January 7, 2013

"I Grieve With Thee"


If you are a Star Trek fan (like me), you recognize this phrase. Spoken by Vulcans when a friend or well- regarded person has suffered a loss, this phrase (“I grieve with thee”) is a way of saying “I recognize your sadness and suffering. I accept it as real and painful. Because we are friends, I am willing to let you have your pain and I am willing to share your pain with you.”

I wish more Christians would use this phrase or something like it when a friend or family member suffers a loss, especially a death or disabling accident or disability.

If you have spent much time around “church people”, you have probably heard one or more of these phrases: “God knows best.” “We loved him, but God loved him more.” “You can have another baby.” “God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.” “Who are we to question God?” “She’s with the angels now.”

Please.

Why do so many of us feel the need to fill the empty space in a room by speaking words that crush the need of a wounded person to express their grief?

Grief is terrifying. Grief seems unlimited and bottomless when we are in its depths. We can’t control how or when the sadness rolls over us. We like to believe we are strong enough to handle it alone. We are not. Our world view changes, becoming smaller, meaner, less hopeful. The unrelenting, stinging pain of grief defies description and analysis. Our most basic appetites can wither in its wake. We struggle—and sometimes fail—to get up each morning and make it through our daily routines. The world becomes an ugly, barren place not worth knowing.

Let us commend ourselves for the willingness to reach out to comfort someone held in grief’s grip. Let us also be careful of what we say.

The expression of grief is not a challenge to God’s goodness.

Grief is a natural, God-given response to a deep loss. Jesus wept when he came to Mary and Martha’s house after Lazarus’ death. He wept, in part, because he loved these women and He shared their feeling of loss. He was emotionally connected to them. He cared.

For me, the most important part of this account from John, chapter 11, is not that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus raised others from the dead—see Matthew 9:18-26 and Mark 5:35-43. What is most moving to me is that Jesus did not sit down and preach a sermon to these women about how their grief was an embarrassment to God and a sign of weak faith. Jesus wept with them. Then, He did something about their problem.

The God-Man Jesus Christ cried with those who cried.

He grieved with them.

The next time I am invited by word or action into someone else’s grief, I will resist the temptation to “say something wise and deeply spiritual.” I will let them have their tears, their hurt, their anger, their sadness.

My hope is this: I will be willing to sit quietly in a room and listen to that person talk, perhaps over a cup of tea or coffee. I will go with them to put flowers on the grave. I will be willing to listen to them share their favorite story about the one who is no longer here, even if I’ve heard it a hundred times. I will answer that 3am call when I see their number on the caller id.

I will grieve with them.

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