Two weeks ago, I was voicing my frustration about this current situation to my wife, when it dawned on me what a dominant emotion sadness had been for me.
It was a corner-turning moment for me.
It was the moment I realized I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of “what was.” I was admitting it for the first time, and it brought necessary self-awareness.
Author Henry Cloud once defined grief as “accepting the reality of what is.”
In this post, I make a case for why we must grieve well. But first, here’s why I don’t think we proactively grieve.
Why We Don’t Proactively Grieve
1. It Feels Selfish
There are people who are hurting more than we are because they’ve lost a job, gotten sick, or have lost a loved one. Besides, there are other people we need to take care of right now, so we must be strong for them.
At least, this is what we can tell ourselves. The comparison of losses can undermine our willingness to grieve.
2. We Feel Like We’re Losing Control
For others, the most significant present loss is the feeling of control. To admit we are grieving would be to admit we have lost control. That is very frightening to some of us. We would prefer a negative certainty.
When we’re afraid of being sad, we will do all we can to avoid sadness.
Why We Must Grieve Well
1. You Won’t Move Forward If You Don’t
Or you will, but not in a healthy way.
You’ll experience continual internal frustration because of bottled up emotions. While time ticks forward, you’ll be living in the past, disabling you to reconcile your new normal of “what is” to “what should’ve been.”
This is why those who don’t grieve well leak sideways. They lash out in frustration and anger. They’re pessimistic and critical. Or, they have abnormal sleep or pursue escapism by binging on food or entertainment.
But, grieving opens the release-valve of bottled up emotions. Henry Cloud says grieving “allow[s] us to come to terms with the way things really are, so that we can move on. Grief is a gift of God. Without it, we would all be condemned to a life of continually denying reality, arguing or protesting against reality, and never growing from the realities we experience.”
Grieving is an act of surrender. It’s a humble acceptance of reality. And, it’s the first step in moving forward.
In Deuteronomy 34:8 (ESV), after the death of Moses, it says “the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.” If you’ve ever wondered why this lament was permitted when they were readying to enter the promised land, I believe it’s because God knew their human wiring and the effects from the fall.
They needed to grieve in order to enter the promised land well. In the same way, grieving frees us to move into the future.
2. You Won’t Be Able to Care Well for Others
There are others around us needing comfort and hope during this time.
But, as long as we have not received comfort or experienced the hope and peace that comes rushing in after we grieve, we will not be able to extend to others that which we have not experienced ourselves.
Even worse, the contrary may happen.
If someone around us is joyful, we may want to extinguish their joy. If someone around is at peace, we may want their peace disrupted. This is because the joy and peace of others will haunt and pester us for our inability to experience the same things.
But, if our pent-up valve of grief is released, we will have an available emotional capacity to sit with someone in their grief and disappointment. We will be able to hear someone else’s fears and sadness and feel emotionally secure in the conversation. We can engage out of overflow.
Paul exemplified this when he said, “[God] who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
This means the first step to care for others is to grieve ourselves. In giving ourselves permission to grieve, we will be able to give the same permission for others.
Practical Ways to Grieve
1. Set Up a Meeting.
Sometimes, we need a compartmentalized time and space to grieve. So, whether you’re inviting in a family member or friend, set aside a time, give a heads up on expectations (“I’m not well. I need to talk.”) and launch into it. It doesn’t have to be elegant or well-framed. It just needs to be honest.
2. Write Down Some Thoughts.
Some call it journaling, and others call it reflective writing, but it helps to take the hodgepodge of thoughts and channel its energy outward through a pen on a piece of paper. You may be surprised what you write, but at least you’ll have greater clarity of what’s swimming around in your mind.
3. Go Outside.
There’s something about leaving your house and seeing others, roads, and sky that helps us to think more clearly. Getting out of the house can draw our thoughts out of us. Go for a run, walk, or a drive.
There’s Good News
You and I have a Savior who is acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
Jesus currently sits on the throne, but He also hung on a tree.
And so, He knows better than anyone that resurrection follows a death.
So, grieve. He can handle it. He is near to the brokenhearted. (Psalm 34:18)
He knows how to sympathize with you and me. (Hebrews 4:15)
STEVE BANG LEE is a husband, father, and Pastor of College Ministry at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Steve has ministered in Asian immigrant, Asian-American, and multi-ethnic church contexts and enjoys speaking, writing, strategizing, vision casting, and mobilizing teams.