Permission to Grieve

The topic of grief has been on mind a lot lately, and I don’t appear to be the only one.  Pastor Laura and I recently returned from our fall continuing education conference put on by the synod where the topic was “Grief: Reflecting on Loss, Love, and Leadership.”  And here at Bethlehem we have had over 30 people sign up for our 5-week adult education series on Christian M. M. Brady’s book Beautiful and Terrible Things: A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope.  So, it would appear that grief is something that is present in the hearts and minds of many people right now.

As a whole, I think that we live in a pretty grief-phobic society.  We don’t like to talk about grief, or most negative emotions for that matter.  And when we do, we like for it to fit into the narrow parameters and definitions that we have created for it.  Like the idea that grief is only something that we experience when a loved one has died.  While that most certainly is an appropriate time for grief, that is far too narrow of a definition.  Any form of loss can inspire grief – the loss of a friendship, or a job, or even a treasured possession.  The experience of loss can be quite nuanced as well.  Take the loss of a job for example.  Of course, there will be grief if that loss is sudden and unexpected.  But there can even be grief in the case of a long planned for retirement.  Now that sounds a little counter-intuitive right?  When someone says they just retired, the usual response is something along the lines of, “Congratulations!  You must love all that extra free time.”  And while that might certainly be the case, there can still be great sadness associated with the loss of a position or title, that aspect of your self-identity, and loss of that daily routine and interpersonal interactions that came with it.  That joy and grief can mingle and make for a confusing mix of emotions.  As with most things, grief is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface.

In addition to prescribing what we are allowed to grieve about, society also has some things to say about how we are supposed to grieve.  While there doesn’t necessarily seem to a “right” way to grieve, there most certainly seems to be a “wrong” way to grieve, and people are all too happy to point out to you when you’re doing it wrong (in their opinion that is).  Maybe your grief has been going on for too long, or maybe it’s the opposite and people think you moved on too quickly.  Or it could be that you’re crying just a little too much, or worse yet, you haven’t shed any tears.  Sometimes it seems like you just can’t win.

But in the scriptures, we find amazing permission to grieve, and not in any one set or prescribed way, but rather in whatever way is truest to ourselves and feels right to our own personal situations and griefs that we are experiencing.  We have fantastic examples set for us by people like Job, as well as in the Psalms.  People whose faithfulness causes them to cry out to God in protest, lament, and sorrow.  Because we have a God who is big enough to handle anything and everything that we can throw.  We have a God who promises to be present with us in the midst of suffering.  And there are no two grief experiences that are the same.  No two people who will grieve in the same ways, or for the same amount of time, or to the same degree – even if they are grieving the exact same thing.  And that’s okay.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

So, whatever it is that you are grieving right now, and there’s a lot of things that could be grieved right now, know that you are not alone.  You are engaging in a practice that is described throughout scripture.  You are doing so in the midst of a faith community that will love and care for you.  And you have a God who will walk with you through it all. 

Your sibling in Christ, Pastor Sam