I was 32 when my Dad died.
There was an understood time and space for grieving, just after I lost him. Others in my world allowed for my grief. They expected it. There’s an understanding in the minds of believers for this kind of loss.
But then, six years later, when I couldn’t stop the tears and the reality of a father-less life felt more weighty — it all felt awkwardly out of time and wrong, even. How do I explain this to friends? It feels so self-indulgent — my life doesn’t have time for this. I felt moody and the grief felt ill-timed.
As a culture, we have a place for certain kinds of loss and a time that allows for the grieving of those losses. Of course at the gravesite — but what about when a career halts or a dream dies or a friendship is abruptly ended? What about the back injury with no reprieve or the relentless marriage strife? “Get on with it” we say, with our awkward platitudes and our quick words of advice. We say the words of God to another in pain, but we fall well short of carrying His heart. He is near when we grieve — comforting, not looking away or at His watch — yet we humans put an expiration date on pain.
Early on when we adopted, so many would say — as they witnessed the hiccups and bumps that came as our children integrated into our home: “oh, that’s just all kids.” Sometimes we believed them, and sometimes we responded to the knot in our stomach that said, “there’s something bigger going on in their hearts here … they haven’t had a normal childhood.”
But in many instances, we carried the same impatience towards our children’s grief that others might have. We overlooked the terror that must have entered into tiny hearts that were snatched from their home country and placed into the arms of strangers they were now to call Mom and Dad.
We expected an expiration date on their grief.
Mostly we did this because grief felt scary to us. And to look at loss felt self-indulgent. Who has time for that? To stay too long inside an ache or a sense of being wronged felt as if we’d verge into naval-gazing. We coach ourselves with scripture, saying, “I don’t want to be offended at God” — not realizing that the ones who truly walk unoffended are the ones who grieve their losses … and then they truly heal because they experienced God holding their hearts through their grief.
But we are a people who skip these steps.
I include myself in this lot, not coming to you as an expert, but writing as one who has newly been reminded of the healing power of letting my tears fall onto His dusty, calloused feet and letting Him hold me in my grief, that’s “past its time” by Christian standards. I write as one who also doesn’t want to be offended by God but one who is learning that a significant part of having an unoffended heart is learning to truly grieve my losses.
By losses — I mean the big ones and the little ones. The friend who moved out of town and the summer spent in a sling and the child who chose a different path than you wanted for them. The end of an era at a church and the closed door on the dream job and the broken relationship you thought would result in marriage. Unthinking, most of us swiftly move on from the very things that — if we’ll grieve them with Him — make us more convinced in our core that God is who He says He is. Not one of your losses, no matter how small, is hidden from His sight. God sees even your flash-moments of darkness.
And as someone who is prone to hit the road running before the foot fracture has had proper time to heal, I see how we’ve built entire theologies to cover over what we dare not admit: we are a people who are afraid of pain. We aren’t quite sure who He is in our darkest hour (the hour that is handcrafted to touch and make new the deepest places of us more than anything else).
And so we skip over true grief.
We skip mourning the loss of a friend or the child who’s turned their back on us or the whispers spoken behind our backs. And in so doing, we might keep pace with the world (even the Christian world) — at least for a while. But we lose a part of our inheritance in God.
That inheritance is this: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
You get the comfort of God when you grieve. This is not small.
Yes, you may be living out your worst fear by giving voice to your worst fear through your grief (that you could otherwise try to pretend didn’t happen or work like crazy to prevent). We work so hard not to experience loss. We do all sorts of acrobatics in our mind and with our actions to ensure that loss isn’t truly the end of this part of our story — but what if loss is also a beginning?
In grief, you get the arms of God. You get His shared tears on your cheek. You get to feel His heartbeat against your head as you collapse into His chest. There is a profound relief that comes with grief — it’s the kind I’m living, as I’m writing and grieving afresh a new loss in my life.
It’s terribly inconvenient to pause the “mission” of our lives to weep over something that’s not a gravesite (or a gravesite that’s grown grass, it’s been there so long). There is a good reason why most of us don’t grieve. But the alternative is a life that (subtly) evades grief at every turn, rather than finding its gold … its power to change a person’s perspective on God. Its power to finally (finally) dismantle fear. Its relief. Its potential to fold you into His chest, to make a child out of you.
Until next month,