Thursday, June 27, 2013
Why do Christians Avoid Grief?
Ever been given a pile of manure and called it "beautiful" or while holding your nose, said that the colors were "certainly a nice shade of brown"?
That's often the way we handle grief associated with death.
We don't want to look at it too deeply for fear that we might just realize something.
Something like just how crushing and paralyzing it all is. How much it stinks. How devastating having it around can make us feel. How we wish it wasn't near us, around us, in view.
So we push it aside and act like it's something not to be dealt with. We call it all sorts of names, even to the point of making others believe that the death of a loved one isn't sorrowful or often debilitating. We sugarcoat death and the impact it has. Why? So that we can continue on in our illusions of happiness and pain-free existences?
As a Christian, I have heard it all. When my four-year-old son Daniel died after treatments for cancer, there was an outpouring of empathy and sympathy. Cards, flowers and home-cooked meals filled my kitchen and dining room table. Sometimes I tried to give the gift-givers a little token of my heart. I thought it was only fair. They'd given me a vase of yellow roses or a pan of lasagna. So I'd present them with a bit of my honesty.
"I miss Daniel so much."
"I'm not doing so good."
"I feel abandoned by God."
Few let me speak and weep.
Most felt they needed to tell me a thing or two. They did.
"God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
"Just think, God needed another flower in His garden and He picked Daniel."
"Oh, honey, you aren't angry at God. Disappointed, but don't use the word angry."
"Daniel would want you to be happy."
"Haven't you been sad long enough?"
"Be glad you have other children."
"This too shall pass."
When the visitors left, I was left with a new image of myself. I felt like the ogre you see in horror movies. If I were really a Christian, I should be able to handle this and not feel so engulfed by sorrow. Perhaps if I were closer to God, I would be able to deal with this much better. If I were a strong Christian, I wouldn't ache and cry myself to sleep.
Time passed. I read some books on grief and loss. I listened to other parents who had also buried children. I felt the warmth of those who knew this journey and shared it with me and were not too tired to answer their phone at midnight or 1 AM.
My logic changed. I realized that I was not, nor had I been, shunned or disciplined for being sad. God was not punishing me for my anger or my woe or my helplessness. Experiencing a realm of emotions that were like heavy scribblings bouncing here and there, in fact, was normal. It was normal to miss my Daniel. It was normal to wonder why and ponder and ask the hard questions.
With time, I grew bold.
Now after 16 years, I am equipped. I have learned that most people are uncomfortable with grief. They will react with platitudes and trite phrases that do absolutely no good. I don't let them bother me. For my years have not been empty years of just surviving; I have done my time. I have grown, listened, heard, learned, studied, felt, and lived.
God is no foreigner to sorrow. Jesus suffered. He was shunned. He wept. He had religious leaders toss platitudes at Him. Words weren't all; they had to go for the death sentence.
When I read about His life on earth, words pop out at me, words like "grief" and "sorrow". When I read the psalms, I thank God for letting that book be available to me. What a comfort it has been to read my own fears and longings, my own heartbeat of humanity and frailty in the pages of the Bible.
Yet, many Christians still don't get it. They can't seem to enlarge their hearts to encompass sorrow. They run from it; they hide. They can't walk side by side with the visitor that unexpectedly rams herself into their presence---that uninvited visitor that appears and stays and stays long after any guest should----three days.
If we could view grief as biblical, as spiritual, as a very real and important part of living, then perhaps, we would open our hearts to more of what God has to teach us as His children. If we could realize that grief is not the enemy; rather, avoiding it is what traps us and captures us so that we are prisoners.
I was going to end this article here, but I can't. It's because I can't leave the manure alone. Sure, it is putrid and smelly, but if that is all we see, then that is all we'll ever get. There is another way to look at manure. After it has dried, when spread over fields and flower beds, manure does its best to help things grow. From the stench of today come the robust and sweet-smelling flowers of tomorrow.
You really can't avoid that from our despair, beauty happens. That's what God does. But if you avoid the manure, you will never see how it can actually grow your soul.
~ Alice J. Wisler is the author of five novels, three cookbooks, and the new devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache. She teaches writing through grief and loss workshops. Read more here.