Last night one of my friends posted a link to a writer I had never heard of. I read it because I love her. Today, they same post was posted by several more of my friends. It covers painful ground which is universally relevant. Death. Sickness. Grief. Tim Lawrence wants you to know that "Everything doesn't happen for a reason."
I don't know Tim Lawrence. I didn't look him up. I don't know his history or his credential. And honestly, I can't even confront his main premise directly. When I read it, it rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. He curses a lot, which appeals to some people. I think it dulls his point, but that wasn't really what was bothering me. Lots of my favorite people swear like sailors. It was still bothering my memory this morning, so I reread it and the problem smacked me in the face.
He writes from an authoritative perspective. He writes down at me, not to me. He is not offering a hand or a help, he is spitting fire. He preaches with all the sanctimonious arrogance of a televangelist, but what he is preaching?
He wants you to stop comforting people with platitudes. He wants you to stop pretending everything is going to be OK. He wants you to allow your loved ones to grieve.
It all sounds great. What is bothering me isn't the way he describes his knowledge and experience of grief. It's that he won't allow me to describe mine. Apparently, the way I cope is "categorically untrue" and "bullshit" and "needs to be annihilated." He doesn't just want to be allowed to grieve in his way. He is telling me how to grieve too.
That is one problem. Here is the other. He has two categories of people: the grieving and everyone else. That sounds sane, except that no one escapes grief. No one. So, while he is firing the wrath of the grieving against their inadequate comforters, part of his onslaught misses the mark, because there aren't really two categories. There is only one. We have to switch back and forth from one side to the other. He only mentions empathy once, and it is to inform you, dear reader, that his own troubles have made him more empathetic.
It is very angry reading. Apparently, it resonates with a lot of people. I am glad he has found his way. I hope he is surrounded with good friends who give him what he needs to get through every difficulty. What he asks for is acknowledgement of the pain.
The thing is, when someone says, "Everything happens for a reason," maybe they meant you should look backward and figure out why it happened. Maybe. That would be a weird thing to say, and contrary to most experience, but maybe. Or, maybe they meant to help you look forward in hope. Look for the phoenix.
And maybe the friends who tell you to "take responsibility" mean that you screwed up in some awful way and that is why this awful thing happened to you. There are people who believe that. (And lets all go ahead and agree that that is bullshit.) But, maybe by "take responsibility," they meant for the now. They meant you should grieve, because it really is the only way forward.
He gives you permission to let people go when they say these hurtful things. You have to grieve. And since pains are different and people are different, they may not be able to offer empathy. Or sympathy. Or whatever support you need. What you need might be space.
It is OK to walk away from people when you are hurting and what they say makes it worse. Even if they didn't mean to make it worse. You don't have to be strong for them. And you are allowed your anger. If you agree with every word he wrote, that is OK. But don't preach it to me. That is not how I deal with pain. And I am allowed to grieve in my own way too.
Grief can be isolating.
We need to be more generous listeners. We need more empathy. We need to acknowledge that we are all inadequate; we really cannot fix each other.
As I was reading all sorts of scripture verses came to mind. Some of my very favorites seemed relevant:
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-21
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
"Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4
These are the verses I lean on when I am in pain. The verses which keep me from ever feeling sorry for myself. These are the verses that sprang first to mind. These verses are challenging and even painful. I don't know if there is a reason for everything. I do know that God can and will draw goodness out of the most impossible places.
One more verse:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 7:26
Grief. Fear. Abandonment. Loss. Pain. Our Lord understands. He hears. He is here.