The Hypocrisy of Grief

Scott and Sarah loved quoting movie lines to each other.  A large portion of their quotes came from The Princess Bride and Elf.  Pretty much every day as she was telling him good bye or good night she would tell him, “Have fun storming the castle!” (from The Princess Bride), to which he would reply, “I hope you find your dad!” (from Elf).

Recently as Scott and I were on a walk through the neighborhood, we were discussing a painful secondary issue we are dealing with related to Sarah’s death.  Tears had been flowing only moments before when a neighbor we hadn’t met yet crossed our path and greeted us with “Hello, how are you?” to which I instantly replied, “Fine, thank you.  How are you?”  As soon as they had passed, Scott turned to me with a smirk, and perfectly reenacted the Liar” scene from The Princess Bride (below).

His impressive reenactment provided a much needed belly laugh for both of us, but at the same time superficially reflected a deeper struggle that has been weighing heavily on my heart.

For months now I’ve wrestled wth the idea of hypocrisy in grief, specifically – my potential hypocrisy in my grief.  If I, with dry eyes, profess my hope in Christ and yet regularly cry myself to sleep because of the aching in my heart, am I a hypocrite?  If most people only see me in the moments of light when I have a firm grip on the hope I profess, and not in the dark of the night when I am crying out, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” does that make me a hypocrite?

The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’

“The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.”  Merriam-Webster

Definition of Hypocrite

1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings


Merriam-Webster defines Hypocrite as one who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.  A Biblical understanding of hypocrisy is similar, having to do with an inconsistency between the heart and behavior.  But what happens when there is tension between one’s beliefs and one’s feelings?  Is it hypocrisy to act in accordance with one when it seems in opposition to the other?

What I have found myself referring to as the “hypocrisy of grief” is my acting in accordance with my beliefs in spite of my feelings.  My beliefs and actions are aligned, but frequently seem contradictory to my feelings.  For example, when I am worn and weary I may not feel hopeful, but I choose hope, believe hope and profess hope.  But if I profess with my mouth the hope that I believe in my mind, but am struggling to feel in my heart, is that hypocrisy?

The translation of “hypokrites” by Merriam-Webster (above), “an interpreter from underneath [a mask]” deeply resonates with me.  The mask I wear is a reflection of the hope I possess.  My hope is real and true, and my soul is anchored by the truth upon which my hope is fixed (1 Pet. 1:13; Heb. 6:19).  The mask is much simpler than I am, though.  It frequently smiles and says nothing of the pain while the streams of tears are still wet on my cheeks.  Behind the mask is an indescribably complex reality of intermingled oppressive sorrow, prevailing peace, piercing pain, eternal hope, desperate longing and abiding joy.

The mask is not untruth, but it is only a portion of the truth.  It is representative of what I believe, the confidence of the hope I possess and profess, but it is not the totality of me.  It fails to reflect the daily complexity of the mingling of my hope with the sorrow, pain and longing that remain.  Knowing the mask is not knowing me.

Months ago when I first felt the tension of the hypocrisy of grief, I made a case for it in the post, “Faking Fine in the Midst of Grief?“.  Six months later, I am still strongly convicted of all that I wrote then, but with the passage of time I have learned there is a deep loneliness that comes with “interpreting from underneath the mask”.

I believe many, if not most of us, have an intrinsic longing to be known, to be understood and related to.  I definitely do.  I crave authentic relationships where trust, transparency and honesty are the standard.  I believe I have always been an open book.  I am the same everywhere and if you know me, you know the real me.  That is until Sarah went Home and I found myself by necessity hurled into being “an interpreter from underneath a mask.”

Anytime I am blessed with time and an appropriate opportunity to engage in deeper discussion that moves beyond the mask, I am grateful, but those times are infrequent.   As I’ve recently found myself regularly longing for more opportunities for others to see beyond the mask, the Lord has gently reminded me that I am shifting my focus from Him in desiring others to do what He alone can.  I am longing to be completely understood, to have my heart known, but He alone is the knower of hearts (Acts 1:24).

However, I am comforted by realizing my longing to be known, to be transparent and authentic, actually reveals that my “hypocrisy of grief” is not truly hypocrisy.  The mask is simply a necessary filter, not a shroud of deception.  And many of those feelings, the pain, sorrow and longing, that sometimes seem contradictory to the peace, joy and hope of my beliefs are not actually contradictory.  They are my “groaning inwardly.”  They are my grief over the fallenness and brokenness of this world, and my burdened longing for eternity (2 Cor. 5:4; Rom. 8:23).   Both of which are in agreement with and rooted in the Biblical truths and hope I profess.

