Barely any week goes by where I am not face-to-face with someone dealing with some sort of grief. Whether it is unwanted circumstances like divorce, unemployment, or death; or, chosen situations like moving to a new house and area, having a child, or changing jobs; grief attaches itself to any significant loss or change in life.
You are likely somewhat familiar or aware of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous 5 stages of grief: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and, acceptance. I think this is a very helpful model of understanding that people do not immediately “get over it” when there is upheaval in their lives. There is a process that grieving people move through which is common to others, yet, unique to each individual person.
It is natural and understandable for a traumatic event to immediately trigger some sort of denial that this madness is even happening. Trying to make deals with God or others to get the old status quo back often happens. Depression and/or anger are logical stages of occurrence when it is understood that there is a point of no return. Acceptance, ideally, occurs when the person in grief comes to grip with the new reality that this is now the way things are. This grief process is necessary, but never a clean discerning movement, and always a rather herky-jerky, up-and-down, three-steps-forward-two-steps-backward kind of circuitous route to get to that acceptance.
But there is another consideration to this process of grief. Acceptance is usually believed to be the end of the grief. The person comes to acceptance and can now move on. I want you to consider and think about grief, whether wanted or unwanted, that acceptance is not the end, but only the beginning.
When a parent loses a child, that Mom and Dad can come to the point of acceptance, it can take months even years to do so, but now they have a big reality to face: How in the world do I now live? How do I cope with not putting this child to bed at night anymore? How do I transcend this new reality without my child in it? How do I live my life in a way that I can thrive and flourish as a healthy well-adjusted person again?
Kubler-Ross’s process is an important part, but it isn’t everything. That’s because a significant change or loss can be with you forever – and you need to learn how to be not only a survivor, but a person who grows and blossoms.
This doesn’t mean that you forget and do not remember. Rather, it means you can hold the memory of what once was with fondness, while at the same time progressing into the next day with hope and anticipation of what will come. Biblical characters in history had to do this – from Abraham leaving his home country behind, to Mary becoming pregnant as a virgin – people have always had to do more than just accept what is. They have had to discover ways to cope with their new situation and transcend it to thrive inside their newfound reality.
Let’s return to Mary. She became pregnant – not her choice, but God’s. It was a good thing, but, this was light years beyond unconventional. It was scandalous, and Mary had to come to grasp this reality in her small Jewish world. Consider what she did: went to visit her Aunt Elizabeth and gained lots of godly counsel and help; and, crafted a praise to God that we now call the “Magnificat.” Moving from one reality to another will need to include some combination of wise input and well-considered praise to the Lord.
But also consider the other end of Mary’s reality of sharing her son with the heavenly Father: Mary watched her boy die a horrible death. If a death of a child is one of the worst realities you can think of, imagine that death being a long and drawn-out torture with you having a front row seat to it all. Jesus, her son, ever the mindful person even in death, was aware enough to put his Mom’s life in his beloved disciple’s hands, John. Here is another way to negotiate learning to thrive again, to allow space in your heart for another person.
Accept your circumstances you must. But this is not the end of it, only the beginning. To move beyond survival, you must find ways to thrive. These will typically include such things as not being isolated from others, but seeking out a wise person; crafting and writing and saying out loud a praise to God; and, opening your heart again and taking the risk of love.
“Jesus began to cry.” (John 10:35, CEB)
I believe that one of the tragedies of our contemporary Western society is that far too many people cry alone. Their tears go unnoticed by others. They cry in secret. The fact that people tend to apologize for their tears in public testifies that we are uncomfortable with weeping. Maybe it’s awkward because we can’t explain the science of crying – it’s just so darned subjective and based in emotions and feelings. Maybe it’s ignored and denigrated because crying is viewed as some sign of weakness. After all, real men don’t cry; and, women who cry are just irrational (so says much of the culture). But I think there is a more sinister reason for such a paucity of tears in our society: We are more and more lacking the ability to empathize with others.
We see natural disasters destroy people’s lives, and we don’t cry. We see terrible human carnage in mass shootings, and we don’t cry. We see statistics on the staggering numbers of sexual abuse and assault, and we don’t cry. We see war across the planet with both soldiers and innocents killed, and we don’t cry. Instead, we use these very real human calamities and catastrophes to advance our own political agenda. We opine and drone on about how things should be, all the while adding to the carnage with unfeeling words and calloused hearts.
I submit to you that a significant reason a person like Jesus was not racially bigoted, constantly grumpy, blindingly selfish, and aloof toward the needs of others is that he had the ability to cry on behalf of others. Perhaps we have a crisis of virtue, bravery, truth, and concern for the common good today because we are not in touch with the need to cry on behalf of others. Jesus said, “Blessed are those mourn” (Matthew 5:4) because he knew the power of tears. Crying not only cleanses our own souls but also the griefs of others. It connects us with people’s pain, and does not let us remain detached to the brokenness of the world. God’s stamp of approval is on those who are able to cry, to weep, to mourn for others. Godliness is not found among the opinionated arm-chair politician. Instead, heartfelt weeping and wailing over the hurts of humanity is next to godliness.
Prayer, then, becomes not a means of presenting my wish list to God but the vehicle whereby I mourn the sins of the nation; intercede for my enemies; offer petitions for those who mistreat and persecute me; and, flat-out cry for the many people who are now experiencing the pain of living in a broken and fallen world (Matthew 5:44). A lack of civility and gracious discourse betrays a terribly sad lack of prayer for others. One of the greatest gifts we can give to other people, whether we like them or not, is to cry for them, especially if they cannot cry for themselves.
We are told in Holy Scripture that the Spirit himself intercedes in prayer for us with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). If the Blessed Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit cry over the world and its inhabitants, then we have all the theological reason necessary to be about the business of weeping. It is tears, and not so much words or social action that will cleanse, purge, and wash away the ills and evils of our current moral dilemmas. One of the beautiful things about this is that without exception every single person has the biological equipment and the image of God within to cry.
If we find ourselves unable to do this important activity of crying, then this is where we need to allow another person to cry on our behalf. And that takes sharing your story with another person. Is there a trusted person for whom you can share your story? Have you ever shared your story with God? Can you imagine God crying over you and groaning over the wrongs done to you by others? Are you willing to listen without judgment to another’s story? Will you allow yourself to stop biting your lower lip and let the tears flow? Will you see tears as a gift from God?