A Letter to the Grieving Christian

Christian Life & Theology

Dear Grieving Christian,

You think you have time to prepare. Sometimes you do. But all the preparation in the world can’t stop the way it overwhelms you. When that photo falls out from the album, or the world stops at the party where they should have been, the hollow carved by their absence cannot be ignored.

Christians grieve with hope. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

For people of eternal inheritance there is hope for reunification. Death is “see you later”, a gentle pause between life celebrations. Christians go from life to life.

And.

Paul assumes our grief. Paul assumes our mourning, our tears, our bewilderment at their absence. He assumes the void, the missing-him, the desire to be with them one more time. Paul is not telling us NOT to grieve. He is not spiritually bypassing our grief with platitudes about heaven (true as they may be) – he’s telling us: You will grieve, but you will grieve differently.

There is joy, peace, and sweetness in the death of a believer. We rest in the fact our Christian loved ones experience no more “death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). We rejoice at the thought of joining them! And yet here, earth side, we miss them. We yearn for them. We cry when we pick our phone to text them and realize they won’t answer. We swallow hard when we pass their favorite place. We grieve.

Some church traditions have so emphasized resurrection they’ve lost the power of the tomb. Easter is hope for us all, but Good Friday came first. Lazarus is a model of restoration, but Jesus wept before He raised him. Your permission to grieve is not a road to hopelessness. It’s not a lack of faith or denigration of heaven. It is human. 

As I grieve the passing of my uncle, who left us for the Lord on September 1st, I celebrate his painlessness in the presence of the Lord. And I experience my own pain at his loss. This is the tension for people of faith: We live in a broken world where people are taken from us on terms we would not choose, and we look ahead to a world where those people are restored. It is possible to celebrate resurrection hope while owning your sadness and loss. It may be a “joyous occasion” – but it probably won’t feel like it. I think of Jesus standing before Lazarus’ tomb, minutes away from raising him, with tears streaming down his face. Why? Why, if the joyous occasion was coming, would Jesus cry?

I think Jesus cried because of the brokenness. I think He cried because death exists and it isn’t what He wanted for humanity. I think He cried because He was in a human body, becoming our “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). And if Jesus cried before resurrection, we have permission to cry, too.

The night of September 1st I sat on our patio to watch the sun set. Wink by wink the stars settled into the deep blue and I wrote this poem for my Uncle Matt:

They say grief is love;

Love bewildered, love stopped short of its destination.

Where does grief go for people of resurrection?

It cannot rest in empty words;

It will not abide pithy platitudes.

You try to prepare for it

But nothing prepares you for a missing face in photos

Or when they don’t come waving out from the barn.

There is no hardening to such an absence – 

Carved out, hollowed deep.

Even hope-filled hollows hurt.

Even resurrection requires death.

Even Jesus wept at the tomb.

So to grieve with hope

A love with nowhere to go

Must meet the love that will not let us go,

And there, so slowly,

The grieving heart

Finds final home.

“They Say Grief is Love”: Phylicia Masonheimer

Dear Christian, you will grieve differently. But you will grieve.

Just like Jesus.

*Today is the final day to shop our new line of products. They happen to be themed “death has lost its sting”, something we decided back in July not knowing when my dear uncle would pass away. This shop is dedicated to him. You can get They Say Grief is Love as a free download or order the print version here.