Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Grief is holy

It's been a while since I did anything with this page.  For the last 15 or 20 years, I discovered that I processed through writing, but life got busy and time for that became less.  

Yesterday, my wife lost her mom.  She was the matriarch of the family, friend to countless people, Momma, Grandmommy, Gaga, sister, wife, and as the saying goes, the glue that holds the family together. We are all broken-hearted, and we grieve, but as resurrection people, not as those without hope.  

As I laid down to go to sleep last night, a thought hit me...grief is holy.  Let me explain.  

We grieve much because we love much, correct?  I think we can all agree on that.  If we grieve because we love, and if God is love, then God also grieves with us.  If God grieves, and if God is holy, then, by extension, I feel safe in saying that grief is a holy experience.  

At the death of Lazarus, Jesus wept.  He didn't pontificate.  He didn't offer platitudes.  He didn't pat the folks in the crowd on the shoulder and say, "This is part of God's plan."  He wept.  Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Firstborn of all creation, the Prince of Peace simply wept.  He grieved the loss of a very close friend.  It was a holy moment.  

Now, I understand that in times like our family is experiencing right now, and that your family has experienced as well, it's not easy to find any amount of comfort or peace.  We are way too human to be expected to find anything else.  Grief is a very human emotion, and very much merited when someone we love enters the church triumphant.  Yet, there they are.  Standing in the background, quietly off to the side, peace and comfort are watching and waiting for just the right moment to walk up and put a hand around our shoulders.  For me, that moment hit when I went to bed last night.  

It had been a very long day.  We've known this was coming for over a year, but didn't think it would come this soon.  I've been distracted at work this week, and it showed.  Steph, my wife, had been with her mom as much as possible for the last 10 days, hoping against hope that the doctors were wrong and that mom would rally.  She had gone home to take a quick nap when her sister called me.  I dropped my tools, closed the doors at the job site, and headed home to tell her.  As I sat beside her on the bed and whispered, "Mom's gone," what I saw was holy grief.  She wept, as any of us would, and she grieved much because she loved much.  Still, it was a holy moment.  God draws near to the broken-hearted.  

To a grieving family, folk will say things like, "You know heaven is celebrating today."  I get the sentiment, I respect what they're trying to do, but it's not helpful.  Heaven may be celebrating, but we're not.  And, do you know what?  That's ok.  It's ok to hold on to our humanity during times like this, even though, as the saying goes, we are spiritual bodies having a physical experience.  It's ok to allow grief to flood over us as we say goodbye to someone we love.  It's ok to weep, uncontrollably even.  It's ok to ask hard questions, like; "Why?' or "Why her?" or "Why now?"  or even "God, why did you let this happen?"   Yes, we are people of the resurrection.  Yes, we have the hope of eternal life.  But, and please hear this, we don't know anything about those things from personal experience.  What we do know, is that someone we love will never pick up the phone and call us again, and in our case, Steph's mom will never make her famous beefaroni again, or her Christmas lasagna, and that hurts.  

Now, to every coin there are two sides.  Grief is holy, but grief is not part of God's plan.  At least, I don't think it is.  And I know, with every fiber in my being, that it is not part of some perfect plan.  I'm convinced, and I may be wrong, but I'm convinced that in the first days of creation, God did not plan for us to grieve.  God planned and created the day and night, the fish of the sea, stars of the sky, sun, moon, animals, plants of the land, and finally us, but I haven't read in that account where grief was figured in.  Perhaps it's there and I just missed it.  However, after the fall, grief and loss found their place in the world.  

As a pastor, theologian, husband, father, and now grieving son-in-law, I ask this one thing of any who would offer their condolences, now or at any time in the future.  Don't say it.  Just don't.  I know you mean well, I know your intentions are pure, but please don't say things to us, or any grieving family, like "You have to accept this as part of God's perfect plan."  No, we don't.  I cannot believe this feeling was part of some original, divine plan.  Or, "God needed her/him more than you did."  No, God didn't.  We need them here with us, at least for a little longer.  We need to hear their voice, hug their neck, or drink coffee with them.  Please don't say, "God knows best."  I don't argue that theologically, but contextually it doesn't hold water.  Please don't say, "God needed another flower for his garden."  No.  God didn't.  If God was able to speak the entire world into creation, God could do the same with one more flower in the garden.  In fact, you don't have to say anything.  Just be there.  Be that peace and comfort standing off to the side, just waiting for the right moment to slip an arm around a grieving child's shoulders.  Just hold them and let them weep.  Be a safe space for them to be honest with the things they're feeling; with the unknowns, the pain, the anger, the denial.  Allow them the space to process as they are able.  

Why?  Because I feel that is exactly what God would do.  Weep with us.  That's all we ask.  And, actually, God, in the person of Jesus, did just that.