sara: Right. I think I do the same thing. I think we, as believers, get stuck. We know what the end should be: “I need to be grateful and to see God move, and His hand in my life; I need to be present with my kids,” but how many times do I skip steps? Here I am, snapping at my husband three days in a row. He’s thinking, “What in the world?”

Ann: “Who are you?”

Sara: “Who are you?” But if I give myself a little bit of time, snapping actually becomes tears, and I’m thinking, “I feel totally overwhelmed with my life, and you are the only person who sees it and knows it this closely, so I need you to be perfect right now.” Right? [Laughter]

Ann: But you go into the closet to grieve. Can you take us there again? What are you saying?

Sara: I go in the closet, or go to some place where your kids aren’t—which, for me, is the laundry room, or if I could hide in the dishwasher, right? Nobody wants to go there. [Laughter] I go to some place where nobody is. I give myself permission to feel before God, and I say, “Okay, I’m acting mad, but underneath the mad is really sad. This is hard. And I have hard responsibilities in my life that I am not fulfilling.” If I can sit there long enough—honestly, I can sometimes get to: “I feel like I’m actually really failing. I feel like You’ve given me these children to steward, and I feel like I’m an utter failure.”

In the moment, I’m feeling like an utter failure because my mud room has mud in it. [Laughter] But if I can step away, I’m feeling like I’m failing the stewardship that God has asked of me. That—naming it before God and sitting with it—is a picture of minute grief, right?

Ann: Our friend, Jamie Winship, talks about confession. He was a cop in DC. He says confession: “When we have somebody on the stand; when we say, ‘Make your confession,’ they don’t say, ‘I’m sorry.’ They tell you, ‘This is what I did; this is the truth.’” He said, “Confession is telling God the truth of where you are, of what you’re feeling, of what you’re going through.”

Sara: That is so good.

Ann: That changed the way that I looked at it, in terms of that closet experience; I’m starting to do that all the time. I can be in a meeting and feel like a failure: “Lord, I’m telling You, this is my confession: I feel like a failure.” You know?

Sara: Yes.

Ann: I’m digging through that, and I’m talking to Him about it. I think that’s really healthy.

Sara: Yes, and that is grief in some ways. When we feel like a failure, there’s a deep sadness in our hearts, like, “I’m not hitting it.” To be able to take minutes—and I’m not talking hours, or days, or weeks, though sometimes, it can stretch into longer—to say, “I’m going to give myself permission to be sad.” It releases some of the mad, right?

Ann: That’s good.

Dave: Do you think it’s easier for women to do this? I’m just sitting here—[Laughter]

Sara: In my marriage, it is for sure. But one of the things I have noticed as I have given myself more permission to grieve is, it’s interesting how it has also given my husband more permission.

Ann: Oh, that’s good.

Sara: Maybe because it’s also giving me a greater tolerance for his pain. I don’t know; I feel, as a woman, I love his strength, and so, when he’s weak, I need to make space to really let him be weak.

Ann: That’s good.

Sara: In a similar way, he’s practicing and learning: “Oh, this thing is hard, and I can’t come up with a new business strategy to circumvent this. I actually need to sit in this moment, and say, ‘It’s not working out like I thought it was, and this is hard’.”

Ann: You obviously have an answer. [Laughter]

Dave: No, I was just listening to two women talking about this. I’m thinking, “I don’t do this well.” I do it a lot better now than I ever have.

Ann: Oh, yes!

Dave: Some of that took years and decades.

Ann: I remember saying to Dave, “What are you feeling?” He’d be like, “I don’t know! What do you mean?”

Dave: I know a lot of guys—you get in a men’s group with them—it’s like, “Dude, what’s really underneath all that?” “I don’t know; I’m just mad!”

Sara: Right.

Dave: “I know. Why?” “Because…”—and they [mention] situation, expectations, whatever—yes, there’s a root to that. I never knew there was a root; and then, when somebody told me—this is decades ago—I said, “I don’t care. I don’t want to get to the root.” [Laughter] “I’m just going to fight through it. [Laughter] And I’m going to get the job, and I’m going to—"

Sara: —You and everybody, because it feels—honestly, it feels—really unknown to get to that root; right?—it feels very unknown to me.

Ann: —and very vulnerable, too,—

Sara: very vulnerable.

