Jewish mourning rituals are structured and lengthy. For up to a year later, depending on who has died, life is conducted differently. Loved ones help create space for the grieving process by being quietly present for it, rather than trying to make things better. Anyone who has been in the receiving line at a funeral can tell you most words meant as comfort are anything but. Yet most modern Christian mourners get a funeral and a few days off work, after which our culture tells us to push through it as quickly as possible. We don’t grieve well.
Mourning is not simply being sad. It is not depression. It is the processing of our emotions. When we put on a brave face, the effects of grief will be miserably prolonged. If we choose suppression over healthy mourning, grief remains trapped below the surface only to emerge unexpectedly in endless drips or powerful gushers we are rarely equipped to handle. Mourning permits us to experience the full depth of our loss so we may eventually be at peace with it. The end of a Jewish mourning period signals a new beginning, a reconciliation with our changed reality.
Death is not the only loss we need to mourn. A sense of identity shredded when we lose a job; disillusionment in institutions we once respected; relationships broken beyond repair; a sense of security crushed by world events; younger, healthier bodies; hopes and dreams beyond our ability to realize: mourning helps us let go of these things. The weight of carrying them slows us down until we lag far behind the peace and joy in the life still available to us.
When the psalmist says:
My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
I am too wasted to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my skin. (Psalm 102:4-5)
he knows he must fully engage with his grief or be forever burdened with it. Advent is a time for recognizing how God mourns a lost humanity, and anticipating the new beginning he sends us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Comfort: Mourning is the mill that grinds grief into peace.
Challenge: Whatever you currently need to mourn, give yourself space to feel your grief while you read Psalm 102.
Prayer: As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. (Psalm 40:7)
Discussion: When you experience grief, do you allow it to wash over you or do you put up defenses against it? Why?
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