The Idol of Grief

It may seem strange to worship something as painful as grief. Don’t we only worship things that feel really good or that we think will make us really happy? Nope. Our hearts are idol factories and they will latch on to just about anything that crosses our paths. Even something as undesirable as misery can become something we live for and choose to bow down to. In my case, grieving the death of my marriage became the theme of my life for many months. Every thought, conversation, or interaction was filtered through my pain.

Several years ago I wrote about rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. I still echo all that I wrote there but had no idea the depths to which grieving could affect the process of loving others well. When I was drowning in a sea of grief, my friends’ joys seemed like a personal affront. And their sorrows? They were never quite as bad as mine and it was easy to write off their suffering. In retrospect, I’m a bit embarrassed at how I dealt with people who were merely trying to love me.

I recently watched the miniseries “The Pacific.” It’s a harrowing and graphic depiction of the Pacific island landings in WW2. It was hard not to feel disoriented by the happy world around me just by watching the atrocities on the screen. I can’t even imagine the depths of that disorientation after actually being in war. Divorce felt somewhat like that. I was going through my own personal hell, where my life had been completely blown up. The normal world around me made zero sense. I would see people laughing or enjoying life and it felt impossible that any happiness could exist when I was in such torment.

And so I began to worship my grief. I felt I had to remind everyone that I saw about my pain. People who encouraged me to “let go” or “move on” were immediately silenced by long rants of how unjust it all was and how I would never be okay again. Those who sat and listened were overwhelmed by the weight of my burden, as they carried some of it as their own. There absolutely is a time and a place for tears, burden-bearing, and deep sadness. But as the months wore on, I almost became addicted to the grief. Thinking of letting it go made me feel desperate to cling to it all the tighter. I didn’t want to offer up my grief to the Lord, I wanted to sacrifice myself on the altar of Grief and to languish there.

Even grief can turn into sin in our deceitful hearts. Anything that we are unwilling to let go of for the sake of Christ threatens to strangle us and lead us away from Him. Grief began as a God-given process towards recovery and became a tomb I was unwilling to be resurrected from. I remember the Sunday I sang these words in worship, “By your Spirit, I will rise from the ashes of defeat. The resurrected King, is resurrecting me.” I broke down as I realized I was behaving as though Jesus had never risen from the dead. I was those weeping women, wanting to dote on Jesus’ lifeless body — but never quite getting to the part where I saw Jesus fully restored to life and the conqueror of death. Because with Jesus there is always victory over death, joy where there were tears, and life that moves toward glory.

Beware of the idol of grief. It is a sneaky and unsuspecting pitfall, but one that will prevent you from experiencing the healing that Jesus always offers. His burden is light. He promises peace. He guarantees restoration with his own resurrection. Any other god is a cheap imitation that only leads to despair. Don’t be fooled into thinking grief is a final destination, it is merely a tool that should drive us to Jesus to find ultimate healing from our pain.