Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Good Grief

When a loved one has had a severe loss or is immersed in grief, how often are we paralyzed by our own insecurities? What compels us to think we need to have the right answers or should be responsible to "cheer them up"? Why are we pursuing the tidy sitcom ending and shying away from what may be messy? Why do we get so ridiculously wrapped up in our own lack of comfort that we drop the ball?

I was reading in Job tonight and found myself cheering Job on for reprimanding his friends. After Job loses everything, his friends arrive to do their best at what they perceive their job to be. They guess at why God would allow tragedy, they give tips...they leave Job feeling more beat up than he was before they opened their mouths. Job's response is,
"I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all! Shall words of wind have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul's place. I could heap up words against you, and shake my
head at you; but I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief." Job 16:2-5

This passage resonated with me because I have a handful of people I am grieving with. It's hard.
I am thankful to my parents who taught me something about getting down into a mud puddle with a loved one. When I was in fifth grade my little brother's friend was killed by a bus. Within hours my parents packed us all up to go over and hug the family. I felt insecure, ridiculous, at a loss. What do I say? How do I handle the tears and chaos? I didn't have a thing to offer. But it wasn't up to me so off we went...just to hug, share some tears, and go back home.
It wasn't the only time I was drug along to uncomfortable situations. As hard as it was, it taught me that the most empathetic thing I can do is pull up a patch of mud and join the puddle. Not to drag out misery- but to acknowledge the loss and then bring a friend to the feet of Jesus. When you are entrenched in tragedy, you don't know how to pray for yourself and it is essential to have friends to intercede on your behalf.

In the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, Dr. Sittser talks about entering grief after his mother, wife, and daughter were all killed in a car accident. He explains the temptation to run toward the sun as it is setting in the west, to avoid being overcome by darkness. But in actuality, we need to turn to the east into the darkness with the Hope and expectation that there the sun will rise. If we endlessly run west we will never truly rest and we will never watch the sun rise in our circumstance.

I thought of Dr. Sittser's illustration twice this week; once when talking with someone about dealing with and surrendering years of marital hurts, another when e mailing a close friend who recently lost a child.
It is sometimes tempting to encourage the ones we love to run fruitlessly west. It is scary to watch someone plunge into a pool of grief. We worry they might not cling to Christ, we worry that things will never be the same. (Which they won't. I'm learning that that's okay.) We selfishly think of our own comfort and how it might be awkward to have relationship with a muddy person in process.
So we resort to well meaning words that minimize the loss. We think it will help if we supply endless small talk without addressing the elephant in the room. We offer answers.

When Isaiah speaks of Christ he says, "He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Isaiah 53:3a
Jesus knew the outcome. He knew that He wins. He knew the purpose, He knew His Father, He knew that everything He did was good and would be redeemed. Yet he was acquainted with grief. Even with eternal perspective, Jesus still deeply felt His losses.

Being spiritual does not mean that we skip over grief. It doesn't mean we say, "You'll see your baby in heaven and I'm sure you'll have more." We don't smile and answer tritely, "Well, I'm sure it will all work out." We don't talk someone out of going to God with their questions and pain because our theology feels threatened. We can understand God's sovereignty and still have a good cry.

Jesus, as one acquainted with grief, is also the one who came to "give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

In the midst of grieving with friends and family right now; over lost babies, tumultuous marriages, depression, loss of ideals and dreams... I am still confident that Jesus is in the business of redemption...of our souls and our circumstances. I believe it's a privilege as a friend to walk the highs and lows, to pray on my knees for them...
and to sit with them when the sun rises again.


  1. Wow Shilo! As I sit here crying I commend you for posting this & for understanding. So many shy away from knowing what to say or do when their is loss. Just the willingness for us to sit in the mud with one another is so huge! You nailed it. You should write a book.

  2. Beautiful post. I am familiar with Jerry Sittsers book... powerful book... powerful post.

  3. Amazing...Thank God for giving you those words! They shed a new light on certain circumstances. It is incredibly selfish to worry about how "we" feel in uncomfortable situations and moments of loss for those close to us. When in all actuality, we need to be a shoulder to cry on for those going through those difficult situations. Thank you !

  4. wow. What a blessing of a post. Hey, don't forget me when you are famous, okay. Love you, proud of you

  5. Great words, Shiloh. I especially enjoy the illustration from Dr. Sittsers book about turning into the darkness to see the sun rise in time. People can also look to Jesus, who's last self-designation was "I am the Bright and Morning Star." At the darkest point of the night, the Bright and Morning Star shows up to say, "The dawn is coming!"

    I think it's also important to remember that while we get in the mud with someone, as the one giving care, we have our grip on something (someone) outside the mud pit as well. That way we don't lose ourselves either. We wouldn't be able to help our friends if we lost ourselves. What do you think?

  6. Thanks for sharing everyone. Lijah- don't forget ME when YOU'RE famous, sucker.

    Bethany- LOVE what you said about the Bright and Morning Star heralding in the dawn. Also love the imagery of having our grip on Christ in our empathy. Thank you for expanding on that.

  7. visiting and wow, shilo this was totally beautiful...so true how some people do not know how to react or what to say when a loved one is hurting. by extending a hug or smile and letting them know you are near or praying is what they need...no fancy spansy words, just a hug and knowing you are loved and being prayed for is so powerful. thank you for this post!

  8. I love this post Shilo (visiting from Mama D's). And as a mama who has also lost a child--I know how much those friends meant--who were willing to take on the uncomfortable pain and grief with me....just to walk through it with me.

    Recently wrote this post for a woman who lost 2 children in 24 hrs:


  9. I shared a few excerpts from this post, and asked my readers to hop over here to read the full thing.

    Thank you, Shilo, for sitting in the mud with me the past 3 months. Your love and friendship have meant SO. VERY. MUCH!


  10. Beautiful post. As one who has lost my mom and dad the last 2 years, my sister at age 53, an adopted child who we are estranged from, and two more adopted children with RAD, I know the path of grief. Your post is completely real and I thank you for that.

  11. Shilo that is my most favorite part of Sittsers book. I'm studying 1 Peter right now and again and again he tells us to not be surprised when grief and trial come. I'm so thankful for people that just hug and bring their presence when grief strikes. HE is faithful and HE is so ready for our honesty and realness that though we love HIM ouch hit hurts!

  12. I found your blog by accident, thank you for speaking of that fear, for permitting me mine, who'd of that just to be could bring so much terror...