Making Room for Grief Within the Church
I’m a Christian, and I sometimes struggle with the Church.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the Church. I am part of the Church. I also know there are areas where we can grow.
See. I love Jesus. And Jesus loves the church. And the Church is full of messy people because they are human, and humans are messy. The Church can have major issues, because people can have major issues. The Church can suffer, because people suffer. The Church can do stupid things, because people.
But you know what? Jesus still calls the Church his bride. When He returns, He’s coming for her. He’s coming — flaws, brokenness, malice, all the bad stuff mixed in with the good. He’s coming, because He paid the price of grace to cover all that bad.
And as much hurt as I can incur from the Church, I know that it’s because humans hurt humans. We just do. It’s who we are. We make mistakes. We mess up. We hurt each other, sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose, but no matter what hurt happens within the Church, I still love Jesus, and Jesus still loves the Church.
I say all of this, because from my shoes, I have something I want to say to us, Church.
Friends. Brothers. Sisters.
We need to make room for the grieving.
I was talking to a new friend last week. She has battled Stage 4 cancer. She has come to the brink of death and back. She knows what pain is. She knows what suffering is. While she has not lost a child, so her hurt is not the same as mine, she knows what it means to suffer. Talking to her, I felt known.
We have something else in common.
I told her about how with the exception of some of my dearest friends (who also happen to be a Christian), I have felt most accepted through my entire grieving process by people who are not Christians. I went on to explain how non-Christians haven’t put expectations on me. They let me be me. They don’t tell me to “stay strong” or to “keep the faith.” They let me sit. They let me cry. They let me have bad days. They let me be cynical. And they still take me as I am. Not ‘babying” me. Not pitying me. Just seeing me as a person, and letting me be whatever I need to be.
It was a new realization to me, and being a verbal processor, I couldn’t quite understand it. I was explaining it to her as something strange. Something that I didn’t quite figure out, because after all, God is the ultimate comforter, and Christians should theoretically be emulating that, right?
But she already knew. With the pain of her cancer and the pain of other struggles she has faced in life, she already knew. When she was walking through her deepest pain, she had non-Christian friends that took her in without judgment and loved her unconditionally, while she had been faced with judgment and well-meaning exhortation to be “better” by some in the Church.
Now, friends. Don’t get me wrong. We are both Christians. We are both in the Church. We both love Jesus. We both love others. We really, really do.
But we also realized something. An area where we can grow as Christians is in giving each other room...
We need to make room for grief.
There are people suffering. There are people in pain. There are people dealing with devastation and loss. And can I tell you something? None of that is always pretty.
But we can help them.
We need to make room for people to question. We need to make room for them to cry, to curse, to yell, to breakdown. We need to make room for them to smile, to laugh, to sit, to be quiet, and to take steps back. We need to make room for people to be whatever they need to be without judgment. Without unsolicited advice. Without pressure.
We as Christians can be the ones who comfort with the love of Christ. Without theological discussions. Without the need to give Scripture verses or forlorn glances. Without judgment or pity. Just with love.
The kind of love Jesus showed when he cried at the news of friend’s death. Or like Job’s friends, who got a lot wrong, but one thing they got very right was sitting in silence — pure silence and solidarity with Job for seven days. “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:13)
There are times in life, when there are literally no adequate words. Even the most eloquent fumble, and the ones who have experienced pain know that no amount of words and no special formula of them will take away that pain. Pain and grief aren’t something that vanish. They require a process, and certain wounds, while they may “heal,” will leave a permanent and lifelong ache.
We have to trudge through the high waters in order to come to the clearing. We can’t just skip them. We need to move through them, and it’s messy, and it’s hard, and it’s not what anyone would choose, but it’s necessary.
When people are walking through the high waters in life, we need to let them. We can let them do so, being as messy as they need be. We can walk alongside them in a “solidarity” kind of way, and those who have gone before through the pain can stand out front, gently guiding.
When we allow people room to grieve, to feel, and to be outside of the lines, we allow them an opportunity to be honest. On the contrary, when we admonish people to “stay strong” and “keep the faith” in the midst of pain and grief, we sometimes force them into a mask and a facade.
When we make room for grief, we make room for honesty. We make room for growth. We make room for healing.
Let’s make room for grief.
Let’s say a little less and love a little more...
Say a little less. Love a little more.
Say less. Love more.
This is how we can make room for grief.
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