For those who have experienced the unyielding reality of loss, grief can follow you around and make its appearance at unexpected times. There are many reasons why people experience grief. The most common is the loss of a loved one. But the reality of trauma from other events or circumstances can also produce the deep sense of loss often described as grief.
In the course of the last 20 years of ministry, I have had the opportunity to walk with many through a season of grief in life. But even describing it as a season does not accurately convey the impact on a person’s life. Grief is not like the mending of a bone after it has been broken. Grief winds its way through a person’s life taking turns that are often unexpected. This is why I have come to understand that every person grieves in unique ways.
Regardless of the circumstances that lead to a person experiencing grief, one of the worst things to say to someone is that it’s time to move on. The assumptions contained in that statement are not only callous but many times are premature. Grief does not progress along with any predictable patterns.
How much time should it take to replace what has been lost? Only the person who is enduring the process of grieving can determine that timeline. This is what makes grief so difficult to address as someone seeking to support a person in grief. And it is also one of the challenges when we are the ones in the midst of that struggle.
We feel the tension between trying to get “back to normal” and knowing we may not be ready to do it. But the often unspoken reality is that the very notion of normal has changed. There is an emptiness now present in our lives. And in the process of learning to live with it is not easy. If we’re honest, many times it is near impossible to do, at least without some support.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I do not know how those who do not have a relationship with God endure times of grief. There are so many questions that come in those moments of solitude and reflection. So many thoughts that we find difficult to restrain. And without the promise of future hope and future justice, I struggle to imagine how to look forward to a new day. The reason to describe grief in such stark terms is not to increase the burden, but to describe it as honestly and sincerely as we can.
I believe there are two fundamental reasons why grief is often misunderstood by those on the outside looking in. First, when we see someone else in grief we are challenged to consider how we would respond. And for those of us who have suffered a loss the reminder of what was endured can be difficult. Remembering what that journey looks like can bring back to mind some of the difficulties and heartache we have had to manage. And there are many who simply do not want to deal with that ongoing presence in their life. This is not a judgmental statement. It is not a criticism. It is just an acknowledgment of the human experience.
Second, for most of us, knowing what to do or what to say can be challenging. I think it’s important to acknowledge that when there is loss there is nothing that can be said, particularly in those initial moments, that can bring the kind of comfort we would hope to offer. Our words cannot feel the full impact of the event that created the hole a person now feels. And so oftentimes we end up saying things, that though they are well-intentioned, do not help.
In this season of Lent, we recognize that God has done something for us we could not do for ourselves, or even for each other. God has entered into and has become like us to show us we are not alone. While there is a time for words of comfort, the primary ministry we can offer one another in times of grief is that of presence. To be with one another in and through the journey of grief has a healing effect upon our hearts that cannot be fully quantified. And we see this in the life of Jesus. Jesus enters into the mire and the muck of human frailty and he teaches us and he loves on us and he mourns with us by being near to us. This is one of the great mysteries of Jesus’s mission on the earth. And it is one we celebrate as we travel through the season of Lent in preparation for the celebration of Easter morning.