Have you ever felt that your sadness or grief was “wrong and not very spiritual” and you should “be over this by now”? If so, I am very sorry. The prohibition of grief is a terrible, terrible burden.
When grief gets pushed aside, it teaches that some emotions are spiritual while some are forbidden.
Sometimes it’s outright: “Don’t cry, it’ll all be OK.” But oftentimes, it’s more subtle (and spiritual) than that. It’s the good-hearted person who says, “It’s not really goodbye, it’s see you later” or “You know, all things work together for good.”
When loss happens, why do we minimize it? Why are we so uncomfortable with letting the sadness sit? Are we afraid of grief?
We sometimes act as if you can’t have grief and faith at the same time. Sometimes, shutting down grief seems spiritual. We tell ourselves and others, “Forget the past and press on. God’s got a plan. God is sovereign.” We use Bible verses.
But banning grief is not biblical, and it’s not spiritual.
Maybe we feel that grieving a loss of something or someone shows that we don’t have all our treasures in heaven. Perhaps we delude ourselves with the twisted notion that if we had all of our treasures in heaven, our treasures would be safe, and we’d never experience loss. And although this is crazy talk, we speak it to ourselves and others.
Does grieving really signal a lack of faith? Would the truly faithful person simply know the goodness of God and cast themselves on that goodness? No one would say it, but we sometimes treat the sovereignty of God as an excuse to outlaw grief. I mean, how could we question the plan of God by crying?
We may feel that grieving a loss that was caused by someone else (through neglect or abuse) shows a lack of forgiveness. And although we know it’s not true, we act as if once a person’s truly forgiven an offender, the painful effects and memories disappear forever.
Remember, grieving isn’t equal to sinning.
Sometimes, repressed grief goes underground. It becomes a tectonic plate, storing energy, swaying, resisting movement and then exploding in unanticipated and unpredictable ways. A tectonic plate can store a heck of a lot of energy. Sort of like grief, once outlawed. It descends below the surface.
And sometimes heaving tectonic plates cause destruction far, far away. Really smart people with even smarter machines have to do smart things to pinpoint the actual location of the destructive shift.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake like this, caused by buried grief? It might not be obvious at first, but after a little bit of digging, you realize that the pressure and tension had been building for a long, long time.
So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members. If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.
If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it. Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.
And if you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, please remember that they probably don’t need a lecture, or a Bible verse, or a pithy saying. Maybe they could use a hug.
has lived in Southeast Asia since 2012 where he serves as a pastoral counselor and helps lead an international church. Before moving overseas, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and an inner-city trauma nurse for three. He can be reached on Twitter: @trotters41 and his website: trotters41.com