blessed are those who mourn

Candles on cemetery“blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” – matthew 5:4

if you’re new here, this is 2nd in a series of posts centered around the beatitudes.  the first one is blessed are the spiritually poor.

this second beatitude–blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted–changed my life.  literally.  it might sound kind of corny but the truth is that years ago i entered into a very intentional time of healing from a lot of shame & pain in my past.  during this season i intersected with this verse in a new way.  i began to stop talking like a news reporter sharing the facts but actually let myself feel the magnitude of the pain i had experienced.  i hadn’t really cried much before; i had been subtly & also directly taught that crying was bad.  self-protection was my main MO & i was really good at it.  somehow during this season, my defenses were down & i let God stir up all kinds of trouble for me–good trouble.  the best word to describe it was true lament, an anguished cry, an i’m-afraid-now-i-might-not-ever-stop-crying-but-i-can’t-keep-it-in-any-longer-kind of feeling.  the dam broke loose, and i began to allow myself to mourn.  and, consistent with what Jesus said, i felt God’s comfort like i had never felt before.

oh, how i wish i had a container to do this years earlier.  so much less collateral damage would have been done.

i consider mourning allowing ourselves to feel hurt, sorrow, anger, loss, and grief.  along with spiritual poverty in the first beatitude, it implies a softness of heart and an openness to feel.  i believe strongly that in contemporary christian culture, the whole idea of mourning is far underrated.  in fact, many have been sent the direct message that those who feel sadness & anger are somehow lacking in faith and trust in God.  almost exactly 5 years ago when i was in a painful season of leaving a big church staff & filled with feelings of anger & sadness i can’t tell you how hard it was for people to let me feel.  i had been around the block for long enough to know that if i didn’t–if i stuffed it and pretended it didn’t hurt as much as it did and refused to allow myself to feel the magnitude of the pain– it would come back to bite me like it had before.  so i let myself mourn.  cry.   feel anger.  express my sadness and loss.

and in the midst i felt God’s comfort & the comfort of other good friends in so many beautiful ways.  over time, i made it to the other side.  yes, like other parts of my painful past, it is still a wound in my story that won’t ever fully be gone this side of heaven. but instead of taking years and years to fester and finally break through (after doing far more damage), this time i stayed in the moment and let myself mourn.

it freaked some people out.  it freaked me out.  but i don’t think it freaked God out.

Jesus is familiar with pain.   he can hack it.

the question is–can we?

my experience has been that so many people i know–especially conservative christians–have a lot of trouble expressing sadness, sorrow, pain, and loss.  i can only speak from my own experience and what many people have shared along the way, but i think a big reason behind it is “good Christians” somehow aren’t supposed to be filled with all these difficult emotions.  if we trusted enough, prayed enough, believed enough, claimed enough, then we wouldn’t be feeling these things.  so we stuff.  we pretend.  we hide.  we try to will it to go away.  we overwork. we do all kinds of crazy, unhealthy stuff to numb out that in the end causes us far more trouble than actually mourning.

there is so much freaking pain in this world, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, in our faith communities, in our own families.  to me, part of living this beatitude out requires that we become people willing to stay in touch with pain.  like Jesus, we can become people & communities who become good pain-welcomers (this was part of a series of posts a few years ago on some dreams i have for church). it means we will have to first get in touch with our own pain & allow ourselves to mourn and feel.

then, we can hold the space for others.  then, we can stand together in real situations and be present in the mourning.

for the injustices that don’t seem to be made right.  for the losses of people, jobs, relationships, children, health, church, faith and a whole long list of other casualties.  for the failures.  for the innocence that got shattered through abuse & neglect.  for the hurting children, the suffering, the aging, the silenced.

we can become people & communities who learn to lament and grieve.  to create a safe container for others mourning.  to honor and welcome pain & loss instead of offer quick fixes & hyper-spiritualized-solutions.  to hold our friends hand in the dark & let them hold ours when we need it too.

this is what this beatitude means to me.  i’d love to hear what it means to you.

God, help us be people & communities who are willing to mourn, to feel, to allow pain & sorrow to emerge.  as we receive your comfort, may we pass that comfort on to others, too.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

11 Comments

  • Once again you have said it so well Kathy, and to just add a couple of comments. It’s extra hard for a man, we are not supposed to feel anything much less cry. It has been an amazing journey into the world of true emotions this last 3 years and I believe that grief was the door that really helped me to engage my feelings and realize that I can feel and still be a man. When I talk about feel I’m not talking about the stereo typical “man feelings” of sex and beer, I’m referring to those deep down longings that all men have to feel and be alive to those feelings.
    Thanks again for being so transparent and saying things many of us wish we could say.

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  • I like that I can hear your voice when I read your words. I’m glad you’re writing them and sharing them, and that you have walked this path of courage and turned to welcome others behind you to follow similar paths of their own.

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  • So much truth here in your words and life Kathy. To stuff and hide and pretend is to slam the door and walk away. To be raw and real and authentic in expressing our grief, rage, pain, disullusionment, with our families and friends and God is to stay engaged. And staying engaged heals.

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  • Wow. Hmm…. this is a powerful post for me. It took me back 4 years to when I first told a friend what was done to me (I had only just begun to bring the fragments of memory together to form the picture). I hadn’t even left the church yet (that came a month later). The next wto days I just laid on my friend’s couch and cried. If anyone had asked me why, I could not have put words to it – it was just 40 years for pain starting to come out. Hmm… and your post reminded me that the business of letting that pain out is a work in progress…. So many are so afraid of the pain that they will do almost anything to avoid feeling that. But for me, I have realized that the more pain you stuff – and the longer you hold it in, the more you are just in pain all the time like a low grade fever that doesn’t quit. There is no other way to get rid of it but to just feel it. God, help us not be afraid to feel….

