One of the things I love the most about participating in a faith is the sense of optimism it provides–the glass-half-full outlook that assures us that even when life is hard, God has the power to consecrate our afflictions for our gain (2 Nephi 2:2). As C.S. Lewis stated, “God can make good of all that happens.”

There is great power in the capacity to find meaning in what seems like senseless pain, the ability to see the fire of affliction as a refining force rather than a destructive one.

Yet it is the second half of Lewis’ statement that has had me thinking lately, and wondering how it relates to my faith: “God can make good of all that happens. But the loss is real.” *

The loss is real.

Maybe this struck me because I’m old enough now to be acquainted with loss, to have been shaken by it, and to fear it. The emotions of loss somehow taste like a lack of faith, and it’s hard to know what to do with them.

When we moved to a new city, I remember talking to a friend about how much I missed my former home. After listening to my teary lament, she asked, “But don’t you feel like it was God’s will?” Her question caught me off guard and sparked a flash of anger. Even if I did have a sure knowledge that the move was God’s will (which I didn’t), I knew in my bones that having that knowledge wouldn’t make it hurt any less. Knowledge and faith do not negate pain.

I spoke with another friend recently who is in the middle of her own crisis, and in a moment of candid frustration she said, “Trying to have faith sucks.”

She was feeling her loss–a loss with no apparent meaning. Trying to reconcile loss with the sometimes glib assurances that even if the jaws of hell gape after you it will be for your good . . . well, it’s hard.

Recovering from loss takes time, and it’s often a private process. We don’t usually hear the stories of those who have yet to find the good in their hell. It’s easy to feel alone when caught in the jaws. However, I’ve found that if I try to collapse the process, try to rush through the fire in an effort to achieve the refinement, I miss the very thing that brings me to God. I have to feel the fire. I have to believe that He is not simply trying to erase my pain; I need to feel like my loss matters. It’s then that I’m ready to be healed. I have to see and feel the emptiness before it can be filled.

I find comfort in the reality that we are sent to mourn with those that mourn. We are not sent to cheer them up. Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise, He did not arrive at the tomb with smiles and assurances that all would be well. The loss was real. It is because He wept at the grave of His friend that I feel I can reach to Him with my own losses.

I’m finding that my faith is rooted in both optimism and tears.

God be praised for His mighty power in overcoming both loss and hell, and for His mercy in weeping over them with us.

*quoted in People of Paradox, p. 155

33 Comments

  1. corktree

    March 2, 2010

    This is such a different way of looking at suffering. I love what you say about the reality that we are to *mourn* with others and not negate their suffering. And I have always wondered why Christ was so sad at the death of Lazarus when He must have known what He would do about it. It makes a lot of sense to think of it in that way, and yes, it helps me to feel that he is actually feeling my pain in the very moment that I feel it, and that He is not going to make me feel bad for what I might feel is an overreaction to my trials. We are allowed to feel the pain of suffering and we need to feel comfortable going through the process. We don’t have to “buck up” if we are not ready. Great post!

  2. Sharlee

    March 2, 2010

    Beautiful post, Melissa. I especially love this:

    “I find comfort in the reality that we are sent to mourn with those that mourn. We are not sent to cheer them up. Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise, He did not arrive at the tomb with smiles and assurances that all would be well. The loss was real. It is because He wept at the grave of His friend that I feel I can reach to Him with my own losses.”

  3. JoLyn

    March 2, 2010

    This is the best essay on mourning and dealing with loss that I have ever read. Just perfectly said.

  4. al

    March 2, 2010

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  5. ErinAnn

    March 2, 2010

    I lost a friend in HS. Complications of a basic surgery. Her very best friend was a good friend of mine and when I finally saw her after our friend had died, I hugged her hard and told her, “It will be alright!” And she sternly cried back, “It’s NOT alright! It’s NOT alright!” I just cried and held her and told her that I knew that it wasn’t alright.

    No one wants platitudes in their grief or pain. They want honesty and acknowledgement that their pain is real and true. Mourning with those who mourn is a difficult and painful experience *because* you are *mourning*. It’s difficult. It’s painful.

  6. Kerri

    March 2, 2010

    I love this take on loss, and I have always loved considering Christ at Lazarus’ tomb, and his true pain for His friends.

    I think this was my favorite: “However, I’ve found that if I try to collapse the process, try to rush through the fire in an effort to achieve the refinement, I miss the very thing that brings me to God. I have to feel the fire. I have to believe that He is not simply trying to erase my pain; I need to feel that my loss matters. It’s then that I’m ready to be healed. I have to see and feel the emptiness before it can be filled.” This was so perfect. I am so often guilty of trying to push through a trial to its (hopefully quick) end.

