Saying YES to Grief and NO to Shame

(Originally posted on June 21, 2011):

For my own catharsis, as we walk through this season of grief around the loss of our son, I want to write out some thoughts on both the power of grief as well as the twin destroyers of shame and guilt.

Pure grief is good.  While I am very far from loving pain (even when it’s good for me), I have learned to honor grief when it comes legitimately through life’s losses.  “Blessed are those who mourn,” challenges me because it’s Jesus’ affirmation that we will have trouble in this life and the pain of grief is both necessary and valuable.

The difficulty I have with grief, though, is two-fold.  First, it hurts: I guess that’s why it’s called “grief.”  Secondly, it comes and goes as unexpectedly as a summer squall.

One moment, my wife, daughter, and son-in-law are having lunch together and actually laughing as we remember some things about Tim from his childhood that remind us what a stubborn child he could be.  And the next moment, without a moment’s notice, all of us are choked up with tears streaming down our faces as we consider how his hard-headedness contributed to so many of his problems as a young adult—ultimately leading to his own self-inflicted demise.

The fact is: I love him and miss him; and despite all of the comforts of heavenly thinking, on earth I miss him so deeply that I want to release a groan from the depth of my very being to express the pain that seems to reach from below my toes streaming up and out of my mouth in cries or tears or simply sounds that cannot be expressed in words.

Yes, grief hurts.

And I have discovered, through many years of living on this planet, that that is really okay.  It’s better to let grief have its way then try to deny it.  It’s better to feel the pain than it is to try and run from it.  Ultimately (though lessons are completely hidden at this stage) pain, loss, and grief are some of the best teachers and healers that God provides.

BUT…

My real purpose in writing today is to remind myself that grief rarely comes in its pure and healthy form.  Instead, it so often carries the twin leeches of shame and guilt that are so potent, so dangerous, and so potentially lethal to the soul, that if they are allowed to take root they can strangle the very good that God is at work doing.

Shame destroys and guilt is even worse.

The first thoughts that readily pop into my head, as I feel the pain of Tim’s passing and the loss of his life is this: “This isn’t right; there must be something wrong with me.”  Or, “It’s shameful, disgraceful even, to have a situation or problem of this nature.”

This is shame.  It internalizes problems as being an indicator that I am a problem—that I am not right—that there is something inherently wrong with me or with my life with God.

One friend spoke to this directly when she wrote me these words:

We know that many times people don’t understand about things that don’t fall into the perceived “norm” of “Christian” problems.

These words were SO important to me serving to counter the enemy’s attempts to shroud my life, and this situation in particular, with shame and darkness.

The reality is that we do have problems of every variety.  The Christian culture that we are part of often declares that some problems are better not shared nor spoken about too openly.  It’s as though we want to keep ourselves believing that our lives, as Christians, are supposed to somehow be above others and above the depravity that marks the rest of the world.  This feeds right into the shame that wants to get under my skin.  This causes too many of our struggles to remain unspoken and hidden as though the light of God’s glory cannot shine into and even through these types of situations.

On the plus side, as I have shared just a bit of Tim’s story, I realize that this gives other people the opportunity to break down those walls of shame and share their stories with me:

“I know exactly what you are going through.  We went through something similar with a child (or brother, or sister, or parent, or friend).”

 

“I rarely talk with others about this ___________________ issue with that we have experienced with one of our own children.”

The opposite of shame is to let the light in; and one of my hopes in processing my own grief is that all of us will let more light into the struggling areas of our life because it’s the light (not the lies of shame) that bring ultimate healing and freedom.

And let’s also not forget about guilt.

Even more deadly than shame are the lies of guilt that often come like an uncontrollable flood:

  • If only I had done this or that.
  • I should have said this and I didn’t.
  • This wouldn’t have happened if only I had done _____ or ______ or ______.
  • This wouldn’t have happened if only I HADN’T done _____ or ______ or ______.

One of the things we are trying to do openly, as a family, is acknowledge and then challenge these guilt sentiments that each of us struggle with.

Guilt is NOT grief; it’s self-destructive, self-flagellation based primarily on the lies and accusations of the enemy.

So, as I process today’s grief, my prayer is that we would not run from the pain of it, we would let it have its way as we let go of yesterday and pass (eventually) into tomorrow, and that we will not give way to the leeches of shame and guilt seeking to destroy what God is at work in for good.

Thank you for allowing me to process my heart, here, and for continuing to hold our hands!