Fidgeting with her hair, the nervous teen told me her parents would “kill her” if they found out she was pregnant. Her boyfriend didn’t want a baby. They’d broken up the night before.
I expressed sympathy. The girl burst into tears. Then she said what most people say when they cry in front of others.
We’re not very good at grief and sorrow in our culture. We’re embarrassed at our tears. We apologize for allowing our feelings to show.
Somehow, we’ve adopted a strange paradigm: it’s not okay to hurt –it’s only okay to be okay.
So we hide our feelings and except others to do the same.
We feel compelled to cheer up sad people. We want them to look at the bright side in the middle of their suffering.
Out of our own discomfort with pain and suffering, we try to fast-forward others through the valley of the shadow.
The problem is, there’s no way to rush the process.
When we were seniors in high school, my friend’s father died. She had the comfort of knowing he’d become a Christian shortly before his death. Still, losing your dad at age seventeen is rough.
In an effort to cheer up my friend, a well-meaning Christian said, “It’s neat that your dad is in heaven!”
Later my friend told me, “Nothing about my dad’s death seems ‘neat’ right now.”
When it comes to grieving, culture often influences Christians rather than the other way around.
The Bible tells us, in the context of blessing others and living in harmony, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15).
It doesn’t say “help weeping folks rejoice.”
Even more to the point:
“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” – Proverbs 25:20
It’s downright mean to cheer up a grieving person.
How can we unlearn this insensitive habit?
Remember that your friend is in a valley. Let her be there. Instead of trying to pull her up to higher ground, lower yourself to her.
- Lower your voice and intensity level.
Grieving people’s emotional tanks are depleted. Their nerves can’t always take normal noise and activity.
Recently, while shopping, I found myself near two women who were talking and laughing loudly about something that didn’t seem very funny.
I felt like saying, “Do you mind? My dad just died.”
Of course, they had no idea, and I didn’t say anything –but if you know someone is sad, keep in mind they are easily set on edge.
Loud voices or boisterous laughter may grate on their nerves. Vigorous hugs may overwhelm them.
Quiet down for your grieving friend.
- Lower your speed.
People negotiating the valley of the shadow feel as though they’re in a time warp.
They’re wading through four feet of molasses while everyone else speeds past them like the Roadrunner cartoon. It’s impossible for them to keep up with others.
Slow down for your grieving friend.
- Lower your expectations.
Your grieving friend is not on top of her game.
Don’t expect her to be normal. She might not think straight. She might be grumpy or depressed. She might even snap at you. (This might be especially true in the case of a grieving man.)
Don’t take it personally.
Lay down your expectations for the sake of your grieving friend.
By lowering yourself into your friend’s valley, you’ll exercise counter-cultural kindness. You’ll demonstrate Christlikeness.
In the end, the young pregnant teen I spoke with had her baby with her parent’s support. But while she navigated that dark valley, she just needed to cry.
Let’s shed the tears God gave us—and give others permission to do the same.