Monday, April 7, 2014

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

You can start at the beginning of this series here.



 It's been awhile since I last wrote.  I've been busy.  This blog took a little more leg work than average.


I conducted interviews with several people - Christian and non-Christian - about this verse: Matthew 5:4:

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

It's one I struggle with more than others.

Not because I don't think it's great.  I think it is.  If you're mourning, you're going to be comforted.  Comfort is wonderful.  We love comfort.  We love snuggling in blankets with hot drinks and cuddling with people we love and eating mac and cheese and mashed potatoes with heaps of gravy: comfort.

The reason I struggle is twofold:

1.  I hate that we have to mourn in order to receive this blessing.

2.  I have seen people in mourning who fall into total darkness, and I don't know how I can call that blessed.

I haven't personally seen what I would consider great loss.  All of my grandparents are dead.  Popaw passed away last year.  I wasn't able to go to the funeral.

He was in his eighties and was the last one left of my grandparents.

It wasn't great loss.  He was older.  And I believe in my heart that he was ready.

I cried mostly because I couldn't be there to support my mom.  It didn't feel right.  I felt like it was part of my duty as a daughter to go there.  To be with her.  To be in mourning too.  To... comfort?

But that's not what I'm talking about yet.

I have not suffered the loss of a child.  I have not suffered the loss of a spouse or parent or sibling.

I dread the day any one of those things might happen.

Some of them feel inevitable: one of these things will likely happen before I'm dead.

At least one.

And the death of friends: people who I've been close to most of my life.

That shouldn't happen, but it does, and the older you get the more often it's bound to occur.

When I was teaching a student was killed in a car crash.  He was one of my theatre kids.  It was crushing to the department.  There was a long time of mourning.

And somehow... there was also comfort.

Is that the blessing?

The comfort that comes from others?

What about his parents?  How exponentially more they must have suffered than I, his teacher.  What about great loss?

That's why I conducted the interviews.

Photo Credit:  Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
 
These are my friends, Donna and Darrell with their brand new baby boy, Aidan.

While pregnant, they found out that Aidan had a rare disorder that meant he would only be with them a few hours after birth.  Maybe less.  Maybe a little bit more.

They chose to be faithful.  To stick with their baby.  To lean on Jesus.

And Aidan was born.  He lived only a few hours.

It was...  beyond comprehension.

To suffer loss so immediately.  Such great loss.

Both Donna and Darrell responded to me request for stories about mourning.  I didn't want to solicit them from anyone - mourning is personal, and it's not okay to pry, to want, to try and get something for yourself from someone who is in the middle of such a difficult process.  I only wanted to obtain stories from people who were ready to talk about it.

Donna expressed what I have so much trouble understanding about this verse, and sometimes, about the world.  She said,

I have always struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be just as “blessed” not to mourn and not need comfort?

Yes!  So much yes!  Why should we have to feel these horrible feelings.  The feeling of everything draining from your body and into your stomach and out again.  The feeling of darkness and clouds and looming pain - the sort that washes over and over you again and again and years later still has the power to bring you sobbing to your knees with shouts of WHY?!

But then she followed up with this:


In our grief, people have come out of the woodwork to offer us comfort in the form of sympathy cards, food, hugs, flowers, plants, a tree (yep, Aidan has his own baby Magnolia tree that we are actively trying not to kill!), blankets, a memory box for “souvenirs” from his birth, a free photographer to take pictures after he was born, and MANY other things. We still grieve. But we also feel the almost-overwhelming LOVE from the hands and feet of Christ. If we lived a life with no mourning, we might be comfortable, but we might not have the opportunity to experience the overwhelming love of Christ in the form of the actions of his people. 

 "If we lived a life with no mourning, we might be comfortable, but we might not have the opportunity to experience the overwhelming love of Christ in the form of the actions of his people. "

Is that it?


Is that the beautiful lesson here?

I wanted to know more, and craved interviews with more people - I didn't have to wait long - they came pouring in.

