The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Last Call: On Grief and Time

              When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.

                But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.

                Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.

                Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart. 

                Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling.  Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.

                Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.

                Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.

                And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness. lastcall-1030x576

                Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg,  not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.

                And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?  

                When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.

What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.

The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us. a

Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.

Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.

Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue. 

Thanksgrieving and Believing

The eventual end of grief is an eternal promise we look forward to. In the meantime, Jesus assured us that happiness is available to those who grieve because of a present promise for comfort.  For any comfort to come, there must be a hope. Sometimes that hope is cloudy.

Sometimes grief which would love to linger is lightly carried away by the wind of the Spirit. Sometimes, God places you in circumstances that no emotion you could feel is adequate.

This week I received two phone calls virtually simultaneously to respond to, circumstances completely opposite and unfamiliar to me. One was to the West Wing of the hospital to the Labor and Delivery unit, the other call to the East Wing, the Emergency Department. Both instances had to do with babies, one joyous, one tragic.

I responded to the situation I felt I was needed least first. A family was adopting a healthy baby girl from a woman who delivered the baby, and the birth mother requested I pray a blessing over the baby and the adopting parents. So, I prayed, had no parental advice to really offer and affirmed the sense of joy in the room, despite being unaware of any dynamics as to how this situation came about. I was happy to be a part of it, but lingering in my mind, was the other call I knew I would be responding to immediately following that moment:

A one-month year old without a pulse that would not make it.

For 3 hours I offered prayer and presence and became witness to parent’s and grandparent’s grief. I offered some of my own grief but mostly I observed, stood silent, waiting on God.

Together, we’re all waiting, not always in grief, but we are all waiting.

Waiting for Life

In 2 Samuel 12:15-16, there is a Scripture that is concerning: “After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.”

The child doesn’t make it. After 7 days, the child dies. David mourns for 7 days then stops once the child dies because David is aware that the child will not return to him. God’s grace was enough to spare David’s life but was not extended to David’s child. It seems utterly cruel, doesn’t it?

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In Scripture, the prophet Nathan affirms that the child’s death is the result of David scorning the word of God. This theologically seems like a bad look. It would be much easier to explain the circumstances using the Devil as the scapegoat doling out punishment for David’s sin, but Scripture does not give us this luxury.

Instead, we get a God that seems willing to employ extraneous means to keep his people tender-hearted. And this, I feel, is a viable tactic of God. God will use grief and the worst of circumstances, perhaps circumstances God authors, to return humanity to the love of God.

I will by no means try to explain the why nor use this or any tragedy to try to convince us that these are demonstrations of love. Rather, they are circumstances that give us pause, cause us to reevaluate, to seek what’s preeminent, namely seek God, the Author.

There, at the end of our grief, is resurrection life and belief.