“Mine was a climate-controlled existence, bland beyond description, distinctive only by the particular travail my son was facing on any given day.”
Years ago, the church I was serving spent Lent talking about how we might better love each other. My friend Mike Stavlund – one of the core leaders of Common Table in Vienna, VA – offered the content one night: How Do We Really Love People Who Are Grieving? Mike and Stacy had had the experience of losing a child.
What can we do to help? The short answer is: there is nothing we can do to help. Casseroles are great. Errand-running is fine. Cards and phone calls and cups of tea are all standard practices offered by good neighbors and friends. But raw grief cannot be soothed by a cup of soup or a heartfelt card.
This is not to say that we should not offer such acts of kindness. But there is a pain so deep – Biblical pain – that we are kidding ourselves if we think our small acts of kindness will make everything alright.
Mike has written an elegant book about the loss of his baby boy – Will – which pulls us into the excruciating truth that some pain is so raw that it changes us forever. Mike is allergic to platitudes – which are often the go-to responses of church people. But he faced the pain thoroughly and totally, like a person standing – arms out straight – in a violent storm.
A Force of Will comes out on March 1st. Plenty of time for you to talk it over with your book group and decide to order your copies for the 3rd Sunday of Lent. Really, this is an excellent choice for some serious reflection about loss and grief and being with those in the paralyzing agony of it.
We in the church believe we are already adept at loving people. It’s what followers of Jesus do. But we are not very good at this, really. We take dinner over to friends after a death and then we go home. We’ve done our duty.
Even those of us who carry the pain of others with us like a heavy backpack, making their burdens our burdens – we cannot really know their pain. We love them. We would do anything to relieve them. But we can’t.
This is the heartbreak of loving people. Pain is part of life. It reshapes our faith. I’m grateful that I am not in that horrible club of parents who have lost children, but even the death of children is part of life, and it would serve us well to try to understand this depth of pain as well as we can so that we will have a small sense of what to do and what not to do. Lent is a good time to ponder these things – and it’s just around the corner.