The Community of Christ as a Safe Place to Grieve

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

In my first year as a pastor, a woman from the neighborhood came by to speak with me. “Celina” explained that her mother had died four months ago in Poland, in the town where Celina was raised. She attended the funeral and then returned to Southern California, where she had lived for five years. Celina came to talk with me, not because she was grieving over her mother’s death, which she was, but because she didn’t know how to respond to her friends’ reaction to her grief. They had supported her in her sorrow for the first month after her mother’s death, but couldn’t understand why she was still sad, four months later. They kept telling her that it was time to stop grieving, that she “should move on with her life.” Celina was deeply distressed by what her friends said. “In my town in Poland,” she explained, “everybody knew that we had a year to grieve. Everybody understood, and would feel sad with us. Then, after a year, we would be ready to stop grieving. We would start to feel better. But the people were with us for that year of sadness.”

Over twenty-five years later, I still remember that conversation vividly because it made such a strong impression on me. It was the first time I really thought about grief in the context of the Christian community. I reflected on a passage of Scripture that plainly calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I wondered if the church might provide an oasis in our “get over it culture” for grieving people, a place where they could be safe and supported, a community of friends who joined them in their sorrow and helped them hold on to hope. Of course, I knew that the church was all too often exactly the opposite of a safe place for sorrow. Yet, I had hope that, as a pastor, I might be able to help my congregation learn to grieve and support each other in mourning even as we did in joy.

Throughout the last twenty-five years, I have witnessed this very thing in a variety of Christian communities. Not always; not perfectly. But I have seen Christian brothers and sisters weep together. I have seen mourning people given the freedom to grieve in an honest, healthy, Christian way.

Now, though I’m no longer a parish pastor, I see this kind of safety and freedom offered at Laity Lodge, the retreat center associated with my work. Even this last weekend, people whose children had died wept together, embraced each other, and prayed together. This should be standard fare in the body of Christ.

May I encourage you to be a safe, compassionate person for those around you who are grieving. Offer them your ears, your arms, your heart. Yes, when the time is right, you may remind them of the hope we have in Christ. But do this in the context of weeping with those who weep, sharing in their suffering so that you might also share with them in hope and joy.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced Christian community as a safe place for grieving? When? What happened? How might you offer this kind of safety to people in your life, in church, at work, in your family, among your friends?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for joining us to your body when we put our faith in you. Thank you for giving us fellow members...those who weep when we weep and rejoice when we rejoice.

I thank you, Lord, for those who have wept with me during my times of sorrow. Thank you for their tenderness, their sympathy, their embraces. Thank you for the ways they walked alongside me, not forcing me to go more quickly than I was able to go.

Help me, dear Lord, to extend your love to those who grieve. May I open my heart to them, to listen, to empathize, to comfort. Help me to know when to speak and when to be silent. Give me ways to help them hold on to hope without being insensitive, judgmental, or unkind.

May your church, Lord, be a safe place for people in pain. May our arms be open to all who hurt, all who grieve, all who need to experience your love and grace. Amen.

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