Until very recently, I’d always associated grief with death. Mourning the loss of a family member, or a friend who’d passed away. As I started getting more involved in Flood, I’d heard the term used more frequently, as people described their processes of getting over a breakup or a loss of friendship. But I think it’s only been in, really the last week, that I’ve started to realize how integral grieving is to the human experience, and how frequently it’s required.
Grieving is the healthy way of processing a loss we’ve suffered. But in order to process, we first have to acknowledge that we’ve suffered a loss. I’ve found that in happy transitions, like starting a new job, going from high school to college, or getting married, the grieving process tends to be shortchanged because “we’re celebrating!” We completely ignore the fact that there may be parts of our old job, or our hometown, or our singleness that we’ll miss. Then in harder transitions, like a divorce, the aging process, or an ending friendship, though the losses are clearer, we want to skip the grieving process because the pain is too difficult to look at. And it’s true that depending on where you are in your life, and what you’re grieving, the process can look different. Sometimes you skip right through to Acceptance, other times it feels like you will only ever feel Sadness and Anger for the rest of your life. It can get really overwhelming.
Chapter 7 of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (aka EHS, the book I’ve been reading as recommended by my therapist) is about grieving and what it looks like to grieve properly. The first step noted in the book is to pay attention to your emotions. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, heartbreak, fatigue, disappointment, etc. Not only is this counterintuitive because we are choosing to move towards pain, it’s also extremely counter-culture. Suuuuuuuuper un-American. We’re not taught to sit and feel, we’re taught to get up and go. Pick yourself up! Dust yourself off! “If you don’t like your circumstances, change them”—basically the foundation of the American Dream. And hey, if you can’t change it, go grab a drink! Pick up a new hobby, buy a car, go shopping! Distract yourself, because sitting and feeling sad is “wallowing”, it’s pathetic. “Why cry over something you can’t change?” I 100% agree that wallowing and self-pity are not healthy avenues to venture down, but grieving is not either of those things. It’s not getting selfishly absorbed into your own emotions, but rather giving them their due space as you continue to live your life. Because when we don’t— when we ignore, bury, or stuff our feelings— we get numb. We become caricatures of ourselves with painted smiles on our faces (EHS). And to be honest, I think Christians are the worst at this. The WORST. Because for whatever gaps in our counterfeit façade we find, we can plug them right up with a bible scripture at the ready. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4) “The joy of the Lord is my strength!’ (Nehemiah 8:10) “He has not given us a spirit of fear but that of power, of love, and of a sound mind!’” (2 Timothy 1:7). We just say shit— we’re just saying words like robots in an attempt to bury our loneliness, fear, resentment, sorrow, and all the other hard things we’re feeling. And it results in alienating ourselves, because it is literally inhuman to feel happy all the time. God Himself isn’t even happy all the time, it’s unsustainable.
One of my favorite things Pete (we’re on a nickname basis now) says in this book is that true spirituality is rooted in facing reality. If your parents didn’t know how to love you well, and when you look back it makes you sad, be sad about it! If you really need a new job and you’re hitting dead ends and it’s frustrating, be frustrated about it! If you’re single and you want to be in a relationship but it’s just not happening right now, and you’re mad, be mad about it! Don’t try to explain what you’re feeling away with some platitude about how you’re fine because you know God is really working with you through this time. He is, but you’re not fine. Maybe you’re mad at Him. And if you are, I highly encourage you to let yourself feel that. One of the most freeing things I ever learned was how to curse at God, honestly. Because spoiler alert: He already knows you’re pissed. You’re not fooling anyone by praying passive aggressively through gritted teeth.
In the same way we can never successfully hide our emotions from God, I don’t think we can successfully hide our emotions from each other either. I mean we sure do try though, amirite?! Lord knows we give it our best shot, but despite our efforts, we start to “leak” out all over everyone around us (EHS). All that unprocessed anger and sadness comes out in passive aggression, bitterness, judgment, blurred boundaries, and fakeness. Not to pick on Christians again (always picking on Christians), but who hasn’t heard people in the church described with at least one of those things? Yeah, I wonder why.
The second thing Pete says we have to do to grieve properly is to wait. I know, it just got worse. Literally the only thing less appealing than allowing ourselves to actually feel all of our negative emotions is to then release control over when it will end. Again, I’m not advocating wallowing, or abdicating from your life. Sometimes in certain grieving processes, taking a break becomes necessary (#BereavementDays). Do as much as you can, be around people who love you, but keep allowing yourself to feel what you feel. This is when it gets gnarly because then we’re like “Well for how long? How fucking long am I going to cry about this? How long is my blood pressure going to shoot up every time I think of this situation? How many times am I going to want to punch a wall when that person comes up in conversation?” And you know what man, I don’t know. There was more to Pete’s step-by-step but it kind of all boiled down to these two things. We feel and then we wait. And then at some point, through continuing to process, wrestle, and surrender, we make it to the other side— usually well outside of our preferred timetable. Because I don’t know anything about you, your life, your process, or God’s process with you, I can’t guarantee what the end of your grieving will look like. Hell, I can’t even guarantee what the end of my grieving will look like. But I have to think that as scary and as painful as grieving can be, it’s better than burying our emotions, trying to paint a happy face on, and then leaking passive aggressively all over our friends. Be honest with yourself about how you feel. Be honest with God. And if it requires so, be honest with trustworthy people you’re in relationship with. I know it hurts, but I’d rather that than the painted face. If you would rather the painted face though, I mean hey, no shame, we’re all just trying to figure it out. But if you need me, I’ll be in the corner crying.
“The quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise.”