A Meditation on Grief

25 11 2010

You must be able to grieve their stories better than even they can.

When these words first spilled from the mouth of my professor, my immediate assumption was that “better” could only mean “more intensely.” I scoffed at the foolish impossibility of this notion and allowed myself to be carried away to greener pastures by the ebb and flow of Dan’s lecture.

Now, four days later, I find myself haunted by the possibility that he was not merely speaking of a simple matter of the magnitude of the grieving. Is there a qualitative, rather than quantitative, difference in the expression of grief that makes one version better than another? Is there a specific type of grief I am to aspire to if I wish to fulfill my new role as a relational expert?

There was this man on the bus last night…

How many amusing anecdotes have already taken off from that particular runway?

There was this man on the bus last night…

What I have to say about him does not amuse me in the slightest.


There was this man on the bus last night, and he was quite the physically imposing specimen, lording over the back seat with the promise of a seething rage only barely held in check. Shortly into the ride, this threat in man’s clothing received a phone call and wasted no time at all in making his thirst for vengeance known to his caller–and to every single person in that particular kneeling bus.

When I find that fucker I’m going to beat his ass. I don’t care who hears me! If I see him I’m going to hurt him. So what if I go to prison? I been there before.

At this point, ignoring him was easy for me. He was just another bully with too many muscles and too few braincells, and his ire was not directed my way. What I wouldn’t give for his conversation to have ended right then and there, with him destined for prison and my heart untroubled as I entered Mars Hill Graduate School fully prepared for a vespers service oriented around gratitude and rest! Instead, I was pierced by a sliver of the deepest agony.

He raped my sister. Raped her, right there in the street! All I know is his name, but as soon as I can get off this bus…

What might it possibly look like for me to grieve his story better than he can himself? His cry “Violence!” shakes the hills; my voice would be swallowed up in the clarion call of his all-consuming pain. If better grief is a matter of degree, I am already done, finished before I could even begin.

Were my prayers as I sat there, not six feet away from this rage birthed in the deepest pits of helplessness, a pleasing aroma in the nostrils of my God?

Oh Lord, bring this man a full measure of your peace. Show him in the clearest way possible that vengeance is yours. But more than anything else, I pray that such horror never ever ever comes anywhere near my own family. Amen.

What worlds of possibility might have unfolded had I known how to grieve his story well right there on that bus as everyone around him began casting furtive glances at one another that screamed ohshitwhatarewegoingtodoifhelosesitrightnow! What might God have made happen had I chosen, even for a moment, to root myself deeply in his experience and say to him “You. You are my neighbor”? What would it mean to lay down my life that we might experience new birth?

Tonight, I grieve. In the presence of my God, I grieve. In the midst of my friends, I grieve. Even as my spirit bubbles over with recklessly joyful laughter, I grieve.

Lord, if this be your yoke, how could you claim it is easy?




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