Is It Okay to Grieve? Or Should You Just Be Quiet?
People heard that I was groaning,
that I had no comforter.
All my enemies heard about my distress; they were thrilled
that you had done this.
Bring the day you have announced
so they become like me! (CEB)
I grew up in a culture and family system that didn’t make much room for grieving. Oh, if somebody suffered a great loss, like the death of a spouse, it was okay for that person to grieve, but only for a short while and only in moderation. For the most part, we wanted people to be happy and to express themselves happily. Grieving didn’t fit our values.
In many ways, the Christian community of my youth affirmed my cultural reticence about grief. Christians were supposed to rejoice always. Sadness was interpreted as a lack of faith. Thus, in memorial services, for example, everybody bent over backwards to emphasize that we were not to be sad but rather to rejoice that the person who died was with the Lord.
Thus, I remember feeling shocked when our new pastor, Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, once said, “Tears are the lubrication of the Holy Spirit.” In his view, there were times when it was appropriate to grieve. In fact, Dr. Ogilvie believed that God would use our grief in deep ways to make his love known to us.
Dr. Ogilvie’s openness to expressions of grief fits the testimony of Scripture, including what we find in Lamentations. In verse 21 of the first chapter, for example, the writer acknowledges, “People heard that I was groaning.” The Hebrew word translated as groaning refers to open expressions of grief. The writer of Lamentations had not kept his sorrow to himself, but had expressed it publicly.
To be sure, there are times when we need to be quiet, times when we should sit silently before the Lord. Yet, Scripture gives us example after example of godly people who express their grief openly. Most pointedly, we remember that Jesus wept at times—when he saw the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35). His example invites us to experience the fullness of our humanity, entrusting to God all that we are and sharing all of life with each other, both the joys and the sorrows.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What were the unexpressed “rules” of grieving in your family of origin? In your culture? In your church? Do you tend to be someone who can grieve freely? Or do you tend to cover over your negative feelings? Why?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for giving us so many models in Scripture of people who freely express what’s going on in their hearts. In particular, I thank you for the example of Lamentations, which encourages me to be more honest with you and with others when I am sorrowing.
Yet, at the same time, I thank you for the future that is coming, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. I thank you for the hope of a time when there will be no mourning, crying. In the meanwhile, I am grateful, not only for the freedom to grieve, but also for the fact that you are with me, sharing in my suffering and offering the comfort of your presence.
All praise be you, God of mercy, God of comfort, God of hope. Amen.