Grieving is a gift

We all have things we’re grieving, whether it is a broken family, the end of a relationship, unjust political policies, intense sickness, or the death of those around us. I’ve spent the past semester reflecting on what it means to grieve in a healthy way.

Growing up, I never learned to grieve. Most times, people associate grieving with death, and rightfully so. I spent most weekends with my grandparents, Mimi and Pa. Pa was a southern Baptist preacher of a small congregation with a an elderly population, so I knew my way around a funeral home by the time I was six.

You’d think being around all those sad people, I’d have learned how to grieve. Instead, I learned to smile and small talk my way through the sadness.

The first important death I can remember was the death of Pa my sophomore year of high school. I was completely and utterly crushed. I felt lost, confused and abandoned. I remember feeling the incessant need to pull it together and find the good in the situation. Isn’t that what Christians should do? Aren’t we supposed to immediately turn away from tragedy and proclaim with happiness all the good of death? Absolutely not.

My false understanding of grief quickly tumbled into a false understanding of joy. The two go hand in hand. To understand one accurately, you have to understand the other. Joy is not the absence of grief, but the choice to hold on to hope in the middle of everything else collapsing. Joy isn’t saying “everything is okay and happy and perfect,” but instead understanding that the world is broken and looking forward to the day all is redeemed and renewed.

Grief is a gift, enabling us to cry out with all the angst we can bear, “This is not right. This is not how the world is supposed to be!”

This summer, a friend and I went on a last-minute trip to Colorado to visit another friend in the hospital. On the table at the home where we were staying, there was a framed, hand-lettered quote that summed up everything I’d thought or felt over the past semester. It’s from author Adrienne Rich who said, “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.”

I’m slowly learning that the greatest gift we can ever give someone is the freedom to fully grieve. Faithful and good friends do not hinder our grieving, but rather weep with us as we sit together at the foot of the cross, clinging to what we know to be true—Jesus is coming again and will make all things new. This utter brokenness was never what was intended to be.

So, what does that look like at John Brown University? For me it means choosing to know those around me deeply, and letting them know me in return. It means choosing to let people in, even if our grief seems miniscule—it’s not. It means weeping together, but ultimately choosing to hold on to the hope of full redemption while seeking justice for those around us.

We need to learn to actually grieve. We need to learn to live with joy. We need to weep with those who remind us of the redemption to come and help us to see the warriors that we are because of the hope we’ve been given in Christ.