What do we do with grief? Despite the fact that we are always moving toward physical death, we Christians believe Christ’s sacrifice produced a miracle in which death was defeated. Yet, we still suffer terrible loss. Tragedy. Surprise endings. I need to understand what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”—Matthew 5:4.
I picked up a book called “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott, and I discovered that her story is really about Grace and loss. This is the Grace:
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”—Romans 5:20-21.
Lamott’s story is gritty, and uncomfortable, and illustrates how God works best in lives where nothing is working. God even seems to come through better when nothing else is working. But even when he does, loss must be handled. Christians don’t get a pass. And loss isn’t easy. This is Lamott’s decription:
Within hours of reading these words, I’m informed that a friend’s mother has died. My own mother also got sick that weekend, and I was struck again at how precariously we are attached to this life by the time we are in our seventies. I know, cognitively, that my mother will die but I have no concept of what I will be when she is gone.
To imagine my own mother’s death is to imagine a world without air. This is where grief hits us. This constellation of revolving family members and friends is (slowly or suddenly) slammed with a planet-sized meteor called death—and everything changes. Alliances are lost…and remade. Battles break out in unlikely places. People reconnect, or stop speaking forever. Everything changes.
Loss is a mixed bag. We are not in control. There’s no right way to die, and there’s no right way to grieve death. Lots of people want to tell us how to grieve properly. Advisors who think they’re helping say, “You’ll find someone else.” As if replacing a partner is like replacing an old dog, or your favorite shoes. Or they say, “She is in a better place,” as if that should make it any better for me…still here in this place—without her. We should be altruistic and stoic about it, they tell us.
Jesus promises comfort. Where does it come from? From honoring the life a person has led; from storing memories through storytelling; from agreeing that this life is not the whole story. Our gut tells us how to grieve, if we don’t suppress it. It tells us that this person I loved (and even sometimes hated) is uniquely created and never to be repeated. My dad was a one-of-a-kind original. My mother, brothers, sisters—all broken like me—yet also beautifully crafted like shattered glass transformed into vibrant stained-glass images of refracted light.
With loss we are comforted with a clarified vision of a life lived. Jesus knows we will find comfort in our loss because he goes ahead of us, modeling a life lived for others and given for all. He makes us more than random cells brought together into a skin sack of various systems and chemical processes that begin one day, and end another. He makes us eternally Real. That is the comfort.