Dealing with grief is something we must all do at one time or another. Countless books have been written about the grieving process and the proper ways to channel it. The five stages of grief have become a part of the cultural consciousness.
We spend so much time trying to rid ourselves of grief, through work, through prayer, through repressing and ignoring it. But grief never leaves us. It is part of the human condition.
This week I experienced it in two distinct ways.
This is my daughter’s first year participating in athletics. It has not come naturally for her. She has a sharp mind and an analytical nature that is great in the classroom but causes her to overthink on the softball field. Instead of reacting to the play she mentally checks off all the things she has to do to swing the ball correctly. By the time she is through the list, the ball is in the catcher’s mitt.
I’ve watched her grow frustrated with her performance, and we’ve tried to encourage her to do her best. Despite her struggles she enjoys the game and loves her teammates.
Her softball team was middle of the pack most of the season. They won some, and lost some, but made it to the playoff tournament with no real expectation of winning.
On the verge of elimination, they erased a 15-4 lead to advance to the championship round. Then they beat the heavy favorites to force a decisive game for all the marbles. In her first year playing the sport, my daughter had a chance at being on a championship team.
I was unable to make the game.
I’d been to almost every game of the season, but was going to attend our Vespers service and meet with my priest regarding this website (more on that later). My daughter seemed okay with it when I called her on my commute from work. She was pumped about the championship game, and I couldn’t wait to hear about it after church.
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Our Vespers service was attended by a visitor who said she’d been at the library across the road and noticed our church and made the decision to come inside. Her mother had recently lost a battle with cancer and she was looking for spiritual comfort.
She was not Orthodox, and didn’t know anything about it. She came from a Holiness (think Pentecostal) spiritual background. But this kind of loss makes any port look like a safe harbor.
During the service I watched her as she watched us. She followed along in the booklet containing our prayers, and she stood attentively the entire service, occasionally wiping her eyes. Lord have mercy on her.
She spoke with our priest after the service, and I overheard her say she would be back on Sunday. We will share in her grieving process.
After the service I called my wife and got the news that we’d lost the game, and the championship. Our daughter was inconsolable. When I got home I tried to talk to her about sportsmanship and taking it in stride and all that. She would have none of it. She buried herself under the covers and that was that.
I hadn’t been there to help her when she experienced loss
Please understand that I do not equate the loss of a loved one with the loss of a ball game. But dealing with grief is a universal experience, whether large or small. We are all going to experience grief and loss again and again. It is how we deal with it that makes the difference.
Grief in a fallen world
Let all involuntary suffering teach you to remember God, and you will not lack occasion for repentance. – St. Mark the Ascetic
Reading the Church Fathers, I saw time and again that their focus was not on the temporary nature of suffering, but on its seeming permanence. Suffering is a feature of this fallen world, and dealing with grief is our task on this earth.
Our challenge as Christians is to understand that in an eternal sense, pain and loss are defeated by Christ. The permanence of sin in this world is overshadowed by the life to come.
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. – John 9:1-3
All of this Scripture quoting may seem like small comfort to those who are experiencing grief. For the unbeliever these are platitudes in the place of help. To a Christian it is a reminder that we are only here for a time, but in that time we will suffer and grieve. God uses our suffering, hard though it may be, to teach us to draw closer to Him.
Friends and family will not always be able to ease our grief. Medicine and healing will not always visit us. But God sees us in our pain and grieves for us. The saints that have gone before us suffer with us, because they too have experienced this fallen world and all its suffering.
The final step in dealing with grief is said to be acceptance. I’d like to think that it is the acceptance that pain and loss are a part of this world, and acceptance that Christ has overcome this world. Lord teach me to remember this in my own pains as an opportunity to repent and give thanks.
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