Mourn With Those Who Mourn
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
America is observing Memorial Day today, a day set aside to collectively remember, honor, and grieve the loss of those who gave their lives in war. In recent history, however, this weekend has become known as the unofficial start to summer characterized by road trips, barbeques and pool parties. While it seems that we would all rather spend time rejoicing, many of us might actually identify more with the need to mourn together. It is an infrequent practice to sit with others and process grief together, in part because grief lingers and becomes uncomfortable. Our lingering grief occurs in stages, returns in waves, and can even interrupt our celebrations.
After a year of tremendous loss, it occurs to me that we may need to take some time to mourn together, especially as we recognize that we--or those around us--are stuck in one of the stages of grief. As first outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, when we grieve we often experience a series of emotions beginning with denial, then anger, followed by bargaining and depression before resulting in acceptance. The cycle can, in fact, occur in any order and repeat itself, especially as acceptance of our new reality becomes disrupted by new events. For example, it is common to have settled into a stable pattern following the loss of a loved one, but then feel out of sorts again when their birthday rolls around.
Similarly, most of us have experienced times throughout the pandemic when we had accepted the restrictions and found a new daily routine. We were okay until we missed out on something significant, couldn't celebrate something meaningful, or until the rules changed and we were forced to renegotiate everything all over again. You probably also know someone who seemed to get stuck along the way somewhere. A family member who denied some aspect of the pandemic, friends on social media who remained angry or constantly looked for someone to blame, loved ones who kept searching for ways to bend the rules or who became hopeless and depressed. It is hard to sit with people in these stages, and yet it is so meaningful--possibly essential--that we do so.
May 2021 saw the trial of Derek Chauvin and anniversary of George Floyd's death. These events and so many other acts of violence and racism also call for collective mourning. To acknowledge and sit with one another in the process, and to encourage movement from a place of denial or anger or depression into a place of acceptance. Let me be clear that acceptance does not mean resigning oneself to the situation; in this case it does not mean giving up hope for a world with less violence or racism or war. Instead, acceptance is a recognition of the present reality that positions us to make a plan for the future, to identify what is required, and to act accordingly.
As church-goers we often want to skip over the difficult steps because they are unbecoming. I suspect we also shy away because, in that bargaining stage, we face some of the most challenging questions of faith. Why God? Where are you in this? Where am I at fault? Do I trust God with the outcome? We promise God all manner of things as we beg for the life of a loved one or for things to be different in the world, and we struggle to understand when things fail to turn out the way we think they should.
Part of grief will always include confronting what we believe about God and ourselves. The scriptures are full of similar wrestling with God which is why I can say with confidence that we do not need to be embarrassed by bargaining or grappling with these challenging questions in the midst of grief. We may be accustomed to hiding our doubt and fear, but sharing it with God, and fellow believers, is more in line with what biblical wisdom and modern psychology would encourage. Recognizing these stages of grief in one another can help us to be less combative with those we meet who are experiencing denial or anger, and instead help us to make room for their process. Choosing to include God and others in our own process can help keep us from getting stuck or becoming hopeless. Moreover, it will actually strengthen our bond with God and those who come alongside.
While grief is deeply personal, there are collective experiences of war, pandemic, violence and racism that call for collective mourning so we can all move forward together. One of the most profound and convicting things I read in the last year was the suggestion that, in America, we have all been invited to grieve the racial injustices of our past and too many of us have chosen not to attend the memorial. What does our absence say to those around us? Perhaps by mourning with those who mourn we will also be more free to put love into action as Paul advised:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.