Shortly after my son David died, a church canceled me as their keynote speaker. After watching my son’s memorial service and hearing my lament, they decided, “She needs to get her faith back in alignment.”
I’m choosing to believe the best and not assume the worst of this church community, but get my faith back in alignment? As a grieving mother encountering all kinds of well-meaning Christians who don’t know how to relate to loss, this line of thinking hints at an underlying issue that has become crystal clear to me: the Church does not know how to grieve or perhaps is not interested in encountering real, raw grief.
For the majority of people, re-examining and re-discovering matters of faith is par for the course when faced with any kind of pain, loss or grief. Think: early Christians figuring out tenets of the faith, like the Trinity, in the absence of their close friend, teacher and Savior, Jesus Christ. Think: the poor or abused who see little evidence of God as Provider and Protector. Think: Just about any intellectually honest person living in the realities of this world trying to have a real relationship with this infinite God!
Experience doesn’t dictate theology, but it does inform it.
So what if “faith misalignment” is actually God at work in our pain? What if God is opening up our tightly-held views of faith and Himself to take us higher, deeper and wider in our relationship with Him? Pain is a proven pedagogue.
When you’ve been gutted by tragedy and pain, and your life has been ripped open and spilled out—grief is appropriate. Do we think sturdy faith means we don’t let that happen, or if it does, quickly stuffing it all back in and securing a “spiritual” lid? Should my faith at this time, or any time for that matter, be contained and manageable? Is that faith? Is that God? No, I don’t think so.
I think genuine grief is so unusual and so unsettling that we view it as “shaky” or “misaligned” faith in the West. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” wrote the prophet Isaiah (53:4) referring to God, and prophetically, to Christ. How can you ever allow God to carry your grief and sorrows if you never acknowledge you have any?
I’ve found that trying to keep grief at bay only elongates and contorts pain. In the days, weeks and months following my beloved David’s death, the grieving was intense.
But my strong conviction is this: The extent to which we enter into our pain with God, is the extent to which genuine life is released in us.
Said differently: if you truncate grief, you truncate genuine life. We truncate our grief and sorrow by holding up a verse, a construct, an idea about God—making all sorts of assumptions—and sadly, we forfeit God, who is Life.
Why would we do this? First reason: Grieving doesn’t feel good. And people generally like to feel good.
Next, we fear that grief will be too much to bear. What if I enter into grief and collapse under the weight?
Then, we truncate our grief to avoid facing a God who is other than what we’d imagined and instead grip more tightly to ideas we’d stake our lives on. God would never let this happen is a thought that originated with us, not God. Or we fear—and this is a big one for me—What if I blaspheme or dishonor God in my ranting?
Lastly, we fear how our grief is perceived by others. Who wants to be seen as having faulty faith? Or worse, actually have a true crisis of faith: What if I discover I’m so supremely disappointed with God I turn away forever?
What if instead of holding back in fear or jumping to conclusions we enter into the pain? What if we face and engage in the pain of division in the church, COVID causing a mass exodus from the planet, the loss of leaders and spouses and children? What if instead of jumping to conclusions, we enter into the pain, knowing: God is with us, revealing and realigning His faith in us.
Let’s be honest: few people pray for pain and suffering, even though “…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3, 4). We want the gain, but not the pain. It’s not at all what we want. It feels so wrong!
As a grieving Christian who lives this reality every single day, I can tell you that entering into grief with God moves you deeper into the reality of who He is and gives you confidence that God is here. If in the process you grieve beyond what’s truly helpful, He’ll guide you to the right time to “set your hearts and minds on things above…” (Colossians 3:1).
You are not grieving as one without hope. Feel the weight of grief and loss, and allow it to move you into the mystery and the infinity of God who carries you. What may look or feel like “misalignment” is likely God stretching the boundaries and refining your faith through grief and sorrow.
Whether you’re immersed in it or observing from afar, please avoid jumping to conclusions. When it comes to grief, messiness is a must. It’s not misalignment; it’s God at work.