My wife and I have experienced loss and grief and have watched a number of others work through various types of grief. Whether losing a job, a child, suffering through an accident; life is full of times of loss, pain, grief, and uncertainty.
Although a deep subject written about exhaustively by a myriad of authors, three things seem true to me and are not talked about much:
1. Everyone is going to experience loss and grief.
The question is how we mitigate risk and how we deal with the physical and emotional fallout when it happens. Outside of the “don’t-be-stupid” kinds of common-sense decision making, mitigating risk to avoid potential loss is an empty pursuit. Many people try to sanitize life. They expend incredible amounts energy wrapping their lives up in bubble-wrap trying to avoid the inevitable. Many support government regulating everything to prevent anyone from getting hurt. Others micro-manage their family members to ensure “safety.” Both miss out on adventure as they seek insulation from potential pain. They can’t accept the fact that risk is one of the things we are created to take and make life a joy to live. When loss and grief hit, these people are ill-prepared to work through it.
2. Everyone has brokenness.
Sin comes with brokenness. We are born into it. Depravity comes with damage and malfunction. Those of us who are Christ-followers have an “Old Man” that is riddled with this and a “New Man” that is healed of these things. We are supposed to put off the old man and put on the new. This is often harder when we feel broken, which leads me to the third truth:
3. Loss and grief do not break people. Grief exacerbates brokenness.
As we have experienced difficult times along with the side-effects that come with them and as we’ve watching others suffer through grief, I have noticed that there is a big difference between natural pain and unnatural pain:
Some things in life are inevitable and natural. Death, taxes, disappointment, loss, and grief. Although part of this fallen world and a result of sin; they are “natural,” inevitable, and are just going to happen. We are built to withstand these things. There may be no more painful thing than losing your own child – whether a miscarriage after striving to get pregnant or a teenager dying in a tragic accident; but we are built to work through these things. Life has loss built in. Life has grief built in.
Some things in life are unnatural. Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are not natural. When a person is abused by another, especially someone who should be caring for them, these things cause new breaks. The old man is inherently broken but these kinds of unnatural injuries to our minds and bodies cause breaks that are new and extraordinary. They are debilitating. When I say “loss and grief,” I’m not talking about these kinds of unnatural blows to our humanity that must be addressed as brokenness that requires restoration and healing in their own unique ways.
So…what’s my point?
Grief and sorrow as a response to loss is a natural reaction. Loss is inevitable in some form or another. Some losses are brutal while others are just disappointing. Either way, there is a process to move through these seasons. My hypothesis right now, based on my experience, is that loss and grief do not break us. They don’t create brokenness. We aren’t damaged by it. Grief simply dredges up and exacerbates existing brokenness. That “old man” becomes harder to put off. Our “new man” grieves too and is harder to put on. Cracks in the old man are more visible as grief pours over it and exposes old wounds.
This should be encouraging those grieving and feeling broken. Although brokenness is there, it can be put off! If we “embrace the suck” and allow ourselves to grieve as we reach out to God and ask for help putting on the new man, eventually we’ll find that we not only find a new normal in our lives but we have tools and experiences at our disposal unique to our experience and useful for the Kingdom. God, in time, heals. Grief doesn’t make us more broken – it should only remind us how beautiful and precious the gift of the “new man” really is. Grief and pain are never worthless and are always opportunities for strength and growth.