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”  2 Corinthians 5:4 [ESV]

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23 [ESV] 

Should my feelings actually be in contradiction to my Biblical beliefs, acting in accordance with those beliefs in spite of the contradictory feelings is not hypocrisy.  It is part of the crucifixion of my flesh, the denial of self and daily taking up of my cross to follow Him (Gal. 5:24, Luke 9:23).  Feelings are deceptive, the heart is deceptive, hence the call to circumcise it (Deu. 10:16).  The sometimes painful process of humbly and sincerely choosing surrendered faith and obedience to Him in lieu of indulging our feelings is part of that crucifixion or circumcision.  As I purposefully meditate on His truths and continue to act in obedience, my feelings will eventually come into alignment as well.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:8-9 [ESV]

If you, too, struggle with feeling alone and unknown in what sometimes feels like a chasm between a painful present reality and the hope of our glorious promised future, hang on.  Cling with me to the promises of His Word that affirm we are not alone or unknown.  Neither are we hypocrites when we profess our hope in the midst of our ongoing brokenness, even when that hope is professed between tearfully whispered prayers of, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

We are intimately known, deeply loved and powerfully held by the omnipotent, faithful, righteous and loving God of the universe.  And so we press on knowing that this same God, our God, has promised that He who began the good work in us will bring it to completion in “just a little while.” (Phil. 1:6; 3:12-24; Her. 10:37).  Come, Lord Jesus!

O LORD, you have searched me and known me!  
You know when I sit down
and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold,
O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.  
Psalm 139:1-12 [ESV]

14 thoughts on “The Hypocrisy of Grief

  1. Dear Karen, my only comment is this. Your knowledge of scripture is so deep and so much more complete than mine that I hesitated to comment, but I felt the Hoky Spirit saying so strongly to me to remind you of the the verb tenses of these two words…

    You “have been crucified” with Christ…

    … you “are circumcised” with the circumcision made without hands…

    I felt as if He was saying to gently remind you that these are both past tense actions…not something you need to keep subjecting yourself to over and over or waiting on Him to do.

    One time actions never to be repeated.

    The ongoing part is “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

    Please, please, know that I am do not profess to know anything other than Christ and Him crucified. But perhaps, the Holy Spirit will somehow use this suttle detail to free you from the war that you experience daily between your flesh and spirit. I know your eyes are firmly on Jesus. Your fruit is GOOD FRUIT!! I am praying with you for rest and peace and comfort by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    In love,

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Shay. I adjusted my phrasing in response to your thoughts. That paragraph was an addendum that I felt led to interject after having written the remainder of the post. I was trying to concisely acknowledge that there are times when our feelings are deceptive and contradictory to Biblical truth, and in those situations we are called to deny ourselves (where I originally used the phrase crucify our flesh).
      In retrospect it was probably too much to attempt to be concise about! 🙂

      1. Truth over feelings ALWAYS!!! I love your heart so much. I truly hope you understood mine. Posts are not always the best way to communicate. I certainly was not “correcting” your use of scripture. On the contrary, just standing with you on God’s Word.

  2. karen, thank you for this message. i soo often feel like a fake/hypocrite. grief is soo lonely! i sometimes think only another Christian grieving parent can really truly understand that struggle! Good to know i am not the only one!!!

    1. You are definitely not alone! ❤ I agree, there is such a unique bond with others who also know the pain of missing their child. I am so, so thankful for the grieving parents we have connected with.

  3. You so well express the heart struggle I have experienced in my suffering and hear from others who are grieving. Thank you for these encouraging and helpful words.

  4. A good word for anyone struggling with loss or depression. I went through the later years ago and it was hard to not be judged when I answered honestly. It’s easier to trust the Father than people. You’re welcome to lay down your mask with me. Your grief shouldn’t have to be hidden but I get why. Sometimes it’s better between you and the Lord and trusted family and friends.

  5. Thank you Karen. Thank you for your transparency and knowledgeable, thoughtful, heartfelt & Biblical sharing and guidance to us who have grieved and/or grieve now or want to be more aware of what our loved ones go through in their walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So honest about our human limits and calling on Jesus to help in our unbelief.
    I care about you and your family and pray for your continued healing, learning, sharing and strength.
    Your sister in Christ,
    PS- I have found truth, encouragement & a reminder of God’s wisdom, provision & plan for those of us who have gone through a specific hardship, to reach out & encourage others who have gone through a similar struggle as in II Corinthians 1: 3-4. You are putting these verses into action Karen. You are a doer of God’s word. Thank you.

  6. Many years ago while dealing with grief I was suddenly awake one night with an odd realization/remembrance of physical flesh scars. I was compelled to write done my thoughts and I do not journal. Why scars? The deeper the injury the more noticible the scar. Seeing the scar means injury recall. Bleeding is often worse if injury reopens even though the scar tissue is usually tougher than healthy flesh.

    I had other thoughts that night but the thoughts gave me healing because life kept bumping into the scar of my grief.

    When others go thru deep grief my scar reopens and I bleed/grieve more than might seem appropriate to some who do not know about my scar. I “see” my scar on certain dates and remember the pain even 30+ years later. As the years have now passed, however, I can share the faithfulness of our Lord thru His reminder (my scar) because though I still hurt I have confidence in Hope since He has never left my side from moment one. So when I am asked “Are you okay?” I do not need to show my scars which remind me of the (emotional) injury because the scars also remind me of how God has healed me while allowing me to keep the memories.

    Since that night so long ago, visible flesh scars have reminded me of God’s faithfulness whether emotional or flesh injuries therefore I have Hope.

  7. With child loss, everything changes about us. Our whole being changes. I’m not at the point where I can say just what, but my faith has changed and is changing. Wearing the mask is part of that process because we don’t know what we are yet. A time will come when the mask is not needed anymore. I know, I still wear mine. Not all the time but I wear it. Hugs

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