Over the course of a lifetime, it is likely we will all experience loss. Anyone who has gone through a major transition or the death of a loved one knows the consuming nature of deep sadness. Losses enter our lives in a multitude of forms. The deaths of grandparents, children, parents, friends, spouses, teachers, pastors, or pets bring deep pain. The end of relationships and the termination of jobs do, too. Goodbyes can be devastating. We grieve, and we lament.
A time to mourn and a time to dance
Ecclesiastes reminds us of an important truth about grief. In life, there are many seasons. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Weeping and mourning are part of life.
The Bible contains many instances of people lamenting losses in their lives. Jesus wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus. David grieved his past indiscretions in the Psalms. When Job’s life was falling apart, he cried out to God in deep distress.
God’s word gives us permission to experience real, raw emotion. We don’t need to stuff our feelings away. We don’t need to cover them up with a smile or make-up. Faith gives us freedom to feel what we feel. Our expressions of grief can be both public and private. Social media tools can serve as helpful resources during seasons of lament. Small groups, conversations with friends, communal worship, journaling, and meditation can be useful, too.
A heart so full of grief
When I was 19, my grandma died. Prior to her death, she spent several heart-wrenching months in hospitals as doctors attempted to treat an infection she contracted after a hip replacement.
It was a time of intense emotions for Grandma Verona and all who loved her. It was awful to see her in such terrible pain. There was one moment in the Intensive Care Unit when my heart was so overwhelmed with grief that I ran into the hospital bathroom and wept until I crumpled up on the gray-tile floor. I remember yelling: “God, do something! Please just help!”
I experienced a long season of lament after she died. There was no going back from journeying with someone as she traveled through the valley of the shadow of death. I was changed and overflowing with emotion.
In the years immediately after Grandma’s death, I turned to public and private outlets to process the loss. I wrote songs and poems about it. A short story, too. My friend, Angie, sat with me in our college dorm room one day as I described what it was like to be with my grandma when she died.
Many social media tools were not yet available in the early 2000s. But email was widely accessible, and I utilized it regularly to connect with a network of support. During that time of lament, it was very important to have a variety of outlets to express what I was feeling.
Learning to live with loss
In preparation for this article, I contacted several friends who have recently experienced major losses and challenges. I asked them about the roles writing, social media, and direct support have played in their journeys.
Jamie, who recently experienced a stroke, shared, “I ball my eyes out every time I write….It is so much easier to be lost in your thoughts and feelings without wondering what someone is thinking [when you are writing].”
Joy, whose daughter died several months ago, expressed how meaningful it has been to express her grief through online posts and journaling. “It is easier to voice feelings and emotions because no one can interrupt, make you feel bad for what you are saying.”
Many people choose to share their emotions of loss with others. Sometimes it is over a cup of coffee with a dear friend. Other times it is through posting a Facebook status update. In sharing our feelings with others, we often find we are surrounded by a network of support and encouragement.
The Bible not only gives us a strong precedent for the honest expression of emotions, it also invites us to be loving brothers and sisters in faith to those in deep grief. In his book Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, Michael Card writes about how important it is for people of faith to support one another in times of loss. He writes, “The degree to which I am willing to enter into the suffering of another person reveals the level of my commitment and love for them.” The Apostle Paul wrote letters to the people of many early churches. In the letters, he included many exhortations to love, encourage, and comfort one another throughout all of life’s ups and downs.
Perhaps you are currently deep in the belly of grief. Or maybe there is a person on your prayer list at church who recently lost a spouse. The realities of loss enter into our lives in many ways. Hold tight the truth that God has created us with the capacity to feel emotions. The ability to express how we feel with God and others is not something to be avoided; it should be embraced. In all of life’s losses, know that God is near, and we are free to be completely authentic with our ever-present, ever-loving Creator.
1. What guidance would you share with a person entering into a season of grief and lamentation?
2. How might a Facebook wall serve as a modern day platform for public lamentation?
3. As Christians, how does our faith give us the freedom to publicly and privately express our genuine emotions to God and to one another?
Lord of life, you created us with emotions. In times of lament, give us the courage to openly express how we feel with you and with others. We pray also that you would equip us to be compassionate toward those who are experiencing grief. Amen.
Pastor Emily Carson is the director of communications for the Southeastern Minnesota Synod. She also writes a weekly column for the Rochester Post-Bulletin. Emily loves laughter, photography, blogging, and the library.