“Martin, I can’t believe you said, ‘It sucks!’ You’re a pastor. Pastors aren’t supposed to talk like this!” Honestly, I don’t care! I dislike grieving when tragedy strikes. Grief is messy.
When I was growing up in my family, showing emotions — especially grief — was taboo. Emotions exposed the raw mess of your inner world. Even though it was never stated, we believed that, if your emotions got out of control, you should find a distraction, redirect the conversation, intellectualize it, or take it to your room where people were not present. When you were finally able to talk about the loss and grief with family, you were supposed to focus on the hope we have as Christians so you didn’t display the pain and expose the mess. Hope became a useful tool. It was like a brush you used to flick off the grief, like it was an unwanted piece of lint or a crumb from an earlier meal. That way you never really had to engage in such messy emotional realities.
I know, it was really sick! It was the Schlomer way. That being said, I don’t believe I’m alone.
While on our way to lunch last Sunday, Kim and I talked for maybe 20 seconds about the sermon before she redirected the conversation.
Kim: Keep in mind that there are a lot of people grieving right now. We are grieving over Nancy (I learned this is called “anticipatory grief”). Joan and others are grieving over the loss of Herb. Harold is grieving the loss of Helen. Jeff is grieving the loss of his mom. I’m grieving the disappearance of Chrysti Kearns.
Martin: And your point is … ?
Kim: You need to help people walk through this season of grief.
Martin: I’m trying! I spend a lot of time talking about our hope.
Need I say more? Hope is never intended to minimize grief. Hope helps us realize that grief is not a dead-end street. Instead, grief is like a thoroughfare; just because we have hope doesn’t mean we have permission to speed through as if grief doesn’t exist.
How do we grieve in a way that doesn’t minimize it, but instead embraces the raw messiness that it is? A friend shared last night, “How do I learn to grieve well? It’s not something I learned how to do growing up.”
I am learning that grieving well means we own the mess. Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person and the living take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.” It sounds like Solomon was a real fun guy! His point: There is no escaping these harsh realities of grief. It’s okay to let the tears flow with others. It’s okay to sit and be still in the presence of those who are grieving. It is okay to embrace and feel the loss. It is okay to rage against the loss. We were never created to die and be separated from our bodies. Our souls feel this more than we want to admit. No amount of distractions or avoidance can change this.
I am learning that grieving well is a healthy expression of love and loss. When those who were present at Lazarus’s funeral heard and watched Jesus weep openly and without embarrassment, they stepped back, amazed, and said, “Look how much he loved him!” It was an expression that came from the depths of His being. It made an impact. Grief was and continues to be a human and divine expression of love and loss, even for our Lord.
I am also learning that to grieve well is to invite trusted friends and community to walk alongside with you — to be present with you; to listen to you; to pray with you and to cry with you.
I am learning that grieving well eventually redirects the loss and longings of my heart toward eternity, when life will be made right and human flourishing will be realized. We live with the constant reminder (remember anticipatory grief?) that death is imminent, painful, and not God’s heart for us. But praise Jesus for that day when He will call us out of the grave in the same way He called out Lazarus, shouting, “Lazarus, come out!” Until then, we grieve death; we rage against the loss! However, we are not alone — God is with us each painful and messy step along the way. We live with the tension of present grief and future hope.