by Meredith Wright
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
When my mother died, I was 42 and the grief was unruly and complicated. Friends and family didn’t always know how to support me – but they tried. And in the trying they taught me what a love that perseveres looks like – a love that is patient, kind and hopeful (1 Corinthians 13).
In the western culture I grew up within, I don’t think we’ve mastered the art of processing loss.
But Jesus says in Matthew 5, ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.’ Comfort comes when you mourn. We are sorrowful in the face of loss, but it is the outward mourning that attracts the comfort we need.
This has been true in my experience. Grief is safe and ultimately healing when it’s experienced in the company of trusted others. Whether as a company of mourners suffering a collective loss, or a personal grief shared in vulnerability with those on the outside of that loss. For me, the comfort has come when I’ve allowed others into my loss in all its complexity. When I allowed my church family to pray for me after Mum died, to listen to my story and to accept my really ugly crying – then I felt comforted, and I began to feel peace.
Paul describes God as, ‘the God of all comfort’ in 2 Corinthians 1:3. If we seek to become more like Jesus in this world, we are to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2) and comfort one another, reminding each other of the promises and hope of God’s word (1 Thes 4:18).
Whether the obvious loss that comes with the death of someone we love, or the loss of a relationship, a job or sense of calling or confidence after a life change, God remains a God of comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has felt heavy with layers of grief. Working in aid and development, I’ve watched colleagues grieve the loss of international travel – the loss of being able to physically stand with the families we serve. We grieve as we observe from afar vulnerable communities pushed back into poverty because of COVID. We lament but we continue to put our faith in God who is close to the broken-hearted, as Psalm 34.18 says.
These losses can be complex and difficult to navigate. Plus, unlike other cultures in the world, it isn’t easy to mourn publicly. It leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable.
But if we do not allow ourselves to be open in this way, do we miss out on the promised comfort to those who mourn in Matthew 5? If we do not embrace ‘the time to mourn’ and allow others into our experience how can we move from loss into comfort, peace and ‘a time to heal, laugh and dance’ again (Ecclesiastes 3)?
So, for followers of Jesus we are disciples of his tenderness. We can bring his comfort to friends and family who are suffering loss, to those who’ve lost crops in developing countries or family members to COVID because there were no oxygen tanks in their rural hospital.
We can listen, be gently curious, and create space for people to speak. James reminds us to be quick to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19); and the book of Proverbs is full of the exhortation to listen. The story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35is a wonderful demonstration of this.
We can empathise with one another without rushing them. Colossians 3:13 describes this as “bearing with one another”. Again, the Emmaus story gives a good example of empathy. Jesus doesn’t head straight to ‘the end’ of the disciples’ grief with the big reveal. He gives space for the expression of feelings – however uncomfortable.
We can cry. The idea of professional mourners really appeals to me. Mentioned in the Old Testament (Amos 5:16), this ancient tradition continues in many cultures today. That people would provide the service to create an atmosphere where weeping is encouraged seems wise. As Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us, ‘there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.’ People experiencing loss often need our help expressing it. Crying with someone is deeply compassionate.
We can pray with others. Because God is the God of all comfort, we want to invite our grieving friends into his presence. When we pray, we declare his goodness and his faithfulness, and the Holy Spirit plays his part as Comforter.
We can check in a month, six months, a year later. Grief can take a long time to process. It can settle and resurface unexpectedly. Checking in regularly on how others are travelling is a gift and a friend is one who loves at all times (Proverbs 7:17).
I will always be grateful for those God brought alongside me in times of loss. I am also grateful for friends who are willing to be open with me about their own grief. Occupying both places, I’ve discovered the character of God. He is, as the Psalmist declares - our ever-present help (Psalm 46:1). Because Jesus is, after all, a Man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.
Meredith Wright is a mother of three daughters and a writer for Baptist World Aid Australia in Sydney, Australia.