It is a strange thing indeed to grieve corporately. I have written about this before with regards to 9/11, but now that Rob’s family is grieving corporately in a more intimate setting, I experiencing this in new ways. The other day I flitted in and out of the kitchen while there was a patio discussion (with cigars and wine) about Lynn’s funeral. There were some tears, as expected, but also laughter and hope. Because of Lynn’s faith, the sadness shores right up alongside the joy sometimes. Which brings me to a really important question that I want to address: Should Christians mourn?
I’ve done most of my mourning alone at home or in my car, because that’s how I roll. A few tears in conversations or at moments with Rob’s family (like when Lynn read The Velveteen Rabbit to all of us), but mostly my sadness is by myself. Clutching a soft, sweet-smelling baby is very therapeutic, in case you were wondering. Throughout the whole of Lynn’s cancer, Rob’s dad Buck has done a wonderful job of writing on CaringBridge about their hope in Jesus and a godly perspective through trials and suffering.
Sometimes the conversation about struggles, grief, and hard times with Christians is met with one-liners. Like:
“But count it all joy!”
“God works all things for the good of those who love him!”
“We will see her again in heaven!”
“Just cast your cares on him!”
“He is in a better place now!”
“At least she isn’t suffering any more!”
“This is part of God’s plan!”
Ever had a well-meaning person throw one of these at you? I would bet that at the LEAST every church member if not every person that KNOWS a church member has had one of those lovely Truth Grenades lobbed at them during a hard time. Which reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies.
I call them Truth Grenades because there is truth in each of those statements above. They CAN be comforting. God put comforting verses in the Bible FOR our comfort. But. When you use truth like a fist in someone’s face, it HURTS. (Click to Tweet) When you toss one of those verses or phrases at someone who is weeping over a lost son/husband/friend/cat, you are misusing God’s Word. Yes, the book of Hebrews calls the Bible a sword. (Hebrews 4:12) But the intent is not for us to use it as one. Instead, the Spirit uses God’s words to reach deep into our hearts. I like to think of it more as God’s scalpel, not our sword for cutting people.
Because of the great hope Christians have in Jesus, some act like we should not mourn. FALSE.
Because of the great hope Christians have in Jesus, some act like we should only focus on that hope. FALSE.
I’m going to give you three places in Scripture that I think testify to the idea of mourning. There are many more things I could say, but you probably have places to be and other blogs to read.
Biblical Reasons We Have for Mourning
1. There is a season. Ecclesiastes 3 was made famous this century by The Byrds and their song “Turn! Turn!Turn!” You know the one– “In every season Turn! Turn! Turn!” The Bible doesn’t include the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” part, but it does include this in Ecclesiastes 4:4- “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Solomon, the wisest man ever, is thought to have penned these words. There is a season and a time for laughter & dancing, but also a time for weeping and mourning. Period. Give people their season. Don’t try to take it away by pushing them toward laughter and dancing too soon.
2. The one smart thing Job’s friends did. I love Job’s friends. They are such good friends, and also such jerks. (Kind of like me!) They spend the majority of the book of Job telling Job that he must have done something terrible to deserve all his suffering. That was bad. But what they did first sometimes gets missed. They saw him from a distance and they tore their robes and put dust on their head and they raised their voices and wept. And then, this: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:13) The best thing his friends did was to shut up and BE with him during his suffering. Everything after that was a mess, but for that week, they sat on the ground in mourning WITH their friend. We can mourn. We SHOULD mourn, both for our own suffering and for that of our friends.
3. Jesus did it first. The shortest verse in the Bible, folks: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) At least, our English translation makes it the shortest. I don’t know about Greek or Hebrew. The point is this: Jesus wept. What is more: Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus, who died while Jesus was on the way to raise Lazarus from the dead. So even though Jesus knew that the mourning was about to be changed to dancing, Jesus wept. He mourned despite knowing the outcome. We don’t know if he wept because the sisters were weeping or because he was thinking about his own death that was approaching or because he was sad, but does it matter? JESUS WEPT. It’s okay for us to weep and mourn, too.
