We all face situations at some point in our lives which cause us to grieve. In fact, grief can and does attach itself to any significant change or loss. Bereavement, divorce, major surgery, losing a job, bankruptcy, and a host of adverse circumstances are all, understandably, events that bring grief to our lives. They are all events we would rather not face. What is more, grief can also attach itself to the positive changes of life: moving to a new house in a new area; the empty nest; getting married; having children; a beloved pastor leaving a congregation; or, beginning a new job. These all result through some sort of loss, even if that loss were chosen and necessary.
The worst possible way to approach any of these kinds of situations, for good or for ill is to ignore them, minimize them, say they are simply in the past, and just move on. It is actually unbiblical to take such an attitude because Scripture discerns that we need to lament our losses. We have an entire book of the Bible given to lamenting a grievous loss (Lamentations).
The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to pronounce judgment against Jerusalem. And not only was Jeremiah to proclaim a very unpopular message, he was given the promise that the people would not listen to him and that Jerusalem would be destroyed with the people being sent into exile. The prophecy of Jeremiah is a long extended message of a melancholy messenger preaching exactly what the Lord wanted him to preach. God’s words came true. The people did not repent of their empty worship and wayward lifestyles. They persecuted Jeremiah for speaking words of judgment. The Babylonians came and tore down the walls of Jerusalem, decimated the city and the temple, and carried off the people into exile.
Jeremiah, in his grief over the ruined city of Jerusalem, wept and lamented the loss of this once great city with its grand temple. It was only after an extended lamentation that Jeremiah turned his attention toward the love of God, his compassions becoming new every morning, and the hope of a new existence without Jerusalem at the center of Jewish life (Lamentations 3:19-33). Jeremiah lost everything but his own life. He had much to grieve over.
Without exception, none of us can have the hope of love, compassion, and new life apart from the need to first lament our losses. There is a popular phrase in our culture that we need to use very sparingly in our conversations with others who have experienced loss: “Get over it!” is often used much too quickly and can short circuit the grief process and puts grieving people in the awkward position of not seeing the power of lament through to its end of acceptance, resolution, and fresh hope. Far too many people in both the world and even the church remain stuck in some stage or level of grief, unable to effectively move on because others expect them to be joyful and triumphant when they really feel downright awful and now guilty on top of it for being sad.
Embracing lament is the only pathway to knowing compassion and becoming a compassionate person like Jesus. Wallpapering over our losses without lamenting them is at the root of many if not most of the emotional problems in the church today. Jerry Sittser wrote an important book, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. He was driving his family’s minivan when a drunk driver crossed the road and hit them head on. In an instant he watched three generations of his family die in front of his eyes: his mother, his wife, and his daughter. If anyone knows the need and the power of lament it is Jerry Sittser. Here is what he says: “Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same…. I did not get over my loved ones loss; rather I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.”
Grieving is an indispensable part of a full-orbed spirituality and emotional health. Life does not always make sense. There is deep mystery to the ways of God. The Lord is doing patient and careful work inside of grieving people. While he is busy within our souls, we will likely feel lost and disconnected, not seeing the full tapestry of what he is creating. Weariness, loneliness, a sense that prayers are not being heard, and a feeling of helplessness are all common experiences of God’s reconstruction of a broken spirit.
Maybe we are always running, working, and playing because we are constantly trying to keep grief from catching up to us. Slow down and let it catch you. Let it do its intense and powerful work within you. Let the church be a place of deep healing where the need for lament results in a more compassionate congregation.