I have this strange ability to cry without showing any signs, except of course the tears. My eyes don’t get puffy and my face doesn’t get blotchy. I could be crying somewhere out of sight one second and the next be out and about with no one the wiser.
I have done this more times than I count — when I was still in school, when I was with friends, even at work. Why? Because I hate for people to see me cry. It feels like weakness. It feels like vulnerability that I didn’t ask for.
I realized how useful this ability could be right in the wake of grief. It’s so tempting to put on a “brave face” that everything is alright. Sometimes I could compartmentalize or distract myself so thoroughly that I believed it myself, too, for at least a little while. Stop the tears and carry on.
People around me more easily accepted platitudes than the complicated and ugly truth of what is raging in my heart. It felt so much easier to focus on making them comfortable. “How are you doing?” “Oh, you know, hanging in there.” When I was convincing enough, others would tell me how brave or strong I am.
I collected those little affirmations like gold stars. But there’s nothing brave or strong about hiding the truth, crying alone in a bathroom stall.
I have also felt pressure, from no one in particular, to be a “good Christian” and have something profound to say about how I’ve been transformed. Not in a year or a few months, but right now, right in the aftermath of loss. I felt like I needed to have some wise Christian insight immediately. God is with me! All is well! My pain is gone!
I think any therapist would tell you how utterly absurd that idea is. That kind of growth happens on God’s timeline, and in my experience, it’s never as quick as we would like. Some of what God has been teaching me I’ve only come to understand now, a decade later. In our culture, we value independence and “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” and we often extend that to emotional and spiritual well being. With just the right amount of resiliency and perseverance, I can do this all on my own, right? I can be strong.
But does God really want us to be strong? I kept going back to this verse in Matthew: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” — Matthew 5:4
I think it’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t say blessed are those who have lost someone or something. He doesn’t say “Blessed are those to whom really bad things have happened.” This passage has, at times, made me angry and confused, wondering if God somehow willed my suffering. In this chapter, Jesus is teaching us about what hope we have in Him and how to receive it with open hands.
With time, I’ve come to see this passage as instructional. He is speaking of “those who mourn.” To mourn is “to feel or express grief or sorrow.” In my reading of this passage, mourning requires an active acknowledgement of a spiritual and emotional hurt and the need for Jesus to enter in, with his peace and healing. It’s feeling the grief, not hiding from it or feigning some kind of inner strength. Our source if inner strength is Jesus, not our own willpower.
Pope Francis said, “Sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
We don’t help ourselves when we deny our vulnerability and pain.
Jesus explained to the Pharisees that, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” — Luke 5:31-2
I’m sick. My heart aches. That’s me, the one who needs to repent of my insistence on doing it on my own. Jesus, I need you. I need your love, your comfort, your peace, your wise counsel. But until I acknowledge these things, I’m still cutting myself off from the light and life of Christ.
I’ve concluded that leaning into my feelings, my brokenness, and my pain — to face it head on, however it comes that day — is the only option worth considering. There’s no getting out of grief, there’s just walking through it. I know this from the times that, seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve fallen to my knees, body wracked with sobs after I had convinced everyone, even myself, that I was fine. Grief finds its way out, always, one way or another.
There was also a process of discernment, of understanding who were the confidants around me that wanted to walk with me through this, that didn’t just want to hear that I was doing fine. I wouldn’t advocate being vulnerable about your pain with just anyone (but hello, I’m writing a public column right now, so what do I know?). I have a solid faith community and close family and friends who were and are with me and, I learned, who could sit with me in the low places. At times, I’ve been able to be that friend to others and at times I haven’t, so I don’t say that with any judgment. But I believe Jesus often ministers to us through the people in our lives and he shows us who he is calling us to lean on.
I’m not going to say that grieving with Jesus looked a whole lot prettier than when I tried to go it alone. Sometimes, it even seemed like the opposite, because I was putting it all out there for him where I could see the broken mess it was. But in that space, the peace and joy of Christ co-exists in my heart with the suffering. It’s a paradox that’s hard to understand and I didn’t until I felt it myself — how with God, my heart could hold so much at once. And that’s where the healing process started for me.
JoMarie Grinkiewicz is involved in GriefShare, an adult grief support group, and Rainbows for All God’s Children, a children’s grief support group, at Catherine Catholic Church. For more information on either group, email JoMarie at firstname.lastname@example.org.