Archives For grief

Grief and Shame

randomlychad  —  October 2, 2013 — 12 Comments
'Beach Wail' photo (c) 2007, The Wandering Angel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It came to my attention that an acquaintance passed away recently. As someone who was only casually acquainted, I felt sad about this loss. This person was a respected member of the community, but they and I shared no depth of relationship.

As such, as I said, I felt a sadness. But I would be disingenuous if I termed it grief. Who knows? Maybe I’m broken; after all, “no man is an island,” as Donne wrote all those years ago…

Contrast this with the response of another acquaintance, who knew the deceased very well, was indeed friends with this person: they grieved. This wasn’t merely an “oh, that’s sad” reaction, but honest tears welling up from a wonded soul, aching from the loss.

Because they knew the departed.

Even so, and the thing which floored me, was this person seemed full of self-reproach for grieving a very real loss. For not being able to keep a kid on their emotions. They were almost ashamed of the tears which came, and hoped to do better in keeping their feelings in check.

Why is the Western world thus? Why do we feel this need to be in control–to control how we are perceived? Anguish and grief in light of a very real loss is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it’s something which makes us human. To which I would add, despite knowing the outcome, in the shortest (yet arguably most poignant) verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He cried because his friend, Lazarus, felt the sting of death. He cried, despite knowing He would shortly raise him from the dead. It didn’t matter; Jesus grieved.

And if He is at all our example, we would do well to follow it. When we suffer losses, we should likewise grieve–not put a lid on it, pretend it didn’t hurt, keep it under control, berate ourselves… For Christ cried, there is certainly no shame in our tears.

Ah! But we in the West don’t like to feel uncomfortable, or make others feel any discomfiture, do we? It seems the rational West all too often forgets the words of Pascal:

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”

Reason–rationality–has its place. But we are not merely creatures of cold rationality. We are more: spirit, soul, and body. Mind, will, and emotions. These are meant to work in harmony. Any one exalted, or suppressed, at the expense of the others leads to a life out of balance.

Like the American system of government, these parts of our beings are supposed to provide checks and balances to the others. Feelings don’t necessarily set the course, but they can confirm, or contradict, it. And oftentimes, the most rational course of action isn’t necessarily the most loving. There are things that make sense on paper, but are absolutely terrible to implement.

Like controlling one’s emotions in the face of terrible loss. There is a cost to the soul. Listen, being human means that we are mish-mashed pile of walking, talking contradictions. Hybrid creatures–of earth, and of heaven. It means accepting that we don’t understand ourselves.

It means giving ourselves permission to not be okay. (Kids instinctively know how to do this, until life drives it out of them).

It’s okay to not be okay. To not have it all together. And sometimes that means sitting, undistracted, in discomfort. In that which makes uncomfortable.

Sometimes, the best thing for the soul is a big, ugly cry.

What do you think? Jesus had no problem displaying His emotions–joy, sadness, anger–for all the world to see.
So why do we?

In her seminal work, On Death and Dying, the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:

denial

anger

bargaining

depression

acceptance

While she wrote specifically of death, and think these stages can rightly be applied to nearly any hardship. Take chronic illness for instance. We may deny the cancer, or other ailment, but wishing doesn’t make it go away. So we progress to anger, shaking our fists at the heavens, declaring “This isn’t fair, God! Take it away.”

When he doesn’t, we bargain–telling him “If you’ll…, I’ll…” It seems however that he doesn’t respond to such conditional statements, wanting to be loved (rather than analyzed). When this bargaining doesn’t work out, we often fall into depression.

Thoughts of hopelessness swirl through our heads, clouding our vision, obscuring the way ahead. We can’t see the light for the tunnel is one of (seeming) perpetual night. But this is a trick of perception. We are locked in our skins, time bound, lives progressing in one inexorable direction.

But God is outside of all that. Above, beyond, transcendent: not bound by the laws of physics that keep us tethered to our mortal frames. By implication this means that his goodness is also transcendent–above the artifices and capriciousness of man. We–Christians–who claim to know him best are often the worst at this:

Just because God can do a thing, doesn’t mean he must. Because he has the power to heal, doesn’t mean he will heal. I believe we, especially in the American Evangelical church, are truly bad at this–believing that God somehow owes us something.

That He must heal us. He must do nothing of the sort. A far greater petitioner asked that a certain cup be taken; it was not. And if his request was thus denied, doesn’t it stand to reason that some of ours will be as well? As it says in Hebrews, “He (Jesus) learned obedience through those things which he suffered.”

Our expectations for lives of ease and comfort run smack dab into the very real road of pain we must walk. And so we get tripped up in the stages of grief, and vacillate between denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.

Never believing that by embracing acceptance we will find freedom.

One of the principles of recovery, recited as litany week after week, is: “Accepting, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is.” Meaning that, as a fallen world, bad stuff happens.

Even to God’s children.

Please join me in the Serenity Prayer:

“God grant the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen.

Wisdom here dictates that God does not always answer our prayers the way we wish, or end our suffering when we wish. I wish he did, but until that day when he “shall wipe away every tear,” I pray for serenity, and for the grace to navigate my broken self, and this fallen world.

Will you join me?

In the wake of tragedies such as the shooting yesterday in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, people will ask the inevitable question:

Where was God? The answer is that he is the same place he has always been: on his throne. Objections will be raised: God could have, should have, or…

Some will conclude there is no God. Some will conclude that he is powerless to act. Neither is true.

But the fact is that now is not the time for theological speculation.

Now is the time grieve, to be present with the bereft, to offer not a word, but arms.

As the Bible says: “Weep with those that weep…”

In time, healing will come (though life will never be the same). But right now, parents of surviving children are having conversations they should not need to have. Yet other parents are standing in the doorways of empty bedrooms wishing for one more night of:

“I can’t sleep.”

“I’m thirsty.”

“Read me a story.”

But the silence is deafening, a roaring in their ears, and in their hearts. Because these parents will never again hear those things, and are instead standing in the doorways of empty bedrooms contemplating funerals.

Those parents deserve our respect–and our silence. Now is not the time to push agendas–political, theological, or otherwise. Now is the time to weep, to be Christ’s hands and feet.

It is a time pray, to reflect, and hold our loved ones all the closer. For as John Donne said: “Do not sent to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

The less of this, or any tragedy, is that life–not even young life–is not guaranteed.

But it is a gift. A gift which must be mourned when it is lost. Telling to me is that, before raising Lazarus, Jesus wept.

And if he wept, knowing what was to shortly come, how much more us?

Someday death will be swallowed up in final victory. Someday the faith shall be made sight.

But today is not that day.

Today we grieve. We grieve, and we remember.

God give us the grace to someday, somehow, heal.