I always had a suspicion that the order of things mattered. It seems significant that the first beatitude is about being poor in spirit. I find great comfort that the Kingdom is for normal people and maybe the first step is realizing that we are accepted. I’m glad that Jesus put that one first. However, I can’t say that I am as excited about the second statement.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NASB)
I’ve never been a fan of funerals. I don’t remember my family being emotional. I know my mother cried—it kind of comes with the territory when you raise four boys. I only went to a couple of funerals in the first 20 years of my life. Suffering, grief and mourning didn’t sound like something I wanted to experience. Until I became a pastor, I pretty much avoided it all together. But, real comfort generally only comes when we mourn. In his version of the beatitudes, Brain Zahnd implies that mourning and grieving “creates space to encounter comfort from another.” I started to understand this, like most people, when my Grandpa Joe died.
For the first time, I really allowed myself to feel what it is like to mourn. I had spent every birthday for the first 18 years of my life with he and my grandma. He was one of the most interesting people I knew at the time and I could truly see the impact he made on people and the void that his death would bring. It personally affected me, and I had to engage that loss. So, I wrote a poem that I was able to read at the funeral. He was one of those people that had to have their funeral in a gymnasium because of the love people had for him. That was a great tribute, but it just made it harder to process my grief and I was tempted to fade back into the shadows. I’m glad that I was able to get through it – it helped me greatly.
I always tell people that funerals are not FOR the person that is deceased, but they are ABOUT them. It’s a time to remember and talk about that person but it doesn’t really do them any good. Conversely, funerals and memorials are not about us, but they ARE for us. Jesus decided the second thing he would say in the Sermon on the Mount is that mourning is a good thing – we need it and it’s necessary! But, funerals are not the only place that we mourn. At least a couple of these ideas were nurtured by my good friend, Dr. Paul Fitzgerald.
The mistakes we make. This type of mourning begins when we become aware of the our shortcomings. Ignorance is bliss, but it usually doesn’t lead to healing or anything productive. However, when we humbly acknowledge our mistakes and change our course, make amends and forgive ourselves; then, we can move from our pain and suffering into healthy change. When we acknowledge that what we are doing is ineffective or admit where we failed, we can find freedom to change our life instead of repeating cycles of spin and self-pity.
The times of significant change in my life have generally been when I allowed myself to be truly be sorry for the way I was living. The story that I was telling myself about my life had to be the story that was true. It hurt to see the real me. However, until I faced the painful reality, change was extremely difficult.
Empathy and love. The way I understand empathy is the term “me too.” Shame loves isolation. Dr. Paul Fitzgerald says, “Mourning is sometimes empathy and love that expands to identify with the grief of all humanity and the suffering of others.” William P. Young says, “If anything matters, then everything matters.” Empathy gets beyond what matters to us and actually feels the pain and suffering of others. Jesus mourned over people and cities and even his personal friend.
I am tempted at times to live my life in a bubble. People make things messy. Life is hard—life is painful—people just make it even harder. At those times, I am tempted to just go to work, come home and “mind my own business.” Some of us were even taught this as kids. We were told “tend to your own knitting” or “mind your own beeswax” or even just “do your own thing.” Real mourning is not just dealing with our personal loss, it is also going outside ourselves to tend to the needs of others.
Personal Loss. Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on at a funeral. After 20 or so years in ministry, I think I understand less than I did when I started. There is a deep need to come together and grieve. It’s seems that all of us have different things we want to do at the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job or even the ending of a relationship. Probably the only thing I know for sure is that if we don’t mourn the loss, we will experience repercussions later down the road. If we don’t feel the pain of the loss, we will see it in our anger or depression or sadness at a future date when we least expect it. Comfort most often comes from mourning.
Jesus found comfort through his mourning. The church fathers used to say “The unassumed is unhealed.” Like Jesus, we must take on the pain of alienation, suffering, or the loss of friends and feel it to find comfort. When Jesus mourned over Jerusalem and Lazarus, He gave us a model of the path to finding comfort. He experienced the feelings—He wept—He found comfort!
Comfort is not excusing the situation of giving patronizing platitudes. Comfort cannot be found in avoiding the pain or even in delaying it. In most cases, we cannot comfort ourselves; but we “will be comforted” when we decide to intentionally mourn.
Steps to comfort. Like most things, principles cannot always be reduced to a formula. But, here are a few suggestions from a late bloomer in mourning.
- We must acknowledge the reality of life that some things about it are difficult. There are things about life that are painful and avoiding those things only makes them more complicated and sometimes more painful. It wasn’t easy to go to my grandpa’s funeral, but it was good!
- We should learn to lean into the things that are painful. Regardless of our personality or temperament, eventually we will have to talk about, feel, and process the things that cause us pain. At certain points, we might even need to grasp the reality that it’s okay to not be okay for a while—and that, my friends, is painful! Leaning into pain seems wrong at first, but most often pays great dividends.
- As we begin to heal, we acknowledge what is changing. Change is not only okay, it is often necessary. Just because things will be different doesn’t mean they can’t be beautiful. It is important that we embrace necessary change even when we don’t fully understand. Maybe, it is like embracing the future instead of clinging to the past. My life is different without my grandpa, but it is still a beautiful life.
Jesus needed to mourn to be comforted. I probably should have just left It there, but, I know that all of us try to minimize our experience involving grief and pain. There really are no shortcuts to healing or growth. There are probably a dozen things that I mourn about currently. I wish we had time to talk about all of them—maybe later. Be assured that I’m learning to mourn more effectively, and in due process, I’m finding that comfort that Jesus spoke of.