I still hear the annoying squeak of the wooden bench with each movement. The not-so-soft whispering of the couple two rows behind. The tap, tap, tap of the courtroom reporter’s nails against each key. But no sound that day has been more branded into my memory than that of the wooden gavel crashing onto the sound block and closing my son’s sentencing hearing.
Eight months before that day, I had learned of my younger son’s arrest. Now he has been officially charged with four felonies. I watched as a police officer placed him in handcuffs and escorted him out of the court. No hug, no last good-bye, and no time for “I love you” to be spoken.
The dreadful sound that signified the closing of a court session also began a depth of mourning for which I had not been prepared.
This wasn’t the first time I had grieved over our son’s actions or behaviors. A history of drug use, lying and other harmful choices has trained my heart to anticipate and even predict moments such as this. But the instant that gavel crashed against the wood felt like an anvil had crushed my heart.
I ugly cried. No, I sobbed and wailed from the emotional pain. Add to this my father who is battling stage 4 cancer, a dear friend who has recently gone to be with Jesus, and additional losses I won’t take time to mention, you may say I have reason to cry.
Yet they still came. The well-meaning responses that sound more like platitudes from people who truly cared. I am sure you have heard them.
“Look at the bright side,” followed by an encouragement as to why him being in jail is good. Or, “the silver lining is,” followed by another comment meant to make me feel better.
Then there’s the ever-popular, “Well, at least . . .”
I’m not accusing! I have spoken similar things to others and to myself as well.
When I lost my friend, I thought, “At least she was with Jesus.” (As if I was being selfish to experience sadness over her absence.)
As I struggled through our son’s multiple suicide attempts, I would tell myself, “at least he hasn’t been successful.” (As if I shouldn’t feel devastated that he would even want to take his life in the first place.)
But thinking of how my son being led to jail could be better or worse did not change the raw angst or sadness of the moment. I just couldn’t dismiss painful feelings anymore. For once, I didn’t want to look at the bright side, find the silver lining, or see the glass as half full.
For once, I wanted to sit in my grief—not self-pity—but the intense agony and pain that could no longer be hidden behind a mask.
Do you know what I discovered? Not only did I need to be there, but it’s where God wanted me to be.
Romans 12:3 says, “Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves.” If I don’t take a moment to be honest about how I feel, then the “silver linings and bright sides” run the risk of creating a false peace, a false joy, that will never last.
So, what have I decided to do instead?
I let myself cry. Often, if necessary.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Yet, we don’t!
I was speaking at my home church recently, and I started a phrase to see how many people could finish it.
“Quit crying or…” I waited. To my dismay there was an instantaneous and rhythmic response by most. “ or I will give you something to cry about.”
“If you’re going to cry, go to your room because…” Many jumped in before I paused to say, “no one wants to listen to that.”
Many of us are raised to believe we shouldn’t cry, no one wants to hear it or we need a better reason if we are going to annoy everyone.
Do we ever tell a child to quit laughing? Never!
We need to stop trying to stifle tears, grief, and pain, and learn to acknowledge, embrace and feel it. I did, and it was so needed.
Grieving was really hard for a “hot minute,” but way better than the infection of bitterness or depression that could grow by keeping it all bottled up inside.
When we attempt to make ourselves feel better by finding a silver lining or looking at the bright side, we only dismiss the pain, not dissolve it. It remains in our hearts until it is set free.
As a result, I was able to find comfort. True and lasting comfort.
Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” And 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us that “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is also the “God of all comfort.”
The greatest lesson I have learned in grief is this:
Broken heartedness is a pathway to a depth of God’s character and a place of rest in God’s soul that otherwise remains unexposed.
If we don’t face our sorrow and pain with authentic awareness, then not only do we dismiss the pain, but we dismiss the opportunity for the outpouring of God’s love and healing.
If it hurts, cry. If it’s unjust, get angry. If you’re crushed in spirit, then cry out to God who according to 2 Corinthians 1:4, “will comfort us in all our troubles.”
Then, over time, grief becomes a gift—not only an opportunity to receive the gift of more of God’s character, but a gift that can be given to others.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
Then, and only then, can we learn to “mourn with those who mourn.”