Updated: Jul 13, 2020
A prayer: Help me, God, help me get these confused and disconnected thoughts to come together. I don’t even know if I am able to make any sense today. Somehow You must draw this out of me and make it into something useful, encouraging, and freeing. I trust You to do that. In Jesus’ name, amen.
We have entered into grief as a global community, an experience I am not sure has happened before in our lifetime, at least, nothing on this scale. No matter where you live and what particular set of circumstances you find yourself in relating to this pandemic, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you have now entered the grieving process. The more you understand this, the more you accept that your experience really does have a name, some predictable patterns, and some outcomes that will change your life forever, the more you will be ready to actually be useful for the Kingdom of God and to survive this with your body, soul, and spirit intact.
Jesus said, and I quote, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”* This beautiful gem comes after the first beatitude, which many of you know: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Both of these together now reflect the state of the world today, if we are to really describe it biblically.
Poverty and grief.
I probably don’t need to mention that this poverty has nothing to do with money and resources, but an internal state of such neediness, dependency, and destitution that we can only relate it to extreme physical lack. And mourning is not by any means talking only about losing a loved one to physical death. We mourn many, many things in life, and the human experience is one of cycles of loss and gain, death and life, suffering and joy.
Consider the following losses that each one of us may be experiencing to some degree or another:
· Loss of physical freedoms, the ability to choose what to do, where to go, etc.
· Loss of control.
· Loss of human touch.
· Loss of loved ones due to distance (nothing online can replace it).
· Loss of loved ones due to death, some to coronavirus.
· Loss of income, stability in our finances, ability to pay our bills.
· Loss of a job we loved.
· Loss of human connection that comes from in person interaction (again, nothing online can replace it).
· Loss of surety and confidence in the future.
· Loss of belief and faith (the way we previously interacted with and knew God isn’t “working” anymore)
Each of these losses is monumentally significant, deeply painful, and should be treated with the utmost compassion and respect. Do NOT underestimate the power of loss in a human life. Do NOT religiously whitewash people’s tremendous sense of grief with another rendition of your favorite Bible verses. I mean no offense--I’ve done it, I’ll for sure do it again, but still—we have to learn how to listen and offer comfort from the Word of God appropriately, without giving spiritual pat answers. Entering into another’s grief by crying with them or letting them scream in anger instead of sending them another Psalm 91 meme would be highly appreciated at this moment by many, I have a feeling. Or am I the only one?
In 1969 Elizabeth Kubler Ross introduced and identified the 5 stages of grief in her ground-breaking book On Death and Dying. She later co-authored a book called On Grief and Grieving.** I haven’t read the books (just being real) but I’ve read and studied the concepts quite a bit, and in light of today’s new world, I am comforted to know that what I am feeling and experiencing right now are very much part of the expected patterns of human grief.
Consider the first stage: denial. Looking around my own city, it’s very much obvious to me where my community is at, and I have to admit to my own shame that I’ve floated right along with them. Knowing all we know of what happened in China, what’s going on in Italy, the US, etc. we still haven’t quarantined. The restaurants and shops closed only as of today, March 28. The very human and yet very foolish belief of this won’t happen to me, this won’t happen to us, our nation has this under control is still very much alive here in Russia. Some even think it’s a conspiracy of the west. (Lord have mercy, old cold war habits die hard!)
Denial is characterized by shock, a thrown-off-course-ness, a reeling daze that says “This can’t be happening to me, it’s not possible.” Many people go through this stage feeling numb but feeling ashamed of the numbness. This week I had to give myself permission to stare out a window and feel nothing. And then two hours later lay in my bed sobbing. And then a few hours after that, laugh hard with my friends and pretend there was no such thing as coronavirus. I decided to refuse to judge myself or anyone else for this rollercoaster we are all on, and if we are in shock (and we are, we all are), then I will just ride it like everyone else.
Grief.com, the website dedicated to helping people with the 5 stages of grief, says this interesting thing about denial: “Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.”** I love that. I mean, really love it. To tie into this process of grief the concept of grace is a simply brilliant juxtaposition. Reminds me of another brilliant juxtaposition that I talked about in the beginning: “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Can our faith grow and adapt and stretch enough at this moment of human history to embrace grief as a very important part of our faith? To trash our hyper-spiritual, hyper-faith notions of “blessings” and move beyond the fact that it means we will have perfect health, happiness, and material riches? When we truly mourn, we ARE BLESSED, and then we ARE COMFORTED. Comfort is promised only to those who are in mourning. We have to move on through the stages and process of grief to find Jesus in every place we set our emotional feet.
And can we all just give each other permission to express this grief in all the various ways it comes about, without judgment, giving grace to each other, knowing we are ALL experiencing something new and none of us really knows how to act, what to say, and how to live? If your neighbor who was always previously a pretty decent guy yells at you because your dog ran in his yard, are you mature and wise enough to understand that his anger isn’t at you at all, but at this insane and drastic breakdown of all he has ever known? Anger is a big part of grief. It’s gonna be uncomfortable for all of us. But feeling and admitting anger, and allowing others to express anger, all without veering off into gross sin (yes, it is possible!) is going to be part of our learning process. Only GRACE and LOVE are going to allow others (and ourselves) to grieve and mourn the loss of our world as we knew it without finger-pointing, blaming, overspiritualizing, and all the other non-healthy ways we deal with grief.
There was no mistake in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, looking into the crowds, but also looking into the future, into our future, begins with some of the most extraordinary words ever recorded in human history. In referring to poverty and grief, in essence He says: “When everything falls apart, your world crashes down around you, you experience great loss and pain, you are thrown off balance, and you feel that you are left with nothing…it is in this, you are blessed.”
I don’t know about you, but I am making myself ready for this blessing. If it’s the one He is choosing to give humanity right now, we would be wise to accept it. I look forward with inexpressible peace to the promise that yes, truly—I will be comforted. And so will you.