I don’t know what to say right now. I’m raw and bleeding, afraid and angry, hopeful and encouraged, trusting and believing. It’s a really messy combination.
This morning, I got to sit with a friend who is feeling exactly the same things because of circumstances God has allowed to touch her life. It was a beautiful conversation in which we gave each other permission to not be ok, to be honest about what’s going on and how we feel about it.
Sometimes, that’s what a hurting friend needs: permission to feel crappy, to say out loud that something is unfair, or painful, or just flat out stinks. There’s a strong temptation in the Church to put on “I’m rejoicing always” masks. We are told to rejoice in every situation (1 Thessalonians 5:16), and there are good reasons for this. But there are moments in life when what we really need to do is sit and grieve and talk honestly about the pain.
There’s a danger in immediately moving into “rejoicing” territory when we’re broken. Open honesty about how we’re feeling is an important component of healthy grieving, but I think it does something else for us. Being open and honest about our grief gets it out and makes room in our hearts and minds for rejoicing. Think about it this way: How can our rejoicing be genuine if our grief isn’t? How can we learn to trust in the midst of the storm if we’re busy acting like it’s a warm, sunny day?
We’re not called to live in a state of denial. In fact, to live in a state of denial about our circumstances is to lie, and as we all know, lying is against the Ten Commandments! So how do we obey the command to “rejoice always” when the rug has just been pulled out from under us and our nose is bleeding from hitting the floor so hard?
I don’t generally make it a habit to teach on just one verse, but there is a verse in Psalm 55 that has stopped me in my tracks every time I’ve run across it, because it’s such a complete picture of healthy grieving in just a few words:
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and He hears my voice. ~ Psalm 55:17 (ESV)
This one verse is a perfect summation and example of healthy grieving:
- It’s honest: “God, I have a complaint”
- It’s raw: “God, my soul is moaning in pain”
- It’s not time-limited: “Evening and morning and at noon, God, I’m going to keep bringing this to Your attention”
- It’s hopeful: “God, I know You hear me”
If we do look at the immediate context of this one verse, we see that it is bookended with words of great faith: “The Lord will save me” (v. 16), and “He redeems my soul” (v. 18). In David’s suffering, he knew the truth, but – and here’s the key for us – he stopped and allowed himself to feel all of the negative feelings that came with his situation. David was trying to process deep betrayal as he ran for his life from King Saul. And he didn’t hold back in talking about how he was feeling about his circumstances.
Many of us have been taught and conditioned that our “bad” feelings (sadness, anger, despair, etc.) should be ignored or pushed aside, not trusted, or that they’re somehow sinful. But that’s not biblical. Our emotions are part of who God created us to be (and remember, we were made in His image). Our feelings in and of themselves are not sinful. And they are not to be ignored or discounted. They are part of who we are and they serve an important purpose as we navigate life. Yes, they need to be brought into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5), but again, in and of themselves, they’re not “bad”.
Even Jesus expressed His “bad” feelings at times. We see Him angry in the Temple (Matthew 21:12), grieving at His friend’s grave (John 11:33-35), and in complete despair in the garden (Luke 22:41-44). In none of these stories do we see Jesus trying to cover up negative emotions, or even downplay or gloss over them. No, in these situations, Jesus’ emotions were on full display, and He made no excuses for them. And, in none of these stories do we see Jesus immediately jump to “rejoicing always”. No, He sat with His pain, and He brought it to God with the same kind of raw honesty we see throughout the Psalms.
David and Jesus didn’t disguise their “bad” feelings. And they didn’t brush past them so they could get to the rejoicing part. Did they rejoice eventually? Of course, and we need to as well. But first, we need to face our reality and deal honestly with how we feel about it.
So now that we’ve established how important it is to grieve honestly and to allow space for our friends to do the same, how do we move into the obedience of rejoicing?
As my friend and I listened to each other’s stories, we gave each other permission to grieve honestly, but we did something else equally important: We spoke a lot of biblical truth to each other. We didn’t hit each other over the head with verses, or discount how we were feeling in any way. We just gently reminded each other of the Truth so that in our processing and grieving, we can keep our eyes and hearts on our Healer, Redeemer, and Provider.
Before issuing the command to rejoice always, Paul says that we don’t grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Our hope is, always has been, and always will be Jesus, and our job as brothers and sisters in Christ is to gently and with genuine love point each other right at Him. With our eyes focused on Him, then, and only then, can we really rejoice. And once we’re able to do that, we can work to stop the bleeding, put ice on the bruises, and start on the path toward healing.
What has helped you move from grief to rejoicing so that you could heal more fully?