***April 1 marked the third anniversary of my brother’s death. Soon after his death, my dear friend Karla asked me to share some of my experience with grief and the church as a guest blogger on her site for Bible.org. This month, I have chosen to repost that blog below.
“Sister, I have cancer.”
My stomach dropped. My body felt numb. My brain whirled with best and worst case scenarios. I wanted to vomit. I tried to be brave, as every fiber in my being hoped my thirty-eight year old brother was playing some kind of cruel joke. Who jokes about cancer, though? No one.
The carcinoma that grew inside my big brother’s body advanced quickly, ravaging him within a mere six months. As my parents and I watched the tumors grow and protrude through his skin, grief became my daily existence. Most days grief came hard and fast leaving me feeling as though I had just lost a boxing match. Even now, three years since his death, the pendulum of grief swings in slow motion, as I try to move out of its way. I stand paralyzed to the gut punch I know is coming on his birthday or the anniversary of his death. Other times, grief hits me from behind. No warning. No indicator light. All it takes is the sound of a motorcycle coming down the road, or my son to ask, “Mama, could Uncle Scott dunk a basketball?,” and a California tidal wave of grief engulfs me.
Whether you grieve the death of a loved one, a perpetual negative pregnancy test, a home burned to the ground, a marriage ripped apart at the seams, an identity lost or violence endured, you join me in the universal family of grievers. Grief shows no discrimination, and the constant reminder of what has been lost.
I confess that in my experience of ongoing grief, there have been many Sundays I retreat to the safety of my home with a pre-recorded podcast, my journal, and a tear-stained Bible, rather than attend church. In the process of trying to “bear one another’s burdens,” the church can often add to the burden. She can be insensitive. Misguided. Mistaught. Good intentions turn into darts of pain. Attempts at comfort become tools of hurt.
God’s people have dealt some of the cruelest blows in my grief. Here are my top five, in no particular order:
- “Is he dead yet?”
- “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.”
- “It will work out for good.”
- “If you exercised more faith, healing would come. You just need to believe God for the miracle. Aren’t you believing?”
- “He doesn’t remember you anyway.”
The above statements promote a misguided belief that if my faith were simply larger, deeper, stronger, my brother would have been healed. They perpetuate a misguided theology that if we only acted better or thought better, trials would disappear. They assume that the griever must have surely failed in some way for God to allow their suffering.
These reactions to grief are contrary to truth. The thread of grief and suffering are woven through the entirety of Scripture. Did it not grieve the heart of God when his creation became ruined with sin and corruption (Gen 6:6)? Did Christ not weep at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35)? Did Christ not look over the city of Jerusalem with lament for her coming judgment (Luke 19:41)?
God grieved over sin, death and consequences. So should we.
Grief is essential to our journey, and serves as a reminder that things are not as they are supposed to be. King David writes of a day when sorrow and pain vanish, saying, “Joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5). On that glorious morning, the voices of saints through the ages will join together in a hallelujah chorus like no other. Death will be defeated, once and forever. Tears will perish, and hope will be fulfilled (Rev 21:4). Our grief points us towards this assured hope.
Tomorrow has not yet arrived, however. We live in the in-between, waiting for that joyful morning. As we wait, we grieve not only for those lost to disease, but for a humanity separated from their Creator. We hope for the promised morning when our faith becomes sight, and face-to-face we will behold the One who collects our tears and understands our sorrow.
Until then, be the church that envelopes the grieving with examples of the deepest measures of God’s kindness. Consider these:
- Say nothing. The freedom to cry, vent, scream, and heal is born in moments of silence. Open your ears and be the agent of freedom in a safe space of silence.
- “How can I pray?” Asking this question allows us to share what weighs heaviest on the grieved, rather than assuming what they might need.
- “I love you.” Losing a loved one is also a loss of love. These simple words remind the griever that not all love is lost.
- “You are not alone.” This simple sentence exemplifies what the church should be modeling—life in community, through thick and thin.
- “How can I help?” Be ready for an answer you might not expect, like clean out my fridge, take my mother to her doctor’s appointment, teach my Sunday School class, or wrap my Christmas presents.
Let my tears flow, as they have been given to me by my Creator. Each tear shed in secret and each heartache masked in strength is seen by my Father (Ps 56:8). I won’t always be weighted down as I am today in the freshness of my pain. Be patient and kind as the pendulum swings.