Rick Marschall challengingly asks:
How many of us have attended church services where the pastor, or perhaps a superstore-style greeter (some larger churches today have designated Hospitality Pastors), flashes the salesman-white smile and asks everybody how they ‘are’?
Assisted by throat-microphone and ubiquitous large-screen image confronting the audience, they often follow with the robotic demands: ‘I can’t hear you! Good morning!! I want to see everybody smiling!’
It seems to have been forgotten by today’s commercialised and cookie-cutter churches that, sometimes, people go to a church to cry, not to laugh. To be reverent and contemplate, not to be jolly and high-five! To approach the altar and be prostrate before the Lord, not to dance.
It is a fact that many pastors will earmark a portion of every sermon for jokes, even trolling the internet for the designated Yuks. Hellfire and brimstone have been replaced by face-painting and cotton candy.
Jesus identifies with grief
As a confirmed class clown, I hasten to specify that I am not a sourpuss. Even in church. But it does bother me that the joy that is our birthright as Christians – which once, in at least American Christianity, itself succeeded ‘hard preaching’ and judgmentalism – has been replaced by fluff and counterfeit emotionalism.
Joy, indeed, is our unique blessing; not mere happiness, but spiritual joy. But that cannot mean that life’s other emotions are radioactive. Life’s negative aspects can, at the least, teach us lessons. And other elemental emotions – I nominate grief in this discussion – are part of life, too. And as we cannot avoid grief, it is best to deal well with it.
Scripture tells us that Christ himself was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3). In part we can assume it was so Jesus could identify with us in every particular. But I believe it was also to show us that grief and sorrow are parts of life as common as inhaling and exhaling… and how he dealt with them.
I have recently dealt with sorrow and grief, but claim no special burden over others; whining does not become a Christian. But my ears have tuned in to ministrations of others as Christians deal with grief. Random eavesdropping:
• ‘Me? I have two children here and one in heaven.’
• ‘Pop, don’t feel bad about not grieving heavily. You grieved for Mom while she was alive.’
• ‘Oh! Mourn, honey; don’t hold back the tears. God’s comfort will be sweeter.’
A new friend, telling me of an unbelievable succession of recent accidents, diseases, and deaths among her family and friends uttered the wisest words I have heard in many months: ‘We must not let anybody steal our grief.’
Grief isn’t foreign or malignant
Of course we are used to being warned against those who would steal our joy. But grief is neither foreign nor malignant. It can be healthy, if we let it. Certain emotions we must release: easily said. But more than that, grief can allow us to appreciate things more, even as we miss them; to love people better, even in their absence; to add to our lives… even when it seems like we have lost pieces of our lives.
To suppress grief, or deny the healthy process it requires of us, is really only to postpone it. I do not say we should invite it – surely it is more bitter than sweet when it visits – but, rather, we should befriend it. It is part of life, which by God’s plan in its totality; we must meet unafraid, without apologies, and with a bold, conquering spirit.
‘We share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too’ (I Corinthians 1:5).
The poet Longfellow put his refusal to let anybody steal his grief in these words:
‘Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.’
Tears are prisms
No offense to the feel-good style of today’s churches, but it has always been true that tears are a language God understands.
He sees us when we laugh, but hears us when we cry.
I believe our tears are prisms through which he sees into our souls… and we see him better.
Rick Marschall has authored 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics and writer for Disney Comics. Link: www.mondayministry.com / RickMarschall@gmail.com / firstname.lastname@example.org See also Resources regarding some of Rick’s books