Ann: —and weak.

Sara: For my husband, one of the things we’ve talked through is, if he’s gruff, that’s like my warning sign he’s actually hurting—

Dave: —yes.

Sara: —and I’m wanting to respond to his gruffness and quiet that down. When, in reality, what he really needs is, when we have a quiet minute, for me to say, “This is hard, isn’t it?”

Ann: Or “What’s up?”

Sara: Or “What’s up?” Yes.

Dave: I can’t say it’s 100-percent true, but I think it’s very, very true for every person listening to what you just said—especially men—if I’m gruff, it’s a flashing dashboard light on my soul saying, “It’s something else.”

Sara: “There’s something underneath that.”

Dave: “There’s something off.” It’s worth paying attention to. And then, if you can identify it, grieve it: “Can you grieve it? Can you give it a funeral?” Maybe it’s an expectation: “I’m not getting a promotion; it’s not going to happen.”

Again, even as I say that, I’m like, “I can make it happen. I’ll get around another way.” But at some point, there are things where God is setting a limit, and that’s a gift.

Sara: Yes.

Dave: Even saying it out loud, it’s like, “I still don’t want limits to be a gift—and beauty in boundaries—but you’re right; there are times we have to say, “I need to grieve this; I need to accept this; I need to move into this in a beautiful way’.”

I think we do this with our marriage a lot. We want to change her (or change him) to be what we thought we married anyway.

Sara: Yes.

Dave: And then, at some point, we realize, “No, who she is absolutely beautiful. I need to embrace and love her as she is, not make her any different; because she is a gift from God to make me better, just the way she is.” That’s hard to get to a place where you’re settled and content.

Ann: It is; yes.

Sara: Right; which is why I think grief is such an important part of the process. It’s just like that children’s book: “You can’t go over it; can’t go around it; can’t go under it; have to go through it.” [We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen] Grief is a necessary part to accepting the reality that God has given us and to actually embracing it, to seeing it as being beautiful.

I think of—let’s talk about marriage in particular—early years of marriage were really hard—giving myself permission, as a newer bride, to be disappointed and sad moved me away from mad [and] definitely opened a door for connectedness with God, because it didn’t feel—my conversation with God before then, had been one dimensional: “Change this in him!” I just felt like I was the head of my prayer team for my husband, you know?

Ann: Me, too! [Laughter] Oh, I was the President of it.

Sara: The President of the Prayer Team. [Laughter]

Ann: “[Shouldn’t] we all be praying for my husband?”

Sara: That’s right! But that was my one-dimensional conversation with God.

Can there be another way? Which is I sit with You, and I say, “Actually, this is really hard, Lord, and I’m sad. the young bride in me is sad that this isn’t what—or he’s not who—I wanted him to be or who I thought he would be.” In that grief, God meets us, and really, I think, He changes us.

Dave: He gives us new eyes.

Sara: We become the people we want to be in grief.

Ann: As you guys were saying that, I thought of the potter’s wheel. I picture it as the clay being on the potter’s wheel. We don’t want to get on there.

Sara: No way.

Ann: Because marriage and our children form us, and God is using them to shape us into these people that He sees and wants us to become; but, man, when His hands get on there through our marriage or through our kids, it’s painful in the moment.

Sara: It is. Well, I think about kids, we can get really bent—especially with children who are in teen years and into the young adult years—as to what we imagine them to be and how we imagine their life to be. Because, as parents, we feel like we’ve been given the key. It is a hard key to relinquish, to say, “You know what? In this season, this is really painful that it is not looking like what I thought.” But if I can sit in the grief of it, maybe God might open my eyes to what He is actually doing in that child or what He is actually doing in me as I wait on what He’s doing in that child. That’s hard.

Ann: So hard.

Sara: It’s a crucible, and I think nobody talks about that because—or we don’t talk about it all that often, because—we just imagine the dreams for our kids are going to be the actual things that they walk out. But even in a wildly thriving child, it’s still not going to play out exactly how you pictured all those years that you prayed for them.

Ann: I’ve talked to so many moms—because I’m around so many moms—that have said and cried, “He gave his life to Jesus when he was five. I knew God had His hand on him. I thought he was going to”—and then, they’ll name all of the things—“I thought he was…” or “…she was…”. And now, they’re shattered. What would you say to that person?