Next I heard from Darrell:

As I think about the statement "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," I also wonder if there is a kind of sideways imperative there. By that, I mean, is there a bit of a reminder that we all find ourselves in those times of mourning and need others to be comforting for us, so when we come alongside others in situations of mourning, we should be a comfort for them? Perhaps this is true on some levels for each of the Beatitudes. Maybe we won't have the opportunity to be in each of these situations, or to meet people in each of these situations, but we can be a part of the blessing when God leads us to these places.

A "sideways imperative"?  

Webster defines "imperative" in this context as:  "giving authoritative command; peremptory"

And "peremptory"?:   "insisting on immediate attention or obedience, esp. in a brusquely imperious way."

Wait... the Beatitudes could be... commands?

Could it be that those Beatitudes we have the opportunity to understand through the provision of the blessing... we must understand in that way?

The People of God are responsible for some of these blessings?

We are the Hands and Feet of Jesus, yes?

Astounding.

I had to chew on that for days before I felt comfortable or confident writing it - but it makes so much sense.

Throughout the Bible God commands us to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15) and we see examples of great loss and mourning throughout the Scriptures.  

Perhaps mourning... and coming alongside those who do it... perhaps it is necessary in our cultivation as people.  Is there anyone who has suffered no loss?  Just wait a few years.  It will happen and does happen to everyone.  It is a vital part of the human condition.

Jesus suffers great loss twice that we know about for sure: John the Baptist is beheaded; Lazarus dies.  Jesus is so disturbed by this that he brings Lazarus back again.  If only we could do the same.  But would we have the wisdom of Christ to know when it was appropriate and when it was not?  He loved John, but John remained in the grave.  The difference?  Perhaps only God can tell.

I also interviewed folks who lost their parents.

My friend, Sheila, wrote:

In years gone by, when my mom spoke about her various serious illnesses, she would always say that she pictured herself as a small child climbing into the big lap of God as he enveloped her in his loving arms. During her final months of life, I could picture her picturing that scene again. Having a parent die is the normal cycle of life. You expect to lose your parents, and yet, one is never ready. I still have days where I am overwhelmed with missing her. She truly was my best friend throughout life. I could tell her anything. I think mourning is eased by knowing that suffering has ended. I have also come to believe that God allows suffering to give loved ones time to prepare for death. My dad was a basket case. They had been married 51 years. I also think that mourning helps us to empathize with the mourning of others. I think the blessing is for the present life as well as after life. Mourning also brings us into a very close relationship with God. We might be angry with him, pleading with him, grateful to him, but in all cases, we are communicating with him and relating. 

Mourning is one of those things that sends us running back to the arms of God.  Even those of us who haven't talked to him in quite some time.  Maybe we're railing on Him.  Maybe we're telling him we hate His guts.  But we are talking to Him, and He is near.


I always thought that maybe this verse meant we would be comforted because we saw that person in heaven and so we have Hope, so we don't have to be as sad.

But when I hear stories of great loss, that feels a bit Empty.

As I was working through this, I received a message from my friend Dawn, who is not so religious:


The comfort I've felt through mourning has been through seeing how loved my family was, especially my brother.  He was only 29 and the comfort for me was knowing how many people loved him.

The comfort comes through others.

It brings me back to that "imperative" brought up by Darrell.  Perhaps this Beatitude is not so much to take on an attitude of mourning as a general rule for living, but to be the blessing to those who are mourning.  Don't let anyone fall through the cracks.

There should be no empty funeral parlor, no matter who has passed away.  It is our duty as Christians to come alongside, to comfort, to be Jesus for those who are devastated by grief.  It doesn't matter who they are or who has died.  We need to be there.  We need to weep with them when they weep.  We need to bring over those casserole dinners we're so great at making (perhaps potlucks are really practice for the bigger things - everyone has something they can contribute).  We need to come alongside.  

Come alongside.

Bless those who mourn.

Right here on earth.

This evening.

Today.

Be the blessing
 
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