Holding Space for Grief

I’ve been reading the book Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, and it has validated a lot of my own ideas about my faith and how I view Jesus, the one I call my Lord and Savior. I was inspired to start it (pun not intended) when I heard of her unexpected death last month at the age of 37. I haven’t finished it yet, but I wanted to speak to one of the topics today as I have a lot of experience with it.

So, holding space for grief. Over the past few years, I’ve learned about lament and about how many of the Psalms in Scripture are psalms of lament. In them, God is cursed, wrestled with, complained to, and doubted. It was almost a relief for me to see the words in black and white and see that they matched the thoughts that were in my head. Evans provided a few examples I want to mention.

From Psalm 139:19-22:

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Or from Psalm 109:9-12:

“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.”

Not quite the words people usually share from Scripture. Right?

But, I find I must quote them if only to bring to light a major problem in the American church and some hypocrisy in my own life. There is a lack of lament in the American church. There is no “holding space” for those in grief. The nearest we come to it is individual counseling with church staff members or with trusted friends. We all suffer from the heaviest of burdens, but we refuse to lament with each other. We just pretend that everything is okay. Evans had this to say which says it better than I could. “That American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, will infect and sap of substance any faith community that has lost its capacity for “holding space” for those in grief.” (pg. 110, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans) No one is willing to sit with people in their pain without judging or offering solutions. They don’t want to share their pain either because they are afraid of being judged. This is a conundrum I’m not sure how to navigate, but I see it as a problem we, in the church, need to talk about. The comment I quoted also reflects how we choose our leaders. Because there is a veneer over their appearance in which none of their burdens are seen, we choose them thinking they are effective leaders. But then, we don’t allow them to lament or lament to them, and the cycle starts all over again

These words have resulted in another conundrum in my own life, one which I’m not proud of. There are many times I don’t feel seen in my faith community or in my life. There was even one time I was told to “go away” by someone in my faith community. As you can imagine, that comment made me feel like garbage. But, it brought me to a conclusion. I want to be important, to be an influence too. I want to be noticed and to have friends. Isn’t that what being a faith community is all about? Isn’t that the definition of community? I believe we should recognize ALL of those in our faith communities whether they are leaders or not.  But, it also made me ashamed. It made me think my wanting to be an influence was not coming from the purest of motives, that I was letting Satan influence me.

But, Jesus clarified my thoughts and reminded me of something. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be an influence for Him. He reminded me I probably wouldn’t have done the reading I’ve done if I’d been more of a “person of influence” or “leader” in my faith community. My heart wouldn’t have been open to the changes it has undergone, and I wouldn’t have been willing to explore the concept of lament or to challenge the status quo either. He wanted me to be open to His voice.

Let me leave you with another quote by Evans to consider. “Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don’t resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don’t we?” (pg. 111, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans)

God bless you all today!

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