It finally happened. An acquaintance made it clear that my time to grieve Sarah’s absence must draw to an end, it’s time to move on. I had heard horror stories of gut wrenching rebukes received by many veteran bereaved parents who have journeyed this path for years, but thankfully I had been spared from personally experiencing it until now, just eleven months after my sweet Sarah left. If I thought it were an isolated incident unique to me, it wouldn’t be worthy of discussion, but it isn’t. Practically every bereaved mom I know has had a very similar experience, so it certainly seems worthy of thoughtful consideration. It’s an opportunity to educate for the benefit of the wounded moms and dads who will be journeying behind us.
: indifference to pleasure or pain
: the quality or behavior of a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion
In some circles stoicism has somehow become equated to Christian spiritual maturity. As a result, many wounded and suffering followers of Christ have been the recipients of unfounded disapproval, chastisement and even outright rebuke. For bereaved parents specifically, many of these comments are centered around the notion that the parents have an unhealthy fixation on their deceased child and his or her absence. It is often expressed as concern that their continuing to share, speak about or reference their child and their longing for them indicates they are “stuck in their grief” and not “moving on.” Other times it’s their acknowledgment of the ongoing pain that ends up being wrongly interpreted as an indication they are failing to exercise faith and choose joy.
I have purposefully listened, processed and prayed over these comments of concern or criticism and am impressed that each one is ultimately a demand for the wounded believer to be stoic instead of transparent. In addition, I believe they each stem from the profoundly flawed misconception that Christian spiritual maturity is evidenced by a stoic response in the face of trials and tribulation, rather than a transparent sharing of their impact. This is particularly true of long term or permanent trials and tribulations. In the name of spiritual maturity a time limit has been placed on experiencing and sharing struggles, pain, longing and heart break.
I am immediately reminded of Jesus in the garden. As Jesus approached the cross He was not stoic. My savior who was and is fully God and fully man, was “deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38). Similarly, when Jesus saw the pain of those He loved at the death of Lazarus, “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” to the point that He wept, even though He, being God, knew He could and would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:33-35).
I am reminded of Paul who was not stoic but transparent as he repeatedly, candidly and descriptively shared his pain, weaknesses, trials and tribulations within his letters. In Romans he wrote regarding the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as Messiah, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Rom. 9:1). When he spoke of going to Macedonia, he acknowledged both his struggles and his fears, “our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5). in his letter to the church at Philippi, He spoke sharply of His aloneness except for Timothy, and referenced thankfulness to God for sparing the life of Epaphroditus because his death would have brought Paul “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27).
I am reminded of the Psalms of David, so many reflecting deep passion, pain and emotion. David was transparent not stoic. “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD–how long? Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries” (Psa 6:2-7).
There is not a scriptural basis for pressuring wounded believers to be stoic. The transparent words and examples of these and many others included by God in scripture have provided life-breathing encouragement to weary and wounded saints for centuries. It is through the transparent telling of their pain and struggles that they allow us to connect with them in our pain and follow their examples of endurance. Christ in the garden teaches us to respond, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Paul encourages us to persevere, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet 5:10). And David reminds us God is faithful and our only refuge in the midst of the pain.
“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.” Psalm 62:5-8 [NASB]
Through Paul I am reminded that God’s grace is sufficient for me, for power is perfected in weakness. So, I say with Paul, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9). I will continue to transparently and truthfully share my pain, heartbreak, longing and struggles because that is my reality. But most importantly, I will continue to transparently share because each time I share is an opportunity to testify how His grace meets me there and sustains me. My pain, heartbreak, longing and struggles are a means to point other hurting people to Him, I will not squander those very costly redemptive opportunities in the name of stoicism.
I love Sarah with a deep and abiding love, I will long for her until the day we are gloriously reunited. My heart will always ache for her. I will not hide that or pretend otherwise, I will not be stoic. I will boast about my brokenness because it is that very brokenness that daily drives me to my knees with desperate longing for my God and my Savior. It is the sharing of that brokenness that enables me to connect with wounded people around me and encourage them to cleave to The Rock with me. I will strive to faithfully serve Him all the days of my life, and He has given me permission and encouragement that I will be rewarded as I persevere, even with, or perhaps especially with a tear streaked face.
“He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6 [NASB]
Artwork: Sarah Harmening