This post is mostly for those who have a religious faith or belong to a religion, such as Christianity. It looks at how the pain of our grief can sometimes be dismissed or minimised by others within our community of faith because of a focus on the ‘next life.’
Missing our loved ones is the most natural thing in the world.
Of course we miss them. They’re not here.
There’s an empty chair at the table.
If they were our partner, one side of the bed is empty. It’s colder in the bedroom than it used to be.
If they were our child, we feel their absence acutely. We want to visit, to talk with them, to watch their life unfold.
If we’ve lost our parents, we might miss the sense of ‘going home’ when we’d visit – no matter our age.
We are living without them, whoever exactly the ‘them’ is in our case. We are living with loss.
Our religious beliefs might encourage us that our loved ones have gone to a better place, where there is no more pain or sorrow or tears, and that they are happy now. If that’s what we believe, it can be truly comforting.
But the pain of grief isn’t really about where our loved one has gone, but the fact they are not here.
Within the community of our faith – whether it be a church or otherwise – we might sometimes find that the pain of our grief is somewhat dismissed or minimised, because of this idea that we should be so comforted by our belief in the next life.
“He’s safe and whole with the Lord now,” we are told.
Yes, we might say, but he is not here.
“She’s happy at home in heaven,” we are told.
Yes, we might say, but she is not here.
Think about this:
23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (Philippians 1:23-24)
These are the words of Paul, talking about his longing to go to heaven. “It would be far better for me.” His faith tells him that the difficulties and pains of life – of which he was suffering many – would be relieved by leaving this life.
BUT. There’s a ‘but’.
“But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”
He is willing to stick around, because he knows that his absence from the scene would make life more difficult for his friends. He knows they would miss him.
Surely his friends also believe in the heaven that he is looking forward to? Surely they know he will be better off ‘with the Lord’? Yes, but they would still miss him.
(At least, that’s my take on this passage.)
I am relating this here because it goes back to the central point of this post.
The pain of our grief is not due to where our loved ones are now. No matter how strong or weak our faith about the ‘next life’ and ‘heaven’ and ‘going to be with the Lord’, the heart of our grief is the absence of the person we love from our life right now.
We are living without them.
The empty chair.
The empty bed.
The empty house.
“Blessed are they that mourn.” Our mourning is not a poor reflection on us. It does not indicate a lack of faith or ‘standing’ in our religion. Mourning is natural. Grieving is natural. We miss our loved ones.
This is such a simple thought – it seems so obvious, that I wondered whether I should bother even writing this. But from my own experience, from what I see written elsewhere, and from what lots of people tell me, it is too common for people who are struggling with a profound loss to receive the ‘happy butterfly’ type of message (I think you know what I mean!).
My response is: Yes, by all means, share faith and encouragement about the next life, if that is what you believe in your community of faith, whether that community is a church or a Facebook group or whatever.
But please don’t expect this alone to take away the stinging pain of grief. Our grief endures not because we ‘lack faith’ but because the ones we love are no longer here.
P.S. There are aspects of having faith that I personally have found very helpful and strengthening on my grief journey, and I’m not writing this to diminish what faith can do for us. This is just one side of things. I’ll write more on other sides another time.
- Read more: Mourning deeply
The pain of grief isn’t really about where our loved one has gone, but the fact they are not here.