Gloomy and chilly hasn’t arrived in Southern California yet. I send my kids to school in shorts and t-shirts because by mid-morning the bright sun will warm the air to a balmy eighty degrees, oblivious that winter is just around the corner. Christmas music is playing in every store and coffee shop, including the one I’m sitting in now, and if I took a snapshot of the still-green trees outside the window with “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” playing in the background, it would seem as though all is well with the world.
And there are pockets and moments and occasions of all-is-well. There are still birthdays and weddings and babies’ first steps to mark with confetti and hundreds of pictures. There are victories from addictions and dreams lived out to celebrate. There are simple joys to savor, like eating dinner with the family around the dining table on a regular Wednesday night and the peace of a quiet home once everyone goes to bed.
There are all those things and the sun that shines and the Christmas music I love so much, but today they’re not enough to balance the scale.
Today, the weight of my friend losing her husband at too young of an age, the weight of those who have been taken advantage of by people with power and money, the weight of those who have been silenced and devalued and told they’re not welcome lay heavy, and grief fills every inch of me. I know joy and hope are always found in God, and yes, I know He is good and sovereign, but right now I ache. I sit in silence while my heart screams, wishing we still practiced lament with sackcloth and ashes instead of putting on a brave face.
It isn’t proper to be sad in our culture and in our churches. We are so quick to say our “at least” statements, so uncomfortable with what we cannot fix. We try to patch on truths about God onto open, bleeding wounds with good intentions to get to hope, but we don’t linger and mourn. We so fear the overwhelming darkness of grief, afraid to be swallowed into it, that we rush through. We try to skip over the discomfort and bring back the sunshine.
And even though I’m mourning now in the privacy of this almost empty coffee shop, my first reaction to grief is often the same as most people: my brain runs through every possible plan of how to make the pain go away. I wish to bring relief, to be the one who helps instead of hurts, but if I’m honest, it feels better to scramble to find something to do because I’m uncomfortable in grief’s presence. My natural empathy turns robotic, and my arms feel stiff at the joints. I want to be a safe and soft place to land, but the only words that come to mind are flat and hollow and even my hugs feel awkward.
It goes against my nature — our nature — to grieve communally and publicly, to mourn with those who mourn in the very moment they are mourning and to grieve with them as their grief stretches on.
We resist being present — as individuals and as the Church — when suffering, injustice, and death face us. But what if we didn’t jump ahead to better times and made the conscious effort to be with those who are in pain? What if we let the tears flow and stopped putting a time limit on those who are grieving?
What if we, like Jesus, wept with our friends, entering into their loss because every death is still a death even when resurrection is around the corner?
I often hear the question from well-meaning people, including myself, “What can I do to help?” We see a problem in front of us and want to jump into action. We’re not trying to be a hero, just a helper, but even so, I want to tell us this: “You’re missing the point. You’re skipping the ache, wanting to wash it away, but can you stop, listen, and imagine how it might feel? Can you let your tongue and soul taste its metallic bitterness? Can you hold space for the rage, the tears, and the overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness? Can you carry the weight of it all with them?”
It’s not that we shouldn’t plan and work towards hope and change. We should. But for now, look around you and listen to the weeping that is happening. Listen to the stories of pain, the stories of anger, the stories of injustice and death. Listen and bear it. Hold it and make space for it. Let your words be few and your presence be felt. And mourn with those who mourn.
Listen to the weeping that is happening. Listen to the stories of pain. Listen and bear it. Hold it and make space for it. - @gracepcho: Click To Tweet