    And if that friend had not been willing to let me feel that pain…. she understood that there was not anything she could do or needed to do except listen and then just let me be – let me feel it and cry and not interfere with that. That is a rare friend. 😀

    You’re right that the church culture frowns on the negative feelings like they are a stain on our “witness”. But really, I think they frown on all emotions that are in any way demonstrative. Hmm… and I think the ones that are least able to handle looking at someone else’s pain are the one’s that refuse to look at their own.

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  • “i stuffed it and pretended it didn’t hurt as much as it did and refused to allow myself to feel the magnitude of the pain– it would come back to bite me like it had before.” Ack! Um, yeeeeeeeep.

    Learning to mourn *hidden* & buried (behind the moat) losses is such a different, yet intense pain than the mourning of a physical death… It is has not been a hardship to sit myself and others in bereavement, and work through the more structured, yet not linear, stages. This is a whole new beast, and I am so thankful for you holding the space for me, on so many levels…

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  • This is a very tough one to comment on right now. One of our best friends is in the hospital dying and is not expected to make it through the day. We saw her last night and I will go there again in a couple of hours.

    Mourning is normal. It is healthy. It is a necessary part of the path to healing. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to do it.

    Our culture and churches have done a grand job of teaching us how to suppress the pain and sense of loss. When I was a kid my father died. I remember that peculiar institution called the “visitation”. My mother and we kids sat in chairs next to the casket. People marched by the casket, then shook our hands and said things such as “God needed a perfect rose for His garden, so He chose your dad.” I wanted to hit them and God. Everyone was so polite and proper, except one.

    My cousin, about my age, flung his upper body across the casket and shrieked and sobbed. Everyone thought his expression of grief strange. Everyone except me. He did exactly what I was feeling. I thought I shouldn’t do it because I was afraid my mother would fall apart. I was the one she always depended on, up to the day she died.

    After the funeral, the church disappeared. My mother cried herself to sleep every night. Eventually help came, but none of it from our church, and very little from other Christians.

    Three older men, all with grown children, took me under their wing. We shared a common hobby. They encouraged me and took me to club meetings and “shows”. Probably the roughest guy in town, who had a poor reputation and who could have won a cursing contest, took a special interest in me. Many Sundays he would park just around the corner from the church. I’d sneak out near the end of the sermon, run around the corner and we’d be off to a club meeting or show. We always stopped by the tavern on the way home. He went in for a beer, and brought out a bag of chips and a soda for me as I waited in his car. I NEVER told the church people that. You see, he was “unspiritual” stopping for a beer. But he spent time with me and the church folks didn’t, so I wasn’t about to tell on him.

    The paraclete (Holy Spirit) is one who comes alongside. Isn’t it amazing how the Spirit uses people to do that? Someone to sit alongside as we weep. Someone to listen. Someone to spend time with us. Someone to buy us chips and a soda. Isn’t it amazing that when the church folk are busy being spiritual the Spirit can use the roughest, cussingest, most tenderhearted beer drinker in town to mourn with us and come alongside?

    I never gave up on church, however. Why? – Not because of the church folk, but because of several old guys (well, they seemed old to me then), one in particular, who came alongside me and helped me mourn. He told me to not give up on church, “because it’s important for you and your mother to be there”.

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  • john – thanks so much for sharing. i think you are so right–it is even more rare for men to have a place to really express feelings & get in touch with what’s going on way down deep. it is such a beautiful thing. i wrote a post a long time ago called “a community where men cry” it is so healing for me to be around male friends letting themselves feel. peace to you, my friend, i hope we can hang out one of these days again. i’m getting around a little better, still can only sit for an hour or so at a time but was at blue sky today for the first time in months. lmk.

    skylark – thanks for reading & for being part of the wackiness & the beauty. i’m very thankful for the brave fellow sojourners. you remind me this is worth it.

    kate – thanks for reading. hope all’s well over there…

    mary – you always say everything so beautifully…staying engaged does heal.

    katherine – thanks & for the link, too. oh it is so true, the pain when it doesn’t have a safe and healthy way to come out can indeed take lives. literally and figuratively. i am so glad you have had friends who can hold that space for you. like you said, it is a rare gift. i have noticed how with my back injury how easy it is for people to give advice and provide simple solutions but how the ones that provide the most healing are the ones who just listen & don’t try to solve a darn thing. they acknowledge it’s hard and let it go…

    stacy – you’re amazing. and brave. it’s so hard when we were taught to put it all under lock and key. thank you for the privilege it is to be along for the ride. it is beautiful. and so $*!^$^!(!)!&#^!! hard, too, wanted to make sure i used as many exclamation marks as possible in there because it’s true.

    sam – oh this is a beautiful story in all kinds of ways. also i am sorry for the pain your friend is having to go through & so glad you are there for her, a kind and loving presence in the midst. sending lots of love from colorado.

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  • This is seriously good stuff! I’m actually pretty good at this one, but like you alluded to…it can make other people uncomfortable. My husband doesn’t want me to cry over the baby that died at work, my mom doesn’t think my crying over babies in orphanages is helping them. I can’t seem to help them understand what I’ve come to understand. I “stuffed it” for so long, I hated being the “crier”, I got told I was going to make a bad nurse because I cried (huh???) then I realized that this is my way of getting closer to the heart of God. He mourns for those things too and He offers comfort. It helped me connected in a deeper way and I think because I allow myself to feel, I can better understand other’s who mourn.

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