Sara: Yes, those are the limitations we’ve been taking about: “What if your dreams are on the other side of the fence?” You’ve got this yard in front of you and this life in front of you, and your dreams are over there; and you cannot get there. I think we experience it a lot with our kids because we see their sovereignty; and we think, “I cannot make something happen here.” Could it be that, widespread across the body of Christ, God is reaching people through their delayed prayers; delayed answer to prayers?

I think what happens, if we give ourselves permission to grieve that, is [that] it becomes a different conversation with God. It’s not: “Change this kid,” “Move this.”  We’re really masters of interceding, but what about grief prayers, where: “I cry with You; and I use the Psalms as language to talk to You, God, and I actually find Your comfort?” So, I think there’s a power grief actually gives us. We talk a lot, in our current culture, about being present; being present with our kids, being present with the life right in front of us.

Ann: Yes.

Sara: Mostly, I think, because our phones feel like this massive distraction.

Ann: Me, too.

Sara: I wonder if being present isn’t actually something we need to pursue, in and of itself; but if it becomes a byproduct of grieving our limitations, meeting with God in our limitations, and having Him impart His dreams for our life—His will for our life—in a way that is different from what we thought. When I can walk through grief [saying], “This hurts,” my eyes start to open, that there’s more going on in my life than just me overcoming this one limitation.

Ann: That’s good. What do you mean by “presence” when people say: “His presence,” “Being in His presence,” “Being more present in the situation?”

Sara: I think being more present to a situation is like—it’s 10 o’clock; we take walks in the woods every day with my littlest people; or it’s 9:30 in the morning, and we’re taking a walk in the woods. The way the sun hits my littlest girl’s hair with its blond curls, and I get to think, “Oh, Lord, I’m old, and You also gave me a child in my older years. It’s wonderful.” Or at the birthday party, right? Where we’ve done all this to celebrate my daughter and, maybe at the very end, I see her hug her best friend, and I think, “This is sweet that she’s able to develop this friendship.” Being able to stay present in the moment without all these thoughts hanging out in the back of my mind, distracting me from being able to see what God is doing right here.

Ann: Our son—he calls them “God goggles.”

Sara: Yes!

Ann: “Put on your God goggles to see what God is doing.”

Sara: That is so good.

Ann: I think you’re right. When we notice, when we put down, when we say, “I’m going to put my God goggles on,”—there’s something spectacular, everywhere, [where] God is displaying Himself.

Sara: Even in the moment, we can get so fixed on the thing that we want to overcome—

Ann: —yes—

Sara: —if it’s a health issue: “When I’m finally through this…” I also have a sick child: “When we finally figure out what’s going on with him and figure out to help him, then we’re really going to settle into a normal life as a family”—

Ann: —"and then, I can be more present with God even.”

Sara: —“then I can be more present.”

Could it be that the Lord is saying, “You know what? Right now, I actually have beauty for you?” It’s interesting—the notion of grief and walking through seasons of grief—I have heard people say: “You actually grow your capacity for joy when you grieve,” because you start to see the smaller things that you wouldn’t see when you’re not grieving.

When you’re grieving, your eyes open to your own pain; and in opening to your own pain, it’s like you start to have your eyes open to other things around you that you wouldn’t have seen when you’re just plowing through life. There is a gift that God gives in our limitations, and in grieving them, that we start to think, “Oh, there’s beauty right here in my yard. No, I’m not getting that one thing that I’m so desperate to have, but right here…”

I think of—our family took a big, epic—this is not the way that we normally vacation; normally, we are piled into a van, with suitcases falling out of the door every time we open it, driving across the country; but our family took a trip—a one-time, once-in-a-lifetime, trip—to Maui. While we were there, there were just some struggles that were surfacing within our family. I had some alone time, and I was thinking, “You brought us all the way to Maui, and this is coming with us? You’ve got to be kidding me; this is our vacation. You brought me to Maui, and this is happening! You brought me to Maui, and this is happening!”

As I’m saying it, I’m also writing it in my journal, it was like the emphasis changed, as if it were His words to me: “This is happening, and I brought you to Maui,” [whispering] “This is happening, and I brought you to Maui.” It was like this picture to me of God saying, “Don’t wait until this stops happening, because I have moments for you right now—"

Ann: —that you’re like, “Now. Don’t wait.”

