Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Joy of Grief

I learned that the grace of God is sufficient, as He said, but I also learned that grace is not an anesthetic. - Isabel Fleece, Not By Accident
One of my colleagues is still getting over her mum's passing away. Though it was expected, the loss still affects her deeply even though she knows she will see her mum again in heaven. So she was quite melancholic. As we were walking back from an errand, she remarked that she still missed her mum, and fell silent after that. And she confessed that she couldn't help crying at times, even on the MRT. That it's been more than a month, and she knows that it'll take a long time... maybe even one or two years... to get over her grief.

I guessed some of us have been through this kind of situation, where you wonder what to say to comfort or reassure the other person, or whether such a word is necessary. So I asked God what word could I speak - if it was necessary - and this simple sentence came to mind... so I told my colleague this, and she smiled, and you could see a sense of relief on her face.

I had simply told her, "Take as long as you need to."

I think sometimes one of the greatest stresses in a mourner's journey of grief comes from the sense of obligation - whether it's true or not - that one has to get over it quickly and move on. Perhaps the ancients were wiser than us when it came to handling grief - they prescribed a necessary and lengthy time of mourning - be it 40 days, or a year or so... whereas in our time-rushed societies, we give about only a few days, a couple of weeks at most, and then expect the mourner to get back and jump into working life again.

In addition, ancient societies had extended support networks, and I guess you could say that loud, outwards expressions of grieving were actually encouraged. Professional wailers and mourners could be even be hired to add the necessary sombre atmosphere, and the tearing of clothes / wearing of sackclothes, etc. But today, we hear, "Don't make Dad cry." "It's ok, be strong." "She's in a better place now..." And even the more ... shall we say... positive-thinking armchair theologians among us will gently chide us for mourning, saying that he/she is in a better place, with injunctions from 1 Thessalonians not to weep or mourn like those who have no hope.

But we silly armchair theologians forget the wisdom of Romans 12 to mourn with those who mourn. And of course, godly men buried Stephen when he was martyred, and mourned deeply over him. And the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept [for his friend Lazarus who had died]." If even the One who knew He was going to resurrect his friend from the dead could identify so point-blank with us that He even mourned over his dead friend that He was going to resurrect in a few minutes... then I think we can see that God is not ashamed to grieve together with us. He himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes and store them in His wineskins, so precious are our tears to Him.  

Yes, He did remind Martha that Lazarus would rise again, and even challenged her to believe in Him. But that was to Martha who was more emotionally stable than Mary - stable enough to think of practical things like not going into a tomb that has a body four days old, and confident enough to continue hoping in God despite all hope being lost. But to Mary who was deeply in grief, and probably indirectly accusing Jesus of not saving her brother... he simply asked, "Where have you laid him?" So I think to those of us who grieve, the Lord understands. And He asks us to share where we are hurting, that He may visit the site of our griefs together with us... to visit the tomb and the wound.

So hmm... I think it's very important to reassure a person who is grieving that it's all right to grieve. To cry as much as they need to. For them to take their time. For them to re-visit the sites and memories of their pain and traumas as and when needed, until their time of grieving is done with. And then the healing process can begin... and perhaps they may become stronger through this experience - but only if they are able to grieve properly first. Most likely, like a broken bone that has healed, they will never be the same again (if even the risen Lord still bears the wounds in His hands and side from his execution...), but they can become stronger and wiser, with a new level of tenderness and compassion.

"Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us." (Ecc 7:3)

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."


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Jia Xiang said...

Very beautiful...

Who can truely identify with one who is grieving?

Ecclesiastes 3:2-4 - a time to be born and a time to die... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance...

I still remember when my grandmother passed on 4+ years ago and I can still remember her today.

No way to reason "if only" or "it could have been", just move on with the memories and live for her...

yeu@nn said...

Thanks Mike! :)

@Jia Xiang: Yah... *hugs*