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Grief + Christianity

*A version of this post originally appears on Beloved Brooklyn—post can be found here.

 

Growing up, I was taught that as a Christian, grieving was oxymoronic. True Christians, ones that really believed in the Lord didn't experience grief, or at the very least, show it. I attended funerals and heard “Don’t cry!”, “God doesn’t make mistakes”, “This is not a time to mourn, this is a time to rejoice”, and so on. When people lost a relationship or a job, it was met with similar responses like “why be sad? If the Lord brought that/provided that, He can provide something better”, or “emotions cannot be trusted, they are fleeting”. No matter the situation, it seemed that the appropriate response to grief was praise and total trust in the Lord that what He allowed had no error. Except. At those very same funerals, and at cemeteries, and in bedrooms, and in bathrooms, I heard and saw that there was another part to the story. People were feeling something. Something that made them wail and sob, attempt to go down with the caskets, and isolate themselves from the rest of the world. That something was grief. And while there was truth to the responses that we were taught, it excluded the fact that people needed to feel, and did feel, the weight of the loss, so that they could absorb it, and heal from however it impacted them.

Then, at 18 years old, I was faced with responding to the death of my Father. At the time, I was recently baptized with a fervent zeal for the Lord. I was super active in church and a leader in multiple ministries. My concept of God rested in the belief that nothing was impossible for Him, including healing, and that all I needed to do was believe. And on the day my Father died, I did. I prayed harder than I ever prayed in my life and I just KNEW that my Father would make it and we would witness a miracle of life. But. We didn’t. And for the first time, I had to personally reckon with what it meant to grieve as a Christian. Initially, I pulled on what I was taught. I thought that people would doubt if my relationship with God was really true if I grieved. I felt like everyone was watching to see if what I professed would match my response. How could I say I believed in the perfect will of God but be sad about what He allowed? I felt like I had no choice but suck it up and outwardly give God praise.

Yet, simultaneously, something was happening inwardly. Grief. I had experienced a loss so profound that it changed me and my concept of God along with it. I lived with a deep sadness that gnawed away at me and would not go away with scripture or praying or praising or proclaiming how perfect the will of God was. I could not believe that the Lord could be good and allow someone I loved to die. I could not understand why when the Lord had the power to heal and could, He didn’t. I could not understand why the Lord wanted me to believe in Him only to disappoint me. I could not believe that the Lord actually loved me. I ignored these feelings. Bottled them up. Pretended that my Father’s death didn't happen. Continued operating in ministry. However, feeling dissonant, I wondered if there was a response that would allow me to feel the weight of my loss and still maintain my faith in the Lord. Almost a year later, that response came. A friend of mine who was watching me wrestle with grief, said “Felicia, you have to admit your Father is dead”. I was so angry at her for daring to say those words to me that I got up and left the room we were in. But inside me stirred. I walked to a stairway, sat on the ground, looked up to the sky, and admitted it, saying five words: “Lord, I’m angry at you”. I cried for a long time but felt a peace I hadn't felt since the day I lost my Dad.

It was then that I knew grief and God were not on opposite sides of the spectrum— they went hand in hand. God wanted me to grieve. God wanted me to be honest. God didn't want me to go through the motions of religiosity and tradition and church culture—God wanted me to be genuine. Why? Because it was only when I was honest about how I felt that He could comfort me. And not just in that moment—continuously. Every time I bottled my grief back up. Every time I “forgot” my Dad was dead. Every holiday and every birthday and every Father’s day. Every time I saw my siblings or Mom or other family members sad. Every time a friend mentioned him. Every time something reminded me of him. Every time another family member or family friend died. Every time a friend or loved one’s parent died, even as I comforted them. Just about every day for the past eight years. Even as I’m writing this. But I had to be honest. And still do.

Consequently, this idea of honesty in grief and faith lead to me to Job. In Job Chapter 1 (ESV), upon hearing the news that he had lost his possessions and his children, the scripture says “then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (v. 20-21).  Job displays for us how grief and faith go hand in hand. First, Job grieved. He rent his clothes and shaved his head, both customary signs of mourning in his time. Then Job worshipped, acknowledging the sovereignty of God to give and take, while simultaneously proclaiming that his faith remained in Him in either scenario. He grieved honestly so that he was free to worship and maintain his faith. His grief did not stop him from believing in God and His faith in God did not stop him from grieving.  

Truthfully, there are many days that I’m still in the first sentence of that scripture. Even eight years later, I am still grieving, especially since early on, I tried so hard not to. Grieving is a process. Day by day, moment by moment process. A unique journey with no time limits or time recommendations. Without guilt. No matter how many years it’s been. Most importantly, grief is not the opposite of faith. Honesty is not the opposite of trust. For healthy relationships with God, we must embrace our emotions. God is not calling us to leave our emotional selves behind. I am not saying we let our emotions run rampant—I am saying we submit them to God so that He can help us deal with them. So grieve. Honestly. And let the Lord continuously comfort you with His perfect peace.