Sara: —“to encounter Me. Live your life now.”

I can say to somebody who is struggling with Lyme Disease, “I could wait until I’m through with all this and miss a whole lot of time where God is saying, ‘I want to meet you right now, when your family’s not functioning on all cylinders, and when you’re not knocking it out of the park, as a mom; when you’re a C- mom, I have things to show you right now.’”

Ann: [Laughter] “a C- mom”

Dave: It amazed me—the verse came to my mind; I’m sure you’re familiar—

Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.” It’s those moments where you’re almost pushing Him away because you’re so broken. And when you pause, He flips it, like you said.

Sara: He says, “I am near, and really, what you want all along is my nearness.” If we think about it, the end of all our dreams and our goals, deep down inside, is [that] we want to feel like we’ve made an impact; we want to feel like we’re seen; we want to feel like we belong. Could it be that, in the times when those things are thwarted, God gives us that just with Himself; His nearness to the brokenhearted?

Dave: Yes.

Ann: I like that idea, too, Sara, of just as we’re talking about beauty in our boundaries, of just—like we’ve talked about how God whispers to us—that we’re not so distracted that we can’t hear His whispers, or we’re not so distracted that we don’t see the beauty in what’s happening all around us, even in the midst of pain.

Sara: Right!

Ann: I think, for moms as listeners, it would be great to talk with your kids about that: “What are the hard things going on in your life, and in our family, and in the world?” [And] “What are some of the good things you’re seeing, too? What are the good things that God is doing in the midst?” because He’s always moving, and He’s always good.

Sara: Absolutely. I think that is the gift of our limitations. We have eyes fixed over the fence line. If [you] can name them, and grieve them, and accept them, you start to look at the grass underneath your feet with different eyes. You start to look at the tree in your yard.

I’m talking from real life—my limitations—I feel like I wrote this book and my limitations only got more intense. It’s like the Lord saying, “You have life right here, Sara; not when Lyme is done, not when these things are resolved in your family, not when you have a more quiet house or a more ordered mud room with no mud. [Laughter] There’s life, right now, for you. There’s beauty right now. It’s accessible.”

I would say, for listeners: right now, that thing that you’ve been praying for to change, there’s life when it doesn’t; there’s life for you right now, when you’re waiting, and it’s not [changing].

Ann: Will you pray for our listeners, the ones who are feeling like, “There’s so many limits to my life right now.”

Sara: Yes, I would love to.

God, we thank You that You meet us in our limitations. We thank You, God, that we don’t have to wait until they’re done, or over, or we’re through them to dream with You.

God, I ask for listeners, right now, who are very acutely feeling their limitations, whether it be physical, or in their family, or in their marriage, or with their parents, or with their children. God, we ask that You would come, even today, God, and give them a brush with Your wonder and Your beauty. Give them a whisper that says, “I’m here. I am near to you, brokenhearted.”

We ask, Holy Spirit, that You would help us to grieve what hurts and not just stuff it. Give us a way through, God. Amen.

Ann: Amen.

Shelby: Right now is when you can find beauty in the life God has given you. I love what Sara has directed our focus toward today, because who doesn’t struggle with contentment? Who hasn’t, at one point or another, longed for life to be different than what it was? So many of us are over-the-fence gazers, looking at what could be instead of what is. Today’s conversation has been significantly helpful from my perspective, and I hope it really has been for you, too.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sara Hagerty on FamilyLife Today. Sara’s written a book called The Gift of Limitations: Finding Beauty in Your Boundaries. I have actually been reading this book—I’m reading it right now—I’m about half way through it. It has been enormously helpful for me to look at things like my weaknesses, my limitations, and the fences in my life as good gifts from God instead of things that God is putting in my life to hold me back, or to make me feel like I can look at other people’s lives with longing because my life doesn’t measure up to what their life is like. It really has helped me in many ways to unlock satisfaction with the way that God has lovingly and purposefully directed my life.

You can get your copy of Sara’s book right now by going to the show notes at Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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Now, how do you build relationships, make an impact, and connect with your community? Well, next week, Chris and Elizabeth McKinney are going to be here with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that: having a godly strategy when you think about being a good neighbor. That’s next week.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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