Editorial: Like it or not, we need to grieve

Burned masa found in a tortilla chip bag. (Photo by Eric Black)

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The first half of March 2020 looked like an unopened bag of tortilla chips next to a bowl of fresh salsa on the table—full of opportunity just waiting to be enjoyed.

We opened the bag of chips, reached in our hand, and pulled out a chunk of … a chunk of … what in the world is this?

We look in the bag and pull out more and more chunks of inedible stuff. We sniff the bag and realize, whatever it is, it’s fouled the whole bag.

We sit back from the table and look from the bag to the bowl and back again, and for a fleeting moment, we think we might cry or pound the table with our fist. We had been looking forward to chips and salsa so much. And now, we waver between throwing the salsa out in anger, putting it away for another day, or doing nothing but throwing our hands up in exasperation.

How quickly what’s going up comes down. How easily anticipation gives way to disappointment. How badly we need to grieve.

Four postures toward grief

When I was a pastor, I encountered a lot of grieving people, and I don’t recall any of them liking it—grief, that is.

When it comes to grief, there seem to be four kinds of people:

• those who are comfortable with grieving,
• those who are confused by grief,
• those who are disgusted by grief, and
• those who resist grief.

The first person usually has been through grief before—maybe many times before—and has come to the place of acceptance. They don’t like grief, but they know peace in the middle of it. This person can grieve without grief overtaking life.

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The second person, though bewildered by the emotions of grief, usually is curious enough to learn how to grieve well.

The person disgusted with grief thinks grieving is weakness or some kind of weepy, crybaby kind of thing. The person who resists grief puts all of his or her energy into trying to fight it with brute force or a happy face, but no amount of trying will succeed.

Refusing or resisting grief often bogs a person down, preventing that person from moving forward in life and robbing him or her of peace and joy. The same is true corporately.

The third person and fourth person are in trouble. They usually don’t recognize they are grieving, even in spite of their disgust and resistance. Grief for them tends to last longer and overtake their lives.

Why we need to grieve

If we’re not at the place of the first person, we at least need to be at the place of the second—open to learning. We need to let ourselves grieve, because when we do, we agree with God that the world doesn’t work the way God intends. Grief is our agreement with God that the world is broken.

We need to grieve individually and corporately. As individuals, we need to acknowledge and work through the anger, confusion, denial, bargaining and sadness that comes with grief so we can come to the place of acceptance and peace. As communities, churches and a nation, we need to do the same.

We can start by listing sources of our grief.

Sources of grief

I grieve being in the same room with a friend but not being able to shake hands or hug that friend’s neck, because we’re taking precautions to keep from spreading COVID-19.

I grieve that my kids can’t hang out with their friends like they could before spring break last school year.

I grieve college graduates’ hope for a good job after finishing college being met with millions of lost jobs.

The coronavirus pandemic and its many facets are not all we need to grieve. The effects of sin in breaking our world are thorough. Sin does not wait for us to act, but clouds our very thoughts about each other, breaking our actions from their inception.

Therefore, I grieve wondering if the Black man I see at the store thinks I hate or fear him because of his race. Black men have plenty of reasons to suspect white men. We should grieve that.

I grieve the likelihood that the woman I see while out for a walk thinks I could be a threat because I am a man. Women have plenty of reasons to suspect men. We should grieve that.

I grieve how easy it is to carry the worst of our childhood into our children’s childhood, to repeat the negative patterns seemingly ingrained in our families and societies.

I grieve the ease with which we misunderstand each other, even when we speak the same language and use the same words.

I grieve the idea that others are trying to get one over on us and that we need to get one over on them—if not first, then one better.

I grieve the lack of trust we have in one another that keeps us from being honest and open with one another.

I grieve the envy, bitterness, greed and desire for power and control that govern our relationships, twisting good starts into dysfunction.

None of these things has any place between followers of Jesus or in the church; and yet, relationships between Christians are full of these things. I grieve that, too.

I grieve that the problem isn’t just out there in the world; it’s also in me. And sometimes problems I grieve over in the world find their cause in me.

That may be why some refuse to grieve. Grieving would require them to face the fact that not only is all not right out in the world, all is not right in us, either.

The hope in grief

But I do not grieve as the world grieves. I grieve with hope in the Redeemer, the Reconciler, the Restorer, the Healer.

Not only do I agree with God that all is not right with the world; I also agree God desires to fix it, can fix it and will fix it. This doesn’t mean we will be completely free of grief in this life, but that grief will come to an end eventually.

God often rights wrongs through those who follow Jesus—through their care, compassion, advocacy and suffering with those who suffer. Righting wrongs this way can take a long time, requiring us to grieve, work and hope for a long time.

Yes, we need to grieve, while also knowing the rotten bag of chips that is 2020 isn’t the only bag of chips on the shelf.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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