By Megan Jane Jones
It really is true that we are surrounded by grief. In this already (God is here— the kingdom is come) and not yet (we are waiting for Christ’s return and the fullness of what is to come) world of ours, loss and sorrow are very real.
On any given day, on an elevated train ride in Chicago, I can find myself sitting next to a man who has just stumbled his way through his work day, still reeling from his wife’s request for a divorce. The woman across from us has cried so many tears over the last two years, but today’s news has left her feeling numb. She will not be able to conceive a child.
We stop and a college student gets on. She is distracted. She is thinking of the little sister she has lost to the streets, an addict whose illness is killing her. Dressed to impress, a man bumps her shoulder as he exits. He has just come from an interview for another job he will not get, even though he is more than qualified. And then there is a boy in the back whose daddy died—too soon—just a month ago. Grief is all around us. It is a shared human experience and it binds us together, one to another.
Why is it that we are often reluctant to acknowledge it? What keeps us from reaching out to one another? Is it because we are afraid to make our friends even more sad? Or perhaps the feelings of loss and sadness hit too close to home and our experience with grief makes us feel too vulnerable. In our discomfort we shut down just a little bit.
We see someone we care about hurting and we want to make it better. We put so much pressure on ourselves to get it right—as if it were about right or wrong. We long to say the perfect thing, the thing that will be so deep in meaning and so full of hope that it will buoy our friend, our neighbor, our co-worker with strength and perseverance. It is so human to want to fix, to avoid pain, to “move on” as quickly as possible. Let’s face it. There are no perfect words.
Words are powerful. They help us paint the pictures of our minds and tell the stories of our hearts. Words give shape to our hopes, our dreams, and our fears. But there are times when words seem so limiting and somehow too small to say what we wish we could say. Words fail us. And they don’t seem like they are enough.
The month after my 17th birthday, my mom lost her battle with cancer. Everyday for four months I sat by her hospital bed wondering how I could be sure she knew how much I loved her, how happy I was that she was my mother. And things did change between us as I became caregiver to her, brushing her thick dark hair, painting finger nails that had never been long enough to paint before. I sat next to the woman who made my world a safe place and longed to do the same for her. I told her with my too small words “I love you, Mom.” Every day I prayed that those words were enough.
There were days when she was too tired, too bogged down by pain medications that she was unable to say much. And I found myself clinging to words from our shared past to sustain me, silly words, loving words that my mother sang to me in private:
“Megan Janey, Megan Janey, all I need is Megan Janey.”
How could she know how much strength and joy remain in those words still today. They are enough.
After she died, my friends, my truest friends, showed up completely unprepared and a little terrified. They didn’t try to tell me how I felt. They never tried to make it less than it was. These “kids” were so clear that this was something they could not fix that they did not try. “I’m sorry” was their refrain. It was enough.
This is what I think I learned about words that heal, words that comfort and console. These words are spoken and it is in the act of speaking—an act which requires your presence— that love is shared, and our connectedness is acknowledged. It is in the end, as it always is, about the relationship.
Faith in Christ is no bullet-proof vest. It does not make us immune to hardship in our lives. It does not save us from sorrow. But it does mean that grief and loss, death and dying do not define us. We are people of the living God and God is in the midst of this. God is our constant companion. God rails against the injustice of our pain. God grieves with us and for us, promising that this is not the end of the story.
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11: 25–26a)
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7–8)
We belong to God and it is more than enough.
The Rev. Megan Jane Jones is a child of God and an ELCA pastor currently living in Chicago. She is a sister, a friend, an aunt, an owner of three English Springer Spaniels. She loves tacos, donuts and snow!
1. What words have been a balm to you in times of deep sadness? Who shared those words with you? If you haven’t already done so, think about thanking them for their care for you.
2. What difference does your faith make in the midst of loss or grief? What are the faith stories that resonant with you, and give you comfort?
3. In what ways does our connectedness strengthen you for this life’s journey? In what ways does it challenge you?