  7. wendy

    March 2, 2010

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  8. Robin

    March 2, 2010

    very true that optimism and tears come together in trials of faith.

  9. Angela

    March 2, 2010

    I love how this post complements the equally wonderful depression series in emphasizing how it feels to trudge trudge through pain and sadness and trial. So often the stories we hear are of those who have “emerged” on the other side of grief or pain, but emerging doesn’t happen until (or unless?) one descends. The stories of descending, or of grappling through the darkness while one is in the depths, aren’t shared as often as they could be in our culture, in my opinion. But the sharing of these stories can bring such healing and light! Essays like this one, and the stories that were shared in the depression post, are truly “uplifting” to me, and I’m sure to many others. Thank you.

  10. Kathryn Soper

    March 2, 2010

    Excellent, Melissa. So much useless suffering comes from the falsehood that faith erases pain. Yes, faith enables us to perceive it in a different way–particularly in retrospect–but it does not act as a circuit breaker between life and the human heart.

  11. m&m

    March 2, 2010

    Truly a masterful piece, Melissa. Simply excellent.

    I was thinking what Angela said…that this compliments the discussion on depression.

    My experience has been that it’s in embracing the reality of the pain that I am more able to allow the purposes and growth to distill on my heart and life. The truth unfolds not in fighting the pain (which can kick in defenses and adrenaline and fight-or-flight craziness), but in working with it.

    I also love the reminder that it’s too easy to want to fix someone else’s pain, rather than just be there to mourn with them.

    (That said, sometimes someone bringing in a perspective that I can’t see myself *has* helped…there are times when we can “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” too. — but I think it’s often better to err on the side of mourning with them…too easy to try to get in a fix-it mode.)

  12. Lupita

    March 2, 2010

    Melissa, this is a tremendous piece. Thank you.

    We are sent to mourn with those who mourn. And yet, we are often so pitifully inadequate in our feeble attempts. Recently, I’ve learned the importance of forgiveness when those whom we hope we can count on to mourn with us simply fail to do so. Or do so in ways that are utterly unhelpful.

    I do think, however, that we can be sent to cheer others up, as long as it’s done with the acknowledgment that something very real and painful has occurred. We’re not sent to pretend that nothing has happened or that life will continue on as before. But, yes, please do make me laugh, tell me about your day, send me chocolate. It can help.

  13. Selwyn

    March 2, 2010

    Indeed and amen.

    I appreciate your graphic of a glass half full/empty. For me, loss is often not knowing if the glass of my life is half full, half empty, or just how much of the bitterness I can force myself to drink in one go.

    Someone telling me to ‘just get over it’ makes my loss ache more, almost as if reminding me that there is no way to make it disappear according to a schedule.

    Beautifully, beautifully said.

  14. Tasha

    March 2, 2010

    Thank you so much for that! I have feel the same way but have never been able to describe it such a beautiful way as you have. I have a friend that is struggling and I will definitely pass this along to her.

  15. Melissa M.

    March 2, 2010

    Melissa, this was a profound post, and so beautifully written. I love your insights on Jesus’ weeping at Lazarus’ tomb, and the reminder that we are instructed to mourn with those who mourn, not cheer them up. Having spent some time lately in the refiner’s fire, I’m trying to learn to be patient and to let myself feel that pain, without trying to rush through it. So hard, but I’m trying.

  16. marintha

    March 2, 2010

    Great post Melissa. Sometimes I think when someone dies people are too quick to say that we know we will see them after death…
    I’m not sure to what degree that dulls the pain of such a loss. It helps more to acknowledge the deep hurt.

  17. traci

    March 2, 2010

    This is a beautiful post and so important.

    When my dad was dying so many people came with forced cheerfulness with sureness of “God’s Will” and “Knowledge” and being told to see God’s will and love. This was not the time, to be quite frank. Ecclessastics says – There is a time for joy and a time for mourning.

    I have seen as a life time of being handicapped the insensitive remarks of the “religious” to my mother and I. When at the time – mourning with would so much more have shown the Jesus with Lazarus and Jesus at the Garden of Olives.

  18. Shannon

    March 2, 2010

    Brilliant. Just what I needed to hear and so perfectly put. Thank you!

  19. Andrea R.

    March 2, 2010

    I loved this line: “Knowledge and faith do not negate pain.” I have lots of knowledge and lots of faith, but that doesn’t take the pain away. I think it’s unhealthy to look for, as you say, glib “happy answers” in the midst of pain and suffering. Feeling the pain and mourning are part of the process of healing. I can’t tell you how many times people told me how blessed I am for having a disabled child. Yes, there have been miraculous blessings, but the pain and loss are so real, and nearly every day is hard. Allowing myself to feel that anger, loss, and pain, and to mourn the normal child that I have lost, have helped me to deal with our situation in a much healthier way.

