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“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… Is there no balm in Gilead?” Jeremiah 8
Change is hard! We are amid a huge change in our lives right now, especially for our 11 and 14-year-old kids. We are leaving the small village and close-knit community that they have always known and moving to a more suburban setting. They were born into the Schoharie Reformed Church and the church family has been their honorary aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas.
Now our changing pastoral positions mean that they must leave everything they have ever known and start over; leaving behind their church family, but also a school where they were known by name and supported by many, entering a school system that is at least four times larger and they are not known! We have the comfort of a new sense of calling; the kids do not.
We knew this was likely coming and had tried our best to prepare our kids for it. Ultimately, no prep would make the change easy.
There is much grief, especially because we have loved deeply. I keep telling the kids that we are all learning about grief. We note together it will come and go, and I encourage them to let it come and not suppress it.
I remind them that anger is a part of grief. There have been a few times where their anger has exploded and my first thought was “where did THAT come from?” which spurred my second thought, “Oh! Here it comes again: good grief.” I mean all the layers of the pun. Especially when my 14-year-old son who has not even taken driver’s training was so angry at his father and me for not letting him bid on a car auction (with money he did not have, might I add) for a car in Florida (we live in New York). We could not contain our laughter, yet his grief and anger were real. Good grief!
When the waves come, I’ve tried to name it and embrace them. My son will push away at first, denying it, but then at times burst into tears. My daughter’s tears come more easily, but unlike her brother, she has a hard time articulating her feelings. I remind them that grief work is hard work, and it is work. I remind them that while anger is a part of grief, they are still responsible for how they act. Sometimes we make messes in our anger, messes that we are responsible for cleaning up. We have to work to make amends and admit our faults.
In all of this work, I am often amazed that it does come and go and there are still moments of great joy and laughter between the waves of grief. It is like Psalm 126 suggests, when we face our grief and “sow our tears” we make room for our joy to bloom. This is not to say that the sorrow will all disappear, but that we often fear the sorrow will be unending and overwhelming. It is true that it may never end, but when we express it in healthy ways, it changes and makes room for joy and love and gratitude to keep growing in us at the same time. We are complex beings that can hold more than we think we can!
While I coach my kids through it, I am still learning myself. No one wants to grieve. No one plans for grief. This is learning none of us want to do. And, I, like most, have learned the hard way at times, as I’ve seen the impact of suppressing anger and not grieving well. I’ve seen how jealousy and envy can fester and anger outbursts lead to brokenness and bitterness, isolation and cut off. I’ve seen how meaningful ceremony and liturgy can be as we remember well, celebrate well, express all of our emotions as best we can, and honor what God has done and will do in us and through us as we move forward.
The Schoharie Reformed Church family did an excellent job of saying goodbye to us this past week. It wasn’t easy for anyone, just a part of the reality, yet we faced it bravely together. We acknowledged our learning together in God’s presence, the things we want to remember and take with us, and who we want to be as we move forward in separate directions. We told stories; we laughed and cried. We prayed, sang, and embraced. We blessed each other in our parting.
I look at our culture that seeks so hard to avoid grief, and I wonder if helping people learn how to grieve well is one of the most important roles of the church in these changing times. Even Jesus wept. The psalmist is constantly seeking to help us learn to lament as we bring all that we are before our God who is always desiring our full openness and inviting our honesty, even when it seems misplaced in the light of God’s glory. That is the beauty of our relational God: all of our emotions, including anger, are welcome as an expression of faith!
Change is a constant in our lives. We don’t like to admit it, but it is and has been from the beginning of time. We cannot avoid it. We can only learn to adapt and grief is always involved. Avoiding grief only creates isolation, brokenness, and more hardship.
Good grief: we all hate to grieve and we all must! Good grief is a lifelong learning process. May we embrace it, and by doing so, embrace God and each other a little closer.
PS – Sam agreed I could share this story, says he is still angry, and tried to bargain with me in agreeing to share. Good grief!