I guess that it really isn’t just Christians that have a tough time grieving, but it seems we have very unique and powerful ways of avoiding grief in our lives. I remember when I was just starting out in counseling and I met with one of my first clients. She sat across from me and just began to cry. I sat there and soaked it in. Part of me felt like I wasn’t doing my job, and another part was feeling a little helpless, but I remembered my training and allowed her a place to grieve. After about a half hour she began to talk and one of the things she said to me was very powerful. She said this was the first place she was allowed to grieve. Everyone else would put an arm around her and tell her it would be “ok”, they tried to comfort her, some prayed for her that the pain would go away, but every contact she had was a subtle message to stop crying. Romans 12:15 says, “weep with those who weep.” The reality is that when we try and fix people’s problems, when we tell someone that “they are in Heaven now”, when we desire to see them happy, it is for ourselves not for them. Over and over I have seen this and worked through it with people in group therapy. When someone is hurting in the group and there is a knee jerk reaction to want them to “stop hurting” it is often because we can’t tolerate our own feelings of helplessness, feelings of inadequacy, or it touches on our own pain (often ungrieved). Every loss needs to be grieved.
Many people have come to me suffering because of years of loss ungrieved in the name of faith, but faith is not denial. Faith gives us hope in the midst of pain, it does not erase the pain of loss. As Paul says, we grieve with hope, but we do grieve. He doesn’t say that we don’t. “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Not grieving always as a cost. Matthew 5:4 says that “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” What comfort do we deny ourselves by not grieving? Denial has deep psychological consequences. Jesus himself grieved. When he saw Mary and Martha’s pain he didn’t say to himself, “Oh well, Lazarus will be raised in a minute, their pain is due to their lack of faith.” He groaned deeply. When in the garden, he didn’t say to himself “Well this pain will be momentary, then I will be raised and accomplish everything I set out to do.” He grieved deeply and wished that there was some other way. He never ran from his feelings. In the same way the Psalms are filled with a wrestling of emotions and grief. Many times my work as a therapist is helping people come in contact with the losses in their lives that have not been grieved, walk with them in that pain, and help them understand what that pain has meant in their lives. Grief is rarely understood in a culture that runs so quickly and powerfully from pain. I love the following lines from a song that I think captures very well what it means to bear one another’s burdens:
“But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see,
So we can both be there and we can both share the dark.
And in our honesty, together we will rise,
Out of our nightminds, and into the light
At the end of the fight…”