Friday, October 07, 2011

Hopeless Grief?

Late yesterday morning I posted the following on my twitter account:

"Pondering appropriate responses to grief in another when the person isn't a believer... Long story, but curious to know if you have thoughts"

The conversation didn't go very far on twitter (there's something limiting about 140 characters in a conversation of this nature!) though Christianne offered the helpful suggest of simply listening.

A day later, though, and no longer in the midst of the situation that inspired the tweet, and I'm still pondering.

Quite a number of people dear to me, and some that are acquaintances, have lost loved ones to untimely deaths in the last year or so.

It was that sort of situation I found myself in yesterday, as a coworker received news that someone they cared about had lost their battle to cancer.

There were tears and profanity (not unexpected or unusual - either the tears or the profanity - given the situation), and amidst that, I found myself wondering how to offer comfort.

Because the person who was grieving doesn't know Jesus, and to my knowledge, the person who passed away didn't either.

When faced with the death of someone who knows Jesus, death is at least not without hope.  Yes, that hope seems faint comfort, but it is there.

I am not one of those Christians who spends a lot of time thinking about heaven and hell.  "Fire insurance" as some term their reason for having faith in Christ, is pretty much at the bottom of my list of reasons for following Jesus.  I'm in love with a Savior who offers hope, healing, and joy here and now, amidst the chaos of life, and as a person I tend to be far more focused on the here and now than the eventualities of eternity.  (I tend to have a "I'll figure that one out when it actually comes" mentality about eternity, beyond the basic theological tenets of a belief that a relationship with Christ offers an eternity with him.)

I don't know how to find the hope and comfort in the death of someone who doesn't know Christ, and these last several months, as I've encountered several situations of death and grieving that fall into that category, I've been struck by the chord it has hit in my life.  By the contrast between those deaths and the deaths of those who I know I'll see again someday.

The chord continues to ring as I find myself unexpectedly grateful for the hope that a faith in Christ offers.  The hope of eternity, reunion, heaven.

I'm struggling to put words around it.  Struggling to name this shift within myself.  This wrestle.  These questions are touching deep places of wondering and faith in me, and so I'm thinking out loud in this space, even while I have more questions and uncertainties than answers and knowings.

I'm hesitating to throw out for the world to see that I have a belief in heaven and hell, knowing it's a controversial topic, and fearful of being pigeonholed when I'm not entirely certain that this is a belief and an understanding that will ever be fully defined for me.  When I'm fairly certain it is one that will change and grow with me in the days and years to come.

And so I'm inviting you into a dialogue about grief and comfort.  I'd like to know your thoughts on grieving and comfort.  Am I the only one who finds confronting grief in someone who didn't have a relationship with Christ, or confronting the death of one who didn't know Christ daunting?  As you've grieved, what has offered comfort?  It's an oddly macabre topic for the beginning of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, but it's what's floating through my mind and heart - it's what I'm pondering, and I'd love to engage in a dialogue over this with all of you.


christianne said...

Hi Lisa,

I've been thinking about this question since you tweeted about it, and then again since you wrote about it here. I have realized that I don't have much to offer to the conversation. It also occurred to me that I'm not sure I've encountered many people who have faced death (their own or someone they love) without having a hope in heaven or in Jesus.

But now that I say that, it occurs to me that someone close to me and Kirk is facing death who doesn't believe in God. She's a kind and gentle soul who cares about humanity in a deep way. Yet the thought of God and Jesus is an offense to her. It's been hard for us to face that, since we love her dearly and want her to know the God we love and who we believe loves her.

I am not sure that she seeks the comfort of heaven as she faces her impending loss of life. I think she seeks the comfort of those around her, of being loved and known and cared for and accepted as she is. So we seek to offer that to her. And we pray for her, even as we don't know how the whole afterlife with God really works. Can we continue to pray for her soul after she dies? Is it possible that God will meet her in the afterlife and give her a chance to respond to himself, and that when she encounters the real and living God, she won't be able to do anything but worship him?

I don't know.

Another thing that strikes me in this conversation is how much it is linking grief with comfort ... that comfort is the place we go in the face of grief. I wonder why that is?


Lisa said...

Mmm... these are good questions, Christianne.

Someday I hope we can sit over a cup of tea and talk about them in person :)

Especially the reality that we simply can't know how the afterlife with God really works. All of those questions are ones that I can only answer with "I don't know" too.

I would say that it is absolutely essential to loved and care for and accept your friend as she is, and continue to pray at the same time - It seems the only option. And honestly, I wonder if sometimes our temptation is to worry more about our own feelings, because of our beliefs, than to care for and genuinely listen to the person who is either facing that loss of life, or grieving one who has lost their life.

As for grief linked with comfort, I think I was thinking about it more in terms of the person left behind, since that was my experience this week. But I wonder, when we encounter grief, do we turn immediately to comfort in an effort to avoid the grief? Are we uncomfortable with the idea of pain and thus immediately seek to soothe it?

Questions to continue to ponder, I think.