I visited a local church and a counselor spoke. She spoke on Jesus being present in the midst of grief. She talked about a few things before she spent some time in the Scriptures. One thing that she said that I have heard before yet paid no attention to is “unprocessed grief has a negative impact on us.” This is true. If we suffer any sort of loss, we need to process it. While it is typical to think of grief as only when someone dies, grief goes beyond that. Grief is any loss whether it was something we had and lost it or if it is something that we don’t have. Christians have been widely told that they should not question God in their grief and grieving. What she said is counter to that. We are to question God. We can question him. His son, Jesus questioned God in the midst of his grief while he was hanging on the cross.
The image that she used to discuss the Christian life is the Lego Movie. If you’ve seen this moving then you likely know the theme song of the movie “Everything is awesome…Lost my job, there’s a new opportunity…it’s awesome to lose” (Everything is Awesome). This is the mindset that Christians have. Everything is awesome. There is nothing that can break me down. We act as if everything is well with our soul (see It Is Well, hymn). That is not the case and it does not need to be the case. We live in a place of tension between our faith and our grief. There are times when it is hard to be in church when we are broken and grieving especially when those around us in the church act like everything is awesome all the time.
This reminds me of the phrase I have been told by multiple people “the church is a hospital.” I think that to a certain degree that yes the church is a hospital, but I think beyond that to the fact where the church needs to be a place where those who are grieving are able to go and attend and not feel as though their feelings are being downplayed because everything is awesome.
I recently watched a video entitled Confronting Toxic Positivity in Church by Jillian Benfield. This video was so powerful. We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to talk about the positives and only the positives. This is so far from the truth. Yes it is important to talk about the positives, but it is also more than okay to talk about the negatives, the lows, the challenges. No one, not even the pastor in the church should tell you that you should only talk about everything as though everything is awesome and great because in reality everything is not always awesome. As Christians who live in a post Genesis 3 world, not everything is always happy and great, but there is a lot of heartache because that’s just who the ruler of this world is. He is death, pain, suffering, heartache. But we as Christians can rejoice because though we face trials of many kinds, Jesus came to bring us hope. Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus tells us these things because while he is God, he was also fully human. He experienced suffering, pain and loss. If the church tells you that Jesus did not experience these things then I would challenge you to talk to your pastor or I would even urge you to leave that place. It is not biblical to say that Jesus experienced no loss or suffering. Look at the story of Lazarus. We see in the Scriptures that Jesus is sad about his friend who has died so much so that he raises him from the dead.
Back to the message of the morning. The counselor took us into John 20 and 21 to look at how Jesus deals with grief. The background to these passages is that Jesus has already died and risen. In the first passage we see Mary who has come to see Jesus on the first day of the week. She is first met by angels who are sitting where Jesus body once lay and then she is met by Jesus himself. She is crying in each of these places. What happens here is Mary is given the chance to share her story. She shares her story of grief twice. She shares once with the angels and a second time with Jesus, who she thinks is a gardener who moved the body of Jesus. Jesus showed up before he ascended to heaven to be with Mary in her grief.
Here are some practical things that we can do for others who are experiencing grief:
- Take a detour to show up in their grief.
- Let them tell their story- when they are telling their story don’t limit them. Allow them to tell their story as many times as they need.
- Make them food- Jesus fed his disciples in the very next story in John 21, it is biblical to share food with people in their grief.
- Show up for them- use words that are gentle and understanding such as “I’m sorry to hear that you are hurting, how can I pray or be of assistance, or I’m here for you.
- Don’t talk people out of their feelings.
- Jesus sees you and is with you
Don’t run away from grief, run to it. Running away may draw you into a position where it could kill you. The church has a way that it can provide for her people who are grieving. Show up. Don’t downplay their feelings.