The emptiness of ‘Blessed are those who mourn’
We’ve all seen it, and heard it, and maybe even said it ourselves. I’m talking about the verse in Matthew (5:4) ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’. Jesus speaks these words in his sermon on the mount and they’re preceded only by ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. (Matthew 5:3).
When someone is in the depths of the pain of loss these words might just NOT be helpful.
Your wife, husband, partner, mother, father, son…. even your dog or your cat, has just died. Your eyes are swollen from all the crying. Your head hurts. Your heart feels like it’s going to burst inside your chest because the pain is so deep it’s taken over the place where your heart should be. You have no idea how you’re going to get through the next hour, never mind the rest the day, even less the rest of your life!
That life that no longer has that special being you always turned to in sorrow and joy and everything in between. That life that has left, maybe after a long illness, or maybe it’s been ripped away from you in an instant. Maybe it’s been taken by a silent virus and the precious life left this earth, seemingly alone, because you weren’t allowed near.
Now you can’t hold that life close to your bursting heart and tell it how much you love it. You can’t whisper that everything will be alright, that this too shall pass. There’s nothing in that space now.
And into this void someone speaks those well-intentioned words ‘Blessed are those who mourn…’. You shut your ears before the rest of the sentence is spoken because you know that right now, right here, you don’t feel blessed one little bit. In fact you feel abandoned! You feel hurt, let-down, disappointed and so many other things.
And these feelings are valid.
Losing a loved one is traumatic and we often don’t know how to respond to someone in emotional pain. We want to help, but don’t know how. For me it’s a little easier if that someone is also a Christian because we both have the hope of eternal life and understanding that death is part of the journey, just another step along the way to our ultimate destination.
Of course, words of comfort can be welcome and we want to hear them when we’re in pain. We want to know that someone else understands, that someone else knows what such depth of pain feels like. We shouldn’t let our fear of doing or saying the wrong thing paralyse us into inaction.
What can we do instead of ‘Blessed are those…?’
We need to remember that grieving is a process, and it's healthy. It’s something we need to go through, not over or under, or around, employing evasive tactics so that we don’t feel it. I remember sitting in a therapist's consulting room and being horrified at her telling me exactly that. I had to go through the pain of the traumatic break-up and deal with it! It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I’m so grateful that I took her advice and allowed her to guide me through the process.
I think recovery from loss should allow the time, and the pain, of the grieving process. God has equipped us with coping mechanisms for anything that life throws at us and grieving is no exception.
As much as we’d like to cover up our discomfort at someone’s grief by murmuring Scriptural platitudes that we don’t actually believe at that moment, it might be better to just let them BE. One of the most powerful counselling tools is to listen, and to listen actively.
How about letting the person cry and wail and throw things at the wall or do whatever other thing they need to do, even if it is retreating in silence? We all grieve differently. Sometimes it might be best to give the gift of silence, and acceptance, and just let them know that you’re there.
There was a song by The Byrds, popular in the sixties called ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, which is the first eight verses of Ecclesiates Chapter three, and very little else. ‘To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:…. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”.
What this tells me is that we need to allow ourselves, and others, the time to grieve, that the grief will pass and there will be dancing and laughter again. The grieving is for a season and yes, it will pass.
More importantly, it tells me that there is a purpose to it!
God is a God of purpose and God will use any means possible to care for us and to turn things in our favour.
The trick is to know when to let things (and people) BE and to stand beside them while the storm rages in the knowledge that there will be laughter and dancing again!