I was watching a show recently in which a mother was rejected by her child. The actress was formidable in the scene, and tears sprung to my own eyes as I experienced her grief second-hand. There’s nothing quite as heart-wrenching as a mother’s grief, and even when it’s not our own, it moves us. A few moments later, however, my eyes dried and I moved on with my life. This grief was not my own, and it didn’t affect me but for a moment. This is fine when it comes to a TV show, but with our real-life sisters, we are called to more.
Recently, I spoke with a friend about how it seems that sometimes the church can neglect the teaching of grief, both of how to grieve well and how to grieve with someone. I understand why, of course. Grief is uncomfortable, especially when you’re not the one grieving. Grief is painful, especially when you are the one grieving. And perhaps most importantly, grief is particular, never looking or going exactly the same way for any two people.
These things make it naturally difficult to teach about, but what my friend and I discussed was how avoiding the topic really does us all a disservice. Grief is ever-present in our world, and the people of God must learn how to better love our grieving sisters well. Feeling for a moment and then moving on with our lives is not an option here.
It seems to me that the myth is that a person only needs to learn to grieve when she finds herself grieving. This is entirely ridiculous, though, isn’t it? Not only would I benefit from knowing something of grief before I find myself in that incredibly difficult place, but a day doesn’t go by that one of my closest friends isn’t grieving something. And, to press the point even further, we all grieve smaller things every day. Hopes and dreams out of reach haunt our days, just as ever-present as any other emotion.
But the thing about grief, especially the small griefs that are less all-consuming, is that we like to ignore it, shove it into a dusty corner where we don’t have to deal with it. And perhaps this is why we don’t want to learn about grief. Willingly engaging with the subject would bring up our little griefs of today and our big ones of yesterday, and nothing really sounds less appealing.
But Jesus says that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted (Matt. 5:4). And written on our mother-hearts, part of our nature because it is part of God’s, is the ability to comfort in grief.
Maybe you’ve kissed a skinned knee before, or maybe you’ve given a long hug to a hurting friend. I don’t know about you, but when something goes wrong in my life, I’ll never stop wanting to call my mom. Part of being made to mother is being made to comfort.
Do you know why that is? We find an answer in the last chapter of Isaiah. If you’ve ever read this book, you know that it is a beautiful mix of breathtakingly encouraging passages and gut-wrenchingly unsettling ones. The final chapter is no different, full of words about judgment that make us squirm, but also words of remarkable hope.
Much maternal imagery is used in this chapter, leading up to a promise from God that feels a lot like one of my mom’s hugs. He says, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa. 66:13). Here, at the end of all things (or so it seems to Israel), God promises to comfort his people. Comforting is part of his character, and, being made in his image, I believe it’s in our own mother-hearts, as well.
The Hebrew word used here for comfort is naham, which means to comfort or console in grief. The Lord is frequently the one who does naham in the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah. A few chapters earlier, chapter 61 opens with the passage Jesus quotes at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4:16-21. The passage as found in Isaiah 61 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…to comfort (naham) all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” In Luke, Jesus says, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Jesus says that he is the one this passage is about. He has come to bring naham to those who mourn and grieve. And he even tells us what that naham looks like: a crown of beauty, the oil of joy, and a garment of praise.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on grief. I’m really thankful for that, in a way, of course. But I also can’t help but realize that, the more my life becomes intwined with my sisters who are in seasons of grief, I cannot live a life that is unfamiliar with what it looks like to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Jesus calls me blessed when I mourn, and, as my friend reminded me during our recent conversation, we’re more like Jesus when we mourn. The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3), the Jesus who wept (John 11:35), the one who was so distressed that he sweated blood (Luke 22:44) – this is the one I emulate as a Christian, a “little Christ.” Friends, we can’t NOT grieve well with our sisters in Christ, and we have an opportunity to bring the comfort of the Lord to our sisters as we grieve with them.
Though it isn’t often taught in the church, we can learn to naham our sisters in Christ better. We will probably never be perfect at it, partly because grief is such a unique experience for each person, and also because the Lord is the only one who can bring true naham. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get better at this. Our sisters need us to try.
So despite being no expert, here’s what I do know:
1. Jesus brings naham.
2. I seek to be like Jesus.
3. I point people to Jesus.
Therefore, I will seek to live in the image of my Creator and bring naham to my sisters in the small way I can as his image-bearer. And, ultimately, I will point my sisters to the One who truly brings naham to his people. I know I’ll get it wrong, but I will keep trying. I will keep asking questions and showing up and I will not be afraid of sharing in the grit of grief with my sisters. As a mother comforts her kid, so I will do my best to bring the comfort of the Lord to my sisters.
Isaiah 61 gives me some ways I can do this. It says that Jesus will bestow on those who mourn a crown of beauty instead of ashes. I will seek to see my sister in a season of grief for her beauty, not what she has lost or what she lacks. I will join her in having resilient hope, and I will help her honor what she has lost and endured.
It says that Jesus will bestow on she who mourns the oil of joy. I will celebrate with my sister. I will not be afraid to engage with her just because I know she is suffering and that seems like it might be uncomfortable for me. I will bring joy to her life when and where I can, even as I honor her grief, because I know that grief and joy can and do coexist in this life.
It says that Jesus will bestow on her a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I will bring the comfort of the Lord to my sister by worshipping with her. We will lament, but we won’t live in despair. We will praise our faithful Father who brings naham to his kids, even when things seem most dark. And when she doesn’t have the words or the faith or the strength, I will lament and praise and worship on her behalf.
And perhaps the one I forget often, I will learn from her. Isaiah says that these people who receive comfort from the Lord “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Your sister who grieves and receives the Lord’s comfort is a display of his splendor, an oak of righteousness. Let us not look away, friends. May we always lean in to these sisters. Listen to what she knows about the Lord from this season. Ask her how you can bring her comfort today. And know that, as you learn to grieve with her, you’ll look a little more like Jesus.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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