There is more to say on this, but that is my short-story answer to the question Should Christians Mourn? The very closely-related question is how can we comfort Christians when they mourn? (Especially since I told you to stop tossing Truth Grenades.) A great passage on comforting those who suffer and mourn is in 2 Corinthians where Paul says that we should comfort others with the same comfort we have received from God. (He also calls God the God of all comfort, which I LOVE.)
How have YOU experienced comfort in your suffering or grief? Was it with a Truth Grenade be tossed at your face? I bet it was not. If you are unsure how to comfort someone who is grieving, think about how you have experienced comfort. And because this isn’t the same for everyone, here some questions you might ask:
How might I encourage you through this time?
Can I bring over a chocolate cake/bottle of wine and we can eat/drink together?
Is there anything I can do to serve you?
Do you have any needs I could meet to help make this time easier?
Would you like to talk?
Would you like to spend some time together? We don’t have to talk.
Can I share some things that helped me through a really hard time?
Christians have the most amazing lens through which to see suffering and grief. BUT SUFFERING AND GRIEF ARE STILL SUFFERING AND GRIEF NO MATTER WHAT LENS YOU ARE LOOKING THROUGH. (Click to Tweet) Think of Job’s friends, who sat silently before speaking. Who mourned alongside their friend with their own tears and symbols of mourning. Before we speak, we should sit. (Click to Tweet) And when we do speak, it should be with grace and with questions rather than easy answers. Everyone mourns differently, and that’s okay too! Grief is not one-size-fits-all.
But the hope we have? Well, in case you need a reminder (or haven’t heard), let me tell you about the reason for the hope we have!
We’re not perfect. I probably don’t need to tell you that, right? We know. But what we don’t always know is HOW PERFECT God is. He is holy. He is Other. We don’t fully get that and we often don’t see our imperfections with the gravity they deserve. (The hope part is coming; stick with me.) Even if you are the nicest person ever and have never hurt anyone with your words or stolen anything or had an affair or cussed out that stranger in traffic or physically injured someone on purpose or committed genocide, your imperfections large and small put distance between you and God. More than distance—you cannot stand in his presence because He is THAT holy.
But. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to be perfect FOR us, since we can’t be perfect ourselves. Jesus did everything right that we mess up. Everything. He had no sin. None. And when he died on the cross, every imperfection of ours (from genocide to that mean thought about your mom) was placed on him. He wore them like a dirty, dirty robe. (I don’t cuss on my blog, but if I did, I would absolutely cuss to describe the disgusting-ness of our sin that Jesus wore. THAT’S how bad it was.) The Bible says he BECAME sin for us.
What it means is that a transaction took place on the cross and it takes place when we trust in Jesus. We have sin; he took it. He has perfection; he gave it. Not because of anything we have done but because of the love of God we are offered the security of a place with God in heaven when we die. We are offered a new life now and the forgiveness from our sins now, great and small. We are offered a new self, created to be like God. We are offered freedom and peace and hope and joy and, above all, RELATIONSHIP. God created us for relationship with him, did you know that? And only with Jesus is that possible, because otherwise our imperfections stand in the way.
So, yes, Christians have a reason to rejoice! We have reason to hope and offer comfort and laugh when we talk of funeral plans! But we also have reason to mourn and the OK from God to do that. We have suffering. We have hard times. And we have the God of all comfort to comfort us in those times.
I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite stories from Rob. When he was in college, he lived in Dallas for a summer, doing an internship. Rather than rent out an apartment, he lived with a friend’s grandmother. He came home one night from his internship and sat down with the grandmother (because he is a nice, nice man, my husband). She was watching Anne of Green Gables and crying. After a few moments of this, she patted Rob’s leg (at least, this is how I imagine it happening) and said, “It’s okay to cry.”
My husband, for the record, was NOT crying. But if he HAD BEEN crying, it would have been okay. Because, Christians, it’s okay to mourn.