C.S. Lewis used these powerful words to describe the loss of his wife, Joy: “Her absence is like the sky, spreading over everything.” Grief cuts deep and spreads wide. It leaves its frosty fingerprints on everything it touches. There are few things more agonizing than living under its shadow. Grief is a cold and lonely wilderness of lost love and unmet expectations. Often, survivors are encouraged or even told to move on. But how can one just move on from love? I think moving forward is a better concept. The valley of death is not a place to build a house. It is a place to mark on the map, a place to learn from, and a place from which to launch out with new direction.
As the Man of Sorrows, Jesus understood more about grief than any other human who ever experienced it. His deep understanding of human loss is evident in a statement He made about mourning in the Beatitudes. During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” This statement contains both a paradox and a promise that we should seek to understand.
Let’s examine the paradox first. I always thought this phrase to be somewhat perplexing. How can anyone say that the one who mourns is blessed? The word “blessed” is an interesting word. In fact, it could literally be translated “happy”; happy is the one who mourns. This seems to only further complicate Jesus’ statement. To understand what Jesus is driving at, we must understand the difference between grieving and mourning. Grief is the emotional internal pain felt as a result of a loss. Mourning is the external expression of that grief.
Notice Jesus did not say that the one who is grieving is happy, but the one who is mourning will be happy. Literally, Jesus was communicating the idea that happy is the one who grieves out loud! Happy is the one who expresses inward trouble outwardly. Jesus understood that physically, psychologically, and spiritually, mourning is directly related to the ability to move forward and that a failure to do so will inhibit progress.
The spiritual and the scientific do not need to be viewed as separate categories. Jesus’ words are fully compatible with recent studies on the positive effects of expressing emotions. Research shows that those who allow themselves to express sorrow—whether through tears, ceremony, or other avenues of mourning—are less likely to experience negative effects on their health and more likely to adjust to their new normal and find meaning after loss and in loss.
To those who have experienced recent loss, I encourage you to allow yourself the right to acknowledge that you are not okay. Your life has been forever changed. Acknowledge this often and openly. Allow the tears in your heart to become the tears on your cheek. Washington Irving beautifully said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep loss, and of unspeakable love.” It is fine to remove your “I’m okay” face and acknowledge that your heart has been broken. It is more than fine; it is necessary!
The idea that Christians who have enough faith shouldn’t hurt is preposterous. Jesus Himself contradicts that idea by His own actions as He wept over Lazarus. The wise man said there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Tears are God’s gifts given to aid us in our journey through the valley of the shadow. Research proves that tears serve as agents of healing in the grieving process. Mourning plays a role that only it can.
The paradox is “happy is the one who mourns.” The promise is that the one who grieves out loud will be comforted. Could it be that Jesus desired us to understand that comfort comes through mourning? Mourning is the bridge from the shadow lands to sunlit tomorrows? Comfort will not grow where mourning has not first prepared the ground. The happiness of a memory can often heal the heart, yet the sadness of that same thought calls the heart to continue its journey onward, forward, upward, and deeper in. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a leading expert in the field of grief and loss, recently suggested that one must say hello many times before one can ever say goodbye. Hello to a memory, hello to love, hello to loss. Mourning is saying hello; comfort is saying goodbye.
When joined with the promise, the paradox makes perfect sense; “Blessed is the one who mourns for they shall be comforted.” Mourning is the path to healing.
Grief can’t be “gone-avoided”; it must be “gone through,” so don’t be afraid to mourn your loss.
Do not succumb to the pressure to be okay when, in reality, you are not. Happy is the one who grieves out loud, for in mourning, they find comfort of body, mind, and soul.
Pastor Benjamin Webb