“and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days.”- Numbers 20:29
“When David and his men came to Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.”- 1 Samuel 30:3-4
“In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”- Esther 4:3
“When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.”- Mark 5:38
If there’s one thing the people in the Bible had right, I think it was grief. The above verses paint a vastly different picture than our grief pictures, don’t they? Why is it so different now? Of course we still grieve but publicly do so only a short, socially-accepted time, and privately stuff the rest of it into the nooks and crannies of our bodies and hearts. There, it festers and sits, begging for our attention until it comes out physiologically, relationally, or turns into bitterness. We think moving around grief is a sign of strength. We don’t realize that we drag the unfelt pain around with us like an anchor. It’s going to come out somehow. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Why are we so afraid to let it come out the healthy way, the way God intended in the first place?
I recently read something implying that grief is our birthright. What an incredible metaphor. Grief is a right, a gift God gave us but, like the prodigal son squandered his birthright on temporary pleasures and Esau gave up his for one meal of comfort, we squander ours as well. We trade the gift of grief for some immediate relief. Unfortunately we’re willing to obtain a lifetime of suffering in the process (sickness, bitterness, relationship issues, etc, all caused by unfelt pain or un-dealt with grief). We’re trading the gift of life, however painful it may be in the moment, for a slow and agonizing death.
What are we so afraid of? I think the answers are 1. Pain. 2. The opinions of others. I’ve harped on this subject many times and I hope you know that I usually write from the places God is working on inside of me. This subject is a life-long process and struggle, especially for me, and I want to share what God is teaching me as He is teaching it. In other words, I am the queen of squandered grief.
We are so afraid of pain that we often try to avoid it at all costs. And I say that meaning, IT WILL COST. Avoidance is not healing. It’s surviving another day until the pain comes back in more destructive ways. Grief avoidance has hurt my body in ways that would take too long to describe here but please feel free to ask and I’ll tell you what it’s done to me, probably with some trembling and tears. I’m still learning all it continues to do to me. I no longer try so hard to avoid pain because I’ve learned that it’s impossible to do so. Also, I’m not as entirely afraid of pain as I used to be. Sure, it’s still not fun, but I know it’s a part of life I need to feel in order to flush the wounds so God can bind them and heal them. The problem is, I’ve avoided pain and grief for so long that it’s become a habit, and not just a conscious habit. I have trained my brain, body, and heart to avoid dealing with hurt so well that it’s an unconscious, automatic switch, turning off the feels before I even realize I’ve done it. I’m now having to try and retrain my brain to allow what I’ve avoided for so long and, wow, is it difficult. I’ve been working on it for years. I’ve prayed for God to break my emotional off switch so many times, to remove my emotional auto-block, though I’m not sure how much I really mean it. I’ve asked Him to weaken the connection between my body and emotions because I realize how hard stuffed emotions are on my body. Now I understand the better prayer is for God to help me deal with emotions immediately so they don’t have a chance to hurt my body in the first place. I’m having to intentionally stop myself in the middle of self-indulged distractions and start talking the pain out with God. This is not nearly as easy as continuing to numb out, but it is beyond necessary for every aspect of our health. I find that when I am able to force away the distractions and start talking to God about whatever broke my heart, that’s when the floodgates open. If I hadn’t pushed away the distractions and talked to God about it, where would all those tears have gone? They would have become unshed, un-felt, toxic vaults of emotion continuously leaking poison into my heart, mind, and body. This acceptance of toxic avoidance is what we think of our birthright?! God, forgive us!
The other reason we are so afraid to grieve is because we fear the opinions of others. This is still my Achilles heal, the thing that God is working so hard to remove from me. If I can get past the fear of pain and, thanks be to God, I have gotten past much of it, the next cement wall standing in the way of healthy grief is my fear of what others will think. There is only so much socially-acceptable grief and I guess I’m terrified of crossing that line. This is where we need to take a page from the biblical mourners’ book. They allowed much longer mourning periods and were extremely public about it, wailing together, wearing sackcloth and tearing clothes. We slather makeup all over our tear-stained faces, plaster on a smile, and carry on our lives as if we’re not dying inside. We throw our birthright at the feet of others who congratulate us for pulling ourselves together, others who do not care nearly as much for us as our Father. We crave the acceptance of others until we get it and still, we feel an empty ache. We don’t realize that we are absolutely starving for healthy grief.
The good news is that, once we see our birthright for the gift that it is, God doesn’t make us continue to fill our bellies with lesser things. We are not slaves to our past choices. No, dearly beloved of God. Instead, while we are still a long way off struggling with the effects of our squandered grief, God sees us and His compassion overflows. He runs toward us with arms wide open, ready to welcome our grief and hold us while we finally allow it to grip our hearts and drench His clothes with our tears. Then, after we’ve honored and embraced our pain, poured it out to God and let Him heal it, only when we’re ready, He teaches us joy again. He celebrates that we’ve accepted the gift He gave us, the gift of grief, which is ultimately the gift of health and, ironically, the gift of long-term joy. He sets a feast for us because we were dead and now we’re alive again (Luke 15: 11-31).
As difficult as it is in the moment, let’s not squander our birthright. I’m begging myself to do this as much as I’m beseeching you. Let’s embrace the gift of feelings God gave us. How precious that He longs to feel them with us! Let’s not waste the beautiful gift of His comfort. Let’s choose life over death by choosing to honor our grief.