Acquainted with Grief
It is said of Jesus Christ, that He was and is, a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And while we hold images of His transcendent power to overcome and to heal, the defining act of His role as Redeemer was His decision to subject himself to gravest ills of what life has to offer. He chose to acquaint Himself with the grief that each of us experiences in life.
Consequently, my conviction is that each and every one of us must necessarily experience the same in our lives. Each of us will eventually bear company to that cold and quiet partner called Loneliness. How can we expect to ever follow Jesus Christ; How can we expect to become like God, our Father, if we do not also experience the immense sorrow that comes from the journey with such a partner?
I’ve come to learn that just as “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), our God also weeps, consistent with his exalted and perfected love. For grief is simply a manifestation of love in the presence of loss. Our Father who is in Heaven has lost much. One third of His children no longer want to return to Him. He watches as the rest of us batter and soil ourselves with trouble and sin. This is all a necessary result of His permitting us to choose to return to Him, yet as the perfect parent that He is, He weeps, He sobs at the most mundane suffering that we must incur. Grief, as much as love, is our birthright, our heritage, for we are created in His “image” (Genesis 1:27).
When we say, “Come, Follow [Him]” or “Hear Him”, do we also recognize that this implies our own acquaintance with grief? As we strive to hear Him, do we not only hear His guiding direction, but also hear His deep, pained pleas to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17)? Do we perhaps hear Him say, “these, my sheep, remain starving and cold in the rocks and hills. They are lost in a fearful torment. So, go. Go to where they are, see and understand for yourselves. Then return to me”.
So, given the likely reality of facing our own episodes of grief and and necessity of becoming further acquainted in an effort to follow Christ, I would urge you to do two things:
- Have a read of “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. While this book is comparatively new, these authors are well known for creating the model behind the famous 5 Stages of Grief. Those stages are often misconceived in our pedestrian use, as grief and loss are not linear events of patterned progression. Instead each of the stages represents an independent state of being, of responding to grief and loss. More than any other literature, this book rings true to my experience. While it is largely an intellectual approach, I must say that I have found myself crying on dozens of occasions reading its pages saying, “that’s how I feel; that’s me”. The level to which the authors are able to deliver an intensely personal taxonomy of the experience of grief has left me thankful for their dedication to the subject, especially considering that David finished this book shortly after the death of Elisabeth in 2004. The scriptures provide an extensive treatise on the healer of grief, yet they are understandably deficient in describing in detail what it means to grieve, particularly in our modern world. For this reason, anyone trying to practice “pure religion [and visit] the fatherless and widows [and widowers] in their affliction” (James 1:27), should also make serious the study of this book.
- Let’s talk about “pure religion”. Another way of saying this is “charity” or the “pure love of Christ”. As we pray with all our energy to be filled with this love, it would be good to remember how to practice it. Seeking out the one that grieves is likely the most accessible shortcut. If we do, we will have transformed. When Jesus Christ returns, we will see Him, and more importantly, we will be like Him. We will have been purified, even as He is pure (Moroni 7:47–48). Is there any greater endeavor in life?
My personal mantra throughout these excruciating 3 months has been: “That I may have this hope: to be like Him one day, to be purified, as He is pure”. And so, I acquaint myself with this grief, so that His pure love may persist into every aspect of who I am.
I said the experience of grief and loss is not strictly linear, as the stages explained in Kübler-Ross’ works are not. Frankly, how could we expect them to be? We believe in God’s eternal love, a part of one great whole. Could it be that He also righteously suffers an eternal sorrow for the losses He has experienced? Perhaps better said, isn’t His eternal sorrow just part of His infinite and inexhaustible love for us, his children? It’s not a process, rather it is who He is.
Life is just a mere introduction to the vastness of what He feels. We are taught how to love with a profundity that seems to defy modern conventions of social behavior. We are fortunate to experience joy that does not correlate with our circumstances. And, we get to sample the viscosity of grief and loss.
So, when life begins to feel comfortable, think of your God, who weeps.