New Series: Why Are Christians Bad At Grief?

Bad At Grief

My mom worked in a nursing home almost my entire life. Every few months after school, we would go over to “the home” and help decorate for the upcoming holiday. We would sing and play for the hymn sings. On Mondays we would go help my mom bring residents to the activity center for the weekly movie night. That was my favorite because we would be allowed to eat popcorn after we served it to the others.

My mom worked closely with the private school that I attended, making sure that there were opportunities for older students to interact with the residents on a regular basis. She would pair up students with high functioning residents and about once a month we would drive over to the nursing home to read to them, help them write letters, spend time talking to them. We got to know our adopted grandparents pretty well over the course of a year.

Because I spent a lot of time with the elderly at mom’s job, I became acquainted with death. It wasn’t a daily occurrence, but every now and then, she would come home and let us know that so-and-so had gone to the hospital and then a few days later we’d get the news that they had died. I remember her telling me about one of the twins that I had read to regularly passing away – I cried.

That regular contact with mortality made death something more approachable. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t something to be feared or hidden.

But that didn’t stop grief from being incredibly difficult in the past year. Despite my history with death and dying, I struggled to grieve when I needed to immerse myself in it the most. As I’ve experienced the aftermath of the stillbirth of our son, I see that there is still a stigma attached to much grief.

As a person of faith, I believe that grief should be an important part of our human experience. We have an example in Jesus, weeping at the death of his friend. We see numerous Psalms giving us words to grieve. We see ashes and sackcloth and sadness through the pages of Scripture.

But often Christians pass over these passages about mourning in favor of the passages about joy. We talk about the morning without walking through the night. We use hope as a way to squelch sadness.

In short, I’ve found Christians are bad at grief.

But why? What about grief makes us as Christians so uncomfortable? And what can we do to change that?

I’m starting a new blog series to examine some of the reasons that I think Christians are bad at grief. I have a few ideas here, no doubt influenced by my own struggles with grief, but I’d love to hear from you. What stands in the way of your own grief? What have you seen in your faith community with regard to grief? Are there examples of ways that we can do this better? If you’re interested in contributing to this series, I’d love to hear from you as well. You can shoot me a message on Facebook or Twitter.

Christians are bad at grief, but I believe we can be better. Let’s examine that together.

5 thoughts on “New Series: Why Are Christians Bad At Grief?

  1. Alise-

    This is something truly important for us to discuss and grow in. I’ve been learning more about this through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and through talking with a counselor. Part of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is learning to “grieve well.” You are right, there are so many laments in scripture, but we don’t go there.

    I have considered multiple reasons Christians don’t grieve well. In the Christian circles I’ve been in, there is often the mindset of “faith over feelings.” Feelings aren’t to be trusted. Knowledge and scripture [well I guess not the Psalms! 🙂 ] are supreme. Another related reason Christians don’t grieve well is because there is such an emphasis on having “faith” that things will be good, God is in it, etc. etc. People look at faith as this narrow thing where we can’t have any doubt or grief.

    Finally, I think for me a reason I’ve not grieved well is because often there is such an emphasis on the “rejoice always” idea. This relates to depression as well- Christians aren’t allowed to be depressed or truly grieve. We can see examples of depression and grieving in the Bible, yet we dismiss those examples and are told that we should choose to trust God and “rejoice.”

    It’s weird, but grieving well allows all of our emotions to flourish, and when we shut down grieving, I feel we shut it all down.

    Good stuff, Alise!

    1. I TOTALLY agree about the feelings thing. That is huge in my experience as well. Feelings are suspect and sadness is a big feeling.

  2. This is a great topic that I hope will be helpful to your readers. It’s something I have thought about a lot. Yesterday would have been my first daughter’s 12th birthday. She died at the age of 3 months and grief has been a daily part of my life since.

    Grief is uncomfortable, and none of us, including Christians, like to feel uncomfortable. We want comfort at almost any cost. We ignore grief, gloss it over, feed it pie, call it other names. Anything but feel it ourselves or feel it with someone else. For me, it was more comfortable to feel anger than grief. Anger at God for allowing my child to die. Anger at others for their real or perceived insensitivity. Looking back, I guess I was afraid to allow myself to feel the full gravity of my grief for fear that I would drown in it.

    Christians need to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Somehow we forget this and instead of weeping with those who weep, we jab them unwittingly with our well meaning platitudes and ‘encouragement’ that is anything but encouraging..

    After our daughter died, many well meaning people (almost all who profess to be Christians), said things like: “God just needed another angel in heaven” or “God knew you could handle this”. The truth is that people don’t turn into angels after they die and God didn’t make my daughter die because He knew I could handle it. I don’t know why He allowed it, but having a well-meaning person say things like that is not comforting. Weeping alongside a grieving person means more than any words.

    I live in WV too….enjoy reading your blog!

  3. In my experience, Christians often have a “God will fix everything” and “Miracles will happen if you believe” attitude. So when God doesn’t fix it and the miracle doesn’t happen, they are unprepared. I’ve puzzled over why this is so, because I always thought that the promised reward for faith is in heaven, not on the Earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s