    Fantastic post Melissa — beautifully put.

  20. Angie f

    March 2, 2010

    Lovely, tender post. Thank you.

    Several years ago, a dear friend lost a baby at 7+ months gestation. Upon delivering this child they had named and anxiously awaited, the L&D nurse lovingly washed and blanketed the baby, called the older siblings into the birthing room and left them alone to grieve as a family. One of my friend’s sons (because she has taught them WELL), said something along the lines of “I know he is in a better place, but I had such PLANS”)

    For me, that line has encapsulated the definition of loss in the context of gospel knowledge: We know what we know, but we have such plans. And the setting aside of those plans is heart-wrenching. And knowing that the Savior’s heart is wrenched when mine is has helped me to allow that feeling more honestly in my own heart and to seek to better mourn with those who mourn around me.

  21. Kathryn Soper

    March 2, 2010

    Angie f, thanks for sharing that story. We do have such plans. That really resonated with me.

  22. m&m

    March 2, 2010

    And the setting aside of those plans is heart-wrenching.

    That statement to me makes it all come full circle all the more. Brilliant.

  23. Cheri

    March 2, 2010

    Melissa, as others have already said–this is a profoundly beautiful post. I have always loved that Jesus wept with them. You express it so perfectly, and then make that connection with “mourn with those that mourn”–one of those brilliantly clear connections that redefines familiar words. It’s posts like these that make this blog so wonderful.

  24. Emily M.

    March 2, 2010

    This is beautiful. I need to give myself permission to mourn, and then move on.

    Thanks, Melissa.

  25. Janet

    March 2, 2010

    I too, felt that these words were so profound to me:

    “We are sent to mourn with those that mourn. We are not sent to cheer them up.”

    I realize that I can mourn with friends and those outside my family. But I usually try to cheer up my family; I will try harder to mourn with them instead.

  26. Kay

    March 3, 2010

    Beautiful, I can barely see for the tears. I am particularly grateful to the friends that let me cry through my grief and loss, and also cried with me. We all have much to learn about mourning and helping others. I learned much last year because I saw what helped me. I had to tell myself frequently that people didn’t mean to hurt me by their comments, they thought they were being kind. Sometimes when you are at a loss for what to say a genuine ‘I’m sorry’ is best. Please, no stories of others problems and pain either, there is no oneupmanship (I’m not sure if you use this word in America) in grief.

  27. jendoop

    March 3, 2010

    This is a wonderful post, thanks.

    I think the reason I can be so quick to comfort instead of mourning with others is because pain is scary. It’s scary when it’s ours, and it’s scary when it’s someone we love. So it seems that an element I miss that better enables me to mourn with those who mourn is a deeper trust in God – the knowledge that darkness does come but so does the morning. We can endure the darkness, feel it, probe it, and come to understand it with less fear if we keep in a corner of our hearts the belief that light will come.

    These thoughts came to me because a friend who is far away confided in me that she is in a deep depression. I am striving to mourn with her, but I also need to know that she’ll keep the suicide hotline handy in case her hope of future light burns out.

  28. Deb

    March 3, 2010

    Thank you. So beautifully expressed.

  29. Melissa Y.

    March 3, 2010

    Thank you for all of the thoughtful comments. I’ve really appreciated them.

    It’s interesting that there seems to be a perceived difference between mourning with someone and comforting them. I don’t think these two concepts are exclusive; sometimes the most comforting thing we can do with someone is mourn with them. I do understand the importance of extending a sense of hope, which is what I think most people try to do when they comfort someone.

  30. Sue

    March 3, 2010

    I think, when we find ourselves reluctant or unable to mourn with those who mourn, it’s because doing so makes us feel vulnerable. If we just sit back and allow friends or loved ones to feel their pain, we cannot help but feel our own, present or potential.

    People often say that they don’t know how to help those who are suffering loss or grief. What words should be spoken? What actions taken? More and more, I realize that there’s nothing I really need to do but just be there and be real.

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  31. Kelly

    March 3, 2010

    Love it! Thank you!

  32. Susan M

    March 5, 2010

    Really excellent.

  33. Sage

    March 6, 2010

    Thank you. Helpful insights.

    When my husband lost his dad a few months ago I would tell people when they said sorry that it was hard. Being able to express that helped somehow.

    I feel like when we are able to share our stories here, we are mourning together. Thanks.

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