There is so little room for grief in western society, yet it is not something anyone can avoid. Today grief sits heavily on my heart. I’m returning home from a trip to my childhood home for the Celebration of Life for the woman who was often more maternal than my own mother. She had been my next-door neighbor and my mother’s best friend for many, many years. It was good to be there and spend time with her daughters who are the sisters I didn’t have by birth. Still, I head home full of grief for Ellie, for my mother, for all the others who touched my life in some way and have since died. And there is the expectation that I will be done with grief and resume my daily life. How do I honestly grieve in a world that wants us all to “move on” and “put the sadness behind”?
I read the laments of ancient Israel and my eyes fill with tears. They had lost so much – people, home, identity, a way of life, a sense of being God’s chosen. They were able to sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep, not just once but over and over again. They did not want to sing the songs of happier days. They could, however, look back and name what they lost and turn it into a prayer for days yet to come. This is what is missing today. We feel the sadness. That’s the not the problem. It’s the pressure to put it away and move on with life long before the blessings bubble up. Before we can find laughter and hope amid our tears we are supposed to be back to work, school, life, whatever. And no one really wants to examine how every fresh grief touches all the other grief that came before it. We’re just supposed to get back to “normal.”
That’s the funny part. I’m sitting here thinking that all of the women who raised me, who were a generation or two older, have died. Yes, I have women friends who are that generation or two older, but that is not the same as the ones who remember me in the years before I remember me. There’s nothing “normal” about this and all that is lost with them. While there have not been shared holidays for many years, now the hope of “just one more” has died as well. I’m not sure what to do with this loss, this sadness over what will never be. However, I don’t want to ignore it and pretend that there isn’t this enormous sense of loss running through the middle of my life.
I want to continue the conversations begun over the last few days of remembering. I want to think of those Christmas dinners where my mother made way too much food and invited seemingly random people to share the feast. I want to dream about having all the people I most love in the world around a table for just such a Christmas feast. I want to remember the laughter and be honest about the tears. How great would it be to name the fears, the challenges, and the struggles that separated what was once family? Moreover, to honor the loss of our mothers by maintaining the connections we’ve started to reform. There is much to lament. Yet, there is hope.
We are bound together by a love that never ends. We can honor that love with our tears and our laughter and let it keep us connected. If not, then we allow unacknowledged grief to feed the all that conspires to keep us disconnected and lonely. We can learn from those ancient ones and make room for ourselves and others who grieve to sit down and weep. We can make it acceptable for the songs to be silent for a time. We can stop expecting people to be fine within a week, a month, a year, or ever, when they have lost someone or something dear to them. The only wrong way to grieve is not to do it.
Lamenting what we have lost helps us heal, helps us realize what we have and make room for what might come. Strangely, I think Jesus’ comments about faith the size of a mustard seed has something to do with this. We get so focused on what we think is “normal” or expected and we do not allow room for the Spirit to stir within us. We try so hard to do what we’re supposed to do, that we forget how deeply God knows us and loves us. There is no feeling, no loss, no sadness in which God cannot find us. This means that we are never cut off from Love. We try to make everything about us instead of remember that God wants nothing more than for us to live into a future filled with goodness and hope. Faith can help us move through the mountainous grief that threatens to bury us, if we let it.
God does not take the people we love from us. However, there is comfort and healing in trusting that God’s love is greater than our pain. In time, healing will come, especially when we are seeking to bring more Love into the world. The hard part is being honest with where we are and what we need. God’s love for us does not end even if it seems inaccessible when we grieve. Today, I am sad and tears come easily, and I’m okay with that. I can already see glimpses of hope and healing through my tears. For now, though, I will continue to lament even if the rest of the world thinks I should move on.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in God.”
RCL – Year C – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6 with Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 or
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 with Psalm 37:1-9 and
2 Timothy 1:1-14