Good Grief

“Life is pain, highness” says the blue eyed Westley to his fair Buttercup in The Princess Bride. “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

But most of us would rather listen to a salesman than Westley; because pain is, well, painful, and we prefer to ignore its thorny role in our lives. So we buy organic food, entrusting our health to pretty labels. We purchase the safest cars, entrusting our bodies to their protection. We pay for our kids to go to good schools, entrusting their futures to education. And we mortgage houses in the best neighborhoods, entrusting our very lives to the streets that we live on. In fact, some of us have learned to outrun trouble so well we seem to deny the existence of any pain at all in this life. At least that’s what our profile pictures and status updates say.

Then on the day when pain and trouble finally catch up to us, we crumble in their wake. But what if falling apart was not the worst thing that could happen to you in this life? What if constantly running from hurt keeps you from seeing the hurt in other people’s lives? What if avoiding grief also means avoiding good?

In Luke 16:33 Jesus gives us a warning similar to Westley’s—“In this world you will have trouble,” he says. But instead of cynicism, Jesus follows up by saying we can take heart, because he has overcome the world. So why do we parade about as if trouble never happens? Why do we blink back our tears, and hide our sad faces from the world? Why do we feel ashamed of any emotion that’s not insta-pin-able?

I’m not saying we need to live with defeat, walking around with gloom and doom tattooed on our foreheads. No, I’m talking about acknowledging the hard things in life, and learning to grieve our painful experiences in a good way. The fact that I have to specify what kind of grief I’m talking about is further proof that we’ve forgotten the real meaning of that word.

But the bible gives us a healthy picture of grief in the Old Testament books of Lamentations, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and even Job.

Wait a second—Job?

Isn’t he the one who praised God when he found out he’d lost his fortune, and everyone he loved was dead? Didn’t he fall to the ground and immediately proclaim, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away?” Isn’t he the guy who famously worshiped God in the midst of his suffering, saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?”

Yes, according to Job chapter one, those are his exact words, but take a look at the beginning of verse twenty. It tells us that Job shaved his head, and tore his robe, before he fell down to the ground in worship. I know the verse is only one sentence, but does that mean it happened all in one minute? Stop and think about it. What would shaving your head require, in the days before electric razors? And Job wasn’t just wearing a soft cotton t-shirt when he shredded his clothes either.

No, the actions described in this passage give witness to a man in extreme grief. What if a whole hour passed before Job could even say a word? What if an entire day, or a whole week went by before Job found it in his heart to worship God the way most of us define worship—with singing and dancing? Better yet, what if sitting in the ashes and crying is just as much a part of Job’s worship as what he says to God in verse twenty-one?

Psalm 62:8 tells us to “pour out our hearts to God,” and when we obey this command, even if our hearts are full of grief and sorrow, that obedience makes it an act of worship. Casting our cares on the God of the universe, knowing that he cares for us, is an act of trust for his children—even if it looks like complaining or being a sad-sack to the rest of the world. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, including grief. And when we take the time to process that grief well, God uses it for our benefit.

Our spiritual selves work much like our physical selves in that when we ignore our wounds, they’re bound to grow worse. It’s only when we take an honest look at our hurts that we can determine the medicine needed for healing. And healing brings about hope, that precious commodity that can’t be bought or sold, no matter how much money we spend. For hope is what we have in Jesus, the one who overcame this painful world with his life, death, and resurrection. Blessed be his name.

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