A wise Angolan pastor once asked me, “Why do white people cry alone?”
Angolans understood grief—1 out of 5 children die under 5 years of age, and at that time, average life expectancy was 44 years. (It’s still only 52.) When someone died, friends and family would weep openly. The deceased person would be laid on a bed in the front yard and for several days the community would surround them.
But there was another side to how they grieved.
One time a beloved pastor died suddenly the day before a national assembly. The opening of the assembly was postponed until the afternoon after the funeral. At the revised time hundreds of delegates gathered and waited several hours. The opening was repeatedly delayed until it was finally announced that it would not start until the next day.
When I walked back to the house, I was surprised to find the leaders sitting there. I asked, “Why did you delay the assembly?” “Because we couldn’t stop crying,” was the reply. “I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought you did not mind showing tears.”
I learned a lot from his answer: “We didn’t want to infect the assembly with our sadness.”
What do we North Americans do? We often try to “hold it together” during the visitation and funeral, but then cry alone, perhaps for many months. Then a long time later we continue to bring up poignant stories with others who don’t share that grief.
I think our culture reverses the healthy order for sharing grief. It is healthier to let others grieve with us fully at the time but then for us to let their happiness cheer us up later.
What is the example we see in the New Testament? John 11:19 says, “Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.” Verse 31 tells us that when Mary left to meet Jesus, they followed her to the tomb, planning to mourn with her there.
And then comes a verse I’ve hung on to at various times in my life. John 11:35: “Jesus wept.”
He was right there with them. And he cared.
The disciples once asked him, “Don’t you care that we’re sinking?” I suspect a lot of us have asked, “Don’t you care?” The answer is yes. Yes he cares. He weeps.
He weeps over loss. He weeps over suffering. He weeps over injustice.
Jesus demonstrated that faith and good theology co-exist with love and grief. He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew that Lazarus’death was part of a greater plan for God’s glory—Jesus had deliberately delayed coming to heal him.
Jesus believed, but he still cried.
However, when we grieve, we have an unhealthy tendency to isolate ourselves. It’s understandable. After all, our conversations are stilted. People don’t know what to say to us and we tend to give flat responses. But isolation feeds our unhappiness and it makes room for unhealthy introspection.
Knowing that, I deliberately try to break the cycle by pushing myself to spend time with people when I’m in a season of grief. One day I was surprised to discover that a committee meeting had really cheered me up. Now that’s an example of comfort in an unexpected place:)
He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)