In Parts 1 and 2, I’ve been talking about grief and loss. I read recently of a woman whose daughter is brain-damaged.
I can hardly bear it sometimes. My most recent wave of grief came just before her sixteenth birthday. As the day approached I found myself brooding over all the things that she would never be able to do. What did I do? I did what I’ve learned to do again and again and that is to embrace my grief. So I cried and cried and cried and faced the truth of my grief head on.
I said in Part 2 that society has a way of handling this. It says, replace your losses and move on as quickly as possible. We are taught to turn the page, fix it quick, move on, and not to hang out in sad places. But I believe the Bible teaches a better way. We are not to replace our losses, but to talk about them, write reflectively about them, and pray to God about the issues we face.
The biblical journey through grief begins with facing it and embracing it. Jesus responded to his losses of friendship by weeping. As Christians, it is important for us to learn that it is not only OK to cry, it is God’s way of expressing grief. There is nothing weak about crying. It is God’s way of grieving our losses. Our tendency is to run from pain and replace it as quickly as possible with another feeling. But the reality is that unexpressed feelings never die.
The Psalms in the Old Testament put words to my feelings and allow me to grieve. As Christians, we need to be able to express our feelings of anger, despair, and resentment even if they are directed at God. God cares deeply about how we feel and is big enough to handle our anger and questions.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther lost a son. His wife, Katie, shouted at him, “Where was God when our son died?” Martin Luther said, “The same place he was when his Son died on the cross. He was there watching and weeping.” You see, we have a God who knows what it is to experience losses and who knows how to weep.
In our fast-paced culture one of the things that is helpful to do—especially when we suffer losses—is to reduce the pace of our lives, take time to review our losses, express our feelings, and pray through them. God’s way is not to run from pain, but to feel it, express it, and pray about it.
Grieve in Community
The third step in society’s approach is to grieve alone. God’s approach is to grieve in community. The Bible is full of instructions to bear each others burdens and to weep with those who weep. Jesus, approaching his own death, grabbed Peter, James, and John and said, “Come to a quiet place with me. Pray with me. Hold me up.”
It’s really interesting to see how Jesus grieved in community. His disciples must have learned the lesson well because after the crucifixion they grieved together in a friend’s house. We are not meant to grieve alone. And yet, so often our tendency is to isolate ourselves from others—even the ones we love the most. We feel like nobody understands us or wants to hear our story.
The truth is that sometimes the church hasn’t always been helpful. Like the disciples, we fall asleep and seem uninterested in the one who is suffering and grieving. Sometimes we have been judgmental and condemning. We say things like, You’ve been grieving long enough now. It’s time to move on. Just get over it.
As a Christian community we have much to learn about walking with others in their grief. But as we learn to understand the grieving process and that grief is not something to be avoided but embraced, then we will be able to truly bear each others burdens.
So society’s approach is: bury your feelings, replace your losses, and grieve alone. God’s way is to feel your feelings, review your losses, and grieve in community.
Avoid Burying Your Pain
Step four in society’s approach says, time will heal. God says, the Holy Spirit is our healer. The scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is our comforter.
As a society, we used to think that we could bury our toxic waste and that it would all go away. But now we have discovered that it leaks into our water table, contaminates crops, kills animals, and affects us humans as well. In a sense, buried grief does the same to us. Time can help in the healing process, but time alone doesn’t heal a thing. Buried pain leaks into our emotional system and wreaks havoc there. It distorts our perceptions of life, and it taints all our relationships.
Now, it’s true that there are other causes to our sadness and depression, and we need to check these out, but many times it goes back to losses in our life. Our faith in Christ does not eliminate our need to grieve or to feel the emotions of sadness. But our faith in Christ can give us the courage to face our feelings and to comfort us and give us hope in the midst of our grief.
Time itself will not heal. We need to be intentional about dealing with our losses. Grieving is hard work. And we need to be aware that it may take a long time. Grief is not something we get over. It is something we live into.
And of course, we can pray for one another and support each other and encourage each other. Many times God uses our own past wounds to walk with others who are going through a similar situation. All of this, of course, is a gift from God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to heal and comfort us.
SOURCE: Nathan Good © 2006, Pittsburgh Mennonite Church