How are we to respond to the loss, sorrow and grief that swirls around us right now?
I’ll be honest, I have often tried to shut out grief. When my father died at the end of 2018, I put on a ‘brave face’, trying to ignore the raw wound in my heart. I also have a tendency to shy away from other people’s grief, avoiding making calls or visiting a friend in the wake of a loss or tragedy. But this is not the vulnerable, courageous and engaged life God calls us to.
In the Grip of Grief
To be human is to encounter all manner of sorrows. Out-of-the-blue calls from hospitals. The door slamming permanently closed behind one you thought to be your true love. Creeping pain stealing into long days and nights. Should-be-protectors morphing into abusers. Anxiety and depression hijacking bright futures.
Besides these ‘close to home’ griefs, the world itself is in the grip of grief. The corona pandemic sweeps across the planet, claiming victims and leaving mourning in its wake. The poor become more impoverished as economic activities dwindle due to shut-downs. Wars continue, dislodging streams of desperate refugees. Injustice and racism spark riots and division.
So, what are we to do with such an onslaught of grief, both our own and that of others? I believe God draws us to two responses—lament and blessing.
Respond with Lament
The Jewish Psalmists were masters of lament. They were vulnerable and unafraid to give expression to their deep sorrow and questions of what God was doing in the midst of their pain.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death.
It strikes me that this kind of raw, exposed honesty is a much healthier way of dealing with sorrow than my ‘brave face’ approach. In his recent sermon Learning to Lament, Richard van Lieshout points out that this is a time of loss for each one of us, and that we’d do well to acknowledge and express it.
And—unlike cowardly me—don’t avoid your grieving friends, for the Bible tells us to ‘weep with those who weep.” Often just being with them and listening is enough. In the story of Job, his comforters sat silently for a whole week as he lamented all he had lost. It was only when they began to give him advice that he said, “miserable comforters are you all. Is there no end to your long-winded speeches?” (Job 16:2-3)
Respond with Blessing
In my last post A Season of Blessing: Rekindling the Lost Art, I spoke of blessing as the invoking of God’s favour or the drawing of a circle of light around someone in need of strength, healing or protection.
Grief is often a time of confusion and darkness. A groping for a God whose love and presence is no longer clear. Into this despair, a blessing may bring a shaft of light, clarity and a sense of God’s presence and love.
Blessing for those who grieve
When loss enters your life, uninvited and unannounced
To tear away your joys, your dreams, your loves
To leave only heart-fragments in its wake.
May you gently gather these shreds of your soul
And tenderly wash them in tears
Not turning from their salty sting of healing.
May your pain take shape in words of lament
Speak them fiercely and fearlessly
Trusting that the One who hears, weeps too.
May you know the kind care of friends
Who do not offer advice or answers
But who faithfully hold your fragile heart.
May there come a day when a surprising shaft of sunlight
Catches the fragments of your heart
And lightens them into prisms of dancing rainbows.
Other blog posts in this series: