Note from CM: We continue to go through an extraordinary season of loss — I can’t remember one in my personal experience quite like it. Last week we learned that our good friend, my college roommate and best man in my wedding, died suddenly. I did a funeral for a friend’s mom on Saturday and will do another one this Friday. We heard the news about our friend Rachel Held Evans. Last night we received an email about a friend from church who died while on a trip to California. I’ll be attending the memorial service Thursday for Marge Cornwell, David’s wife who died recently. Here is a reminder that there are no rules about dealing with loss like this. With God’s help and the love of those around us, we simply keep going.
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Make the Way by Walking
My friend, I have good news for you: you don’t have to “do grief right.” In our culture, we expect people to follow a certain path in the wake of a loss. I’m here to tell you: there is no defined path. Just be yourself, keep walking, and you will make a way.
You may be introverted, drawing strength from solitude. Or, as an extrovert, you may find help being with others. Some people need to sleep while others need to stay busy. Talking about it may help or hinder. Some read everything they can find to answer the questions that haunt them. Others want to simply forget. There is no “right” way.
Furthermore, you don’t have to come up with a “reason” or “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.
You are not required to smile and say things are alright. You need not put on a positive front in order to “be strong” for others. “Falling apart” is normal. Give yourself permission.
You don’t have to always try to balance your sad feelings with positive ones. Your tears honor the immense importance of your loss. If it hurts, it hurts.
On the other hand, don’t feel guilty if you have a good day or want to do something fun. Even in a season of grief, there are ups as well as downs. It’s okay to still enjoy life’s blessings, to laugh, to lighten things up.
And perhaps you are one of those people who rarely cries and is not demonstrative about your feelings. Don’t let people pressure you into feeling bad about that. If you simply prefer to deal with your loss privately and process your thoughts and feelings more stoically or analytically because that is your personality, that’s okay.
There are some people who seem to handle pain, loss, and grief without much trouble. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are stronger or, on the other hand, in denial or unfeeling. Somehow, they can just absorb the blow and keep going. If that’s you, do it — keep going. Don’t allow people to question your lack of tears or outward expressions of grief. A sad face shouldn’t be required any more than a happy face. Just be yourself, you don’t have to explain it to anyone. You probably wouldn’t know how to explain it anyway. This whole life thing is pretty much a mystery, isn’t it?
If you are a person of faith, don’t automatically imagine that God will “speak” to you about your loss or give you a vision or a word that will explain it to you.
Don’t assume that, through your loss, God is giving you a “message” to share with others. Some of us are activist types, always looking for ways to help other people. But don’t jump to that, thinking that’s what “God wants” and what unselfish “faith” automatically does. Grief is not about that, it’s about you — your loss, your pain, your darkness. It is not “selfish” to focus on yourself. Grief means you have received a serious wound. There is a time to tend wounds.
“God-talk” can mean well, but it can also ramp up the pressure to “do grief right” and be “heroic” at a time when you need to heal. Church can be hard too. But if you find yourself dreading or avoiding it, don’t think you’re losing your faith. To be honest, congregations are often not good contexts in which healing can take place. I wish it weren’t so.
It’s okay to hurt, to cry, to fall apart, to withdraw, to get depressed, to be angry, to struggle within yourself and with God and others, to rage against the senselessness of it all, to have no words, and to feel like that for as long as you need. Grief doesn’t follow a timetable. Be patient with yourself, and seek the help of others who will let you be yourself.
There is no sure guide that can cut a straight path through the wilderness of grief.
You will make your own way by simply walking. And you will make it.
And by the way, if you need a friend to walk with you, give someone you trust a call.
21 thoughts on “Another Look: Make the Way by Walking”
reminds of how I felt when my friend Betty passed away . . . known her all the years I taught school . . . miss her terribly now she’s gone and the parting was unexpectedly sudden
we think people will ‘be there’ and we take it for granted, and we can’t do that, no
ooo la la
even the sunrise
along with its gift of light
brings losses untold
Yes. Thank you Sean.
Comment of the year. Thank you so much, Sean.
I’m trying my best. And there are many of us who really are trying. In my 4 years now as a vocational pastor, the number one conversation — and I mean number one by a vast margin — I’ve had with people who have come to my office to unload some weight from their souls has been about grief.
They think it’s about anger, but it ends up being unprocessed grief.
They’re concerned about their control issues and how it’s affecting their relationships, but eventually we get down to unprocessed grief.
Their spiritual life is stagnant, stuck. Scripture makes no sense and they cannot discern the presence of God anywhere in life. It turns out the soul of their suitcase is packed with unprocessed grief.
The invitation I continue to give people is to make space to unpack their grief. I give them one page summary of the best seminary lecture I’d ever heard, from our dean, about grieving. And because so many people don’t even know where or how to get started, I’ve written up a page of simple questions to reflect on, just to get the ball rolling. I encourage people to let memories, emotions, sadness, rage, whatever it needs to be to come up, and don’t put a cap on it. It’s the work of the Spirit. If you must yell at God, do it. The Psalms say so.
I’m able to talk people through grief because processing my grief is what unlocked my own spiritual life and path towards wholeness as I was turning 30. I never grieved the divorce of my parents (3 years old) or suicide of my father (8 years old). I went numb. I detached. I lived in my head. Only through helpful mentors and counselors did I begin to process things. There was a significant moment when I made space, and the cage of my soul was finally opened, and 20+ years of pent up, unprocessed grief hit me like the bullet of a sniper. It was brutal and ugly… but afterwards I was able to engage the world in a brand new way.
It’s not a magic fix, but so many of us haven’t grieved our hurts and losses, and we don’t understand the toll that it takes. We don’t feel God’s permission to go after it. But it’s such a tender invitation from our Father. May we continue to bless our loved ones, friends, and especially ourselves to grieve the worst of life, that we may also be able to fully celebrate the best of it.
grief burns away all the non-essential stupid stuff, painfully, over time
but, dear God, this is a savage grace
Chap Mike… sorry for the season you find yourself going through. That’s a lot of grief and mourning for you, your family, and your friends.
I’ve been saying for years now… Lord, I’m ready for Jubilee!!!
> Why can’t preachers just let people grieve?
Thanks CM. I wish every preacher would take this to heart. It is amazing how many well-meaning preachers (and maybe some not-so-well-meaning) refuse to allow people to grieve. To some it is sin. I used to work with a lady who followed Kenneth Copeland religiously (sorry for the pun). Whenever someone would say ‘good grief’ (like the Charlie Brown version) she would say ‘Kenneth Copeland says there’s no such thing as good grief – it shows a lack of faith’. I went to a funeral a while back for a baby who died a couple of days after birth – senseless pain and tragedy. The preacher tried so hard to make it ‘meaningful’ – God is going to use this to bring many people to Jesus, and all that. At a ‘life celebration’ for a young man who died tragically, the local preacher, who had been their pastor years before, was asked to pray for the meal. He couldn’t resist reminding everyone that death was the destiny of us all and then he did a five-minute evangelistic presentation (thankfully without an invitation). Why can’t preachers just let people grieve?
Susan, you’ve put your finger on exactly what grief is. It is the tearing of the connection. This is why death is not the only cause of grief. Grief comes with any loss or significant change in our lives. When connections and relationships are broken, the separation makes a wound, which is grief.
“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?”
Nobody, but that won’t stop us systematic theologians from trying…
I have used this scripture many times in funeral services. I believe it, but to be honest, it doesn’t feel better at the moment. I’m ready for a blow-out party at this point.
I’m sorry to hear about your loss, David. You will have my prayers in the coming days.
Along with Seneca, I am profoundly glad that Ecclesiastes is included among the Scriptures. It shows that the Holy Spirit is not a systematic theologian.
Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Sometimes loss is not about death but about the loss of relationships which we once held dear and valued.
I have experienced this today with the loss of contact of a dear friend.
The pain is palpable.
I went for a drive, I just couldn’t stay cooped up at home.
I eventually came home and wandered through my trees and prayed for grace/forgiveness as I stopped at each tree.
The trees are loosing their leaves as it is autumn, the leaves could have been my tears.
Not a death but to me just as significant as this person is no longer available to me.
C. Mike, I can honestly say that your writings and teaching on this subject have changed me and my attitude about the subject of grief and all that entails. I find wisdom and caring in your messages on this subject. I try to practice what you preach. Like many things in my life my views and understanding of grief and lost have changed as my years have changed. You have put it all together as much it can be put together. I guess what I am really saying is thank you and God Bless.