The Spiritual Practice of Mourning

UNPACKING THE BEATITUDE:

“Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.”

Jesus in Matthew 5:4, NIV

“The ability to mourn, the willingness to mourn, is an admission—a kind of an acceptance—of our loss, our lostness and therefore a capacity for comfort.”

Eugene Peterson, Regent College Lecture 

Blessed are those who mourn, because they are being real about their pain and not buying into the cultural illusion that says that everything will be all right if you just rise above it, bury it, get that next thing, or take that next drug, promotion, or trip. Blessed are those who mourn because they see reality for what it is. Their tears are evidence of their honesty. Because they know and are willing to express the pain of their desperate, intractable, and broken circumstance, they will be comforted!

LISTEN TO THIS SONG:

There’s an old Eddie Vedder song called Just Breathe that eloquently captures the peaceful and arguably blessed place of being honest about the frailty of life, the reality of our sin, and our often-unacknowledged need for others. While Vedder is surely singing this song to a life partner or good friend, his words could easily be sung to Jesus. Have a listen.

UNPACKING YOU:

Mourning is how we authentically show that we need God. Yet for some, it’s a difficult thing to do. What keeps you from mourning in a healthy way?

Perhaps it’s uncomfortable or more of an admission of need than you’d like to make. Maybe it’s too vulnerable an act—one best avoided or minimized. Or it might be our culture—we live in a society that, for the most part, doesn’t mourn well.

Following is a partial list of possible reasons that you (and people in general) don’t mourn well. Rank them from 1-8 with 1 being most descriptive of why mourning is a challenge for you and 8 being least descriptive (or not applicable).

  REASONS I DON’T MOURN    RANKING (1-8)
  I’ve been culturally conditioned. Ever since I was young, I was told not to cry. Lesson learned.   
  I tend to avoid overt expressions of grief by distracting myself (with stuff, substances, work, etc.)   
  It hurts too much when I let my pain out. It’s way too uncomfortable and out of control.   
  I don’t know how to mourn in a healthy way. I was never taught. My parents never modelled it well.   
  I’ve never experienced God’s presence or comfort when mourning in the past (so why go there?)   
          I haven’t suffered much in my life and don’t have much reason to mourn.   
  I mourn often and it doesn’t really help. All it has led to is increased anxiety, stress, and pain.   
  I’ve never had a friend or significant other who’s been close enough to be trusted with my pain.    

Now take one of your top three reasons and do two things:

  1. Recall a past pain that you never mourned well and write a paragraph describing what you did instead of mourning it fully. This will be hard to do because our unhealthy responses to pain are often instinctive, unintentional, and unnamed. But think about it and try to see what you can come up with (And if a significant trauma comes to mind and you’re having trouble processing it contact the church office and we’ll try to help).
  • Then, with the wisdom and distance of retrospect, write a paragraph describing what it might have looked like if you had mourned that past pain in a healthier way. Try to imagine what you could have done differently. Write it down, in first person, as though you actually responded in a more mournfully healthy way.

UNPACKING MOURNING:

When we fully face and name our pain, we need to do something with it. We need to let it go—and fully express our grief. This makes mourning a necessary and inevitable response to fully acknowledged brokenness. It’s almost as though the emotionally unleashed nature of mourning is the only way the grievousness of what’s gone wrong can be released. For this release to be most effective, it needs to be expressed to another person. Your grief needs to be heard. Which is where God comes in.

Where life has conditioned you to repress your anguish, God (your perfect heavenly father) invites you into a safe place to let it out. One of the ways he helps you do that is through the Psalms—what some call the most human words in the bible. The Psalms were written by real people going though real struggles. Each expression of anguish was heard by God. In fact, God heard much more than these writers were able to articulate. God knows the depths of your suffering more than you do. Before a word is on our tongues God knows it completely (Psalm 139:4).

Many Psalms articulate grief and mourning in the first person.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Psalm 6:2-9, NIV

God accepts your prayer and hears your weeping. God is a trustworthy listener—an ever-present ally. God is for you. The God who holds the universe in place holds you in place, in whatever broken, mourning, place you find yourself.

Here are a few more Psalm excerpts. Perhaps one of them articulates a place where you’ve been or a feeling you’ve felt. Perhaps one of these psalms voices a prayer that you weren’t able to pray in the past.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”

Psalm 25:16-20, NIV

“Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.”

Psalm 43:1-4, NIV

“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.”

Psalm 44:23-26, NIV

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Psalm 77:7-9, NIV

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!”

Psalm 130:1-2, NIV

“In my anguish I cried to the LORD,

and he answered by setting me free.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.

What can mortals do to me?
The LORD is with me; he is my helper.

I will look in triumph on my enemies.”
Psalm 118:5-7 NIV

“My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.”
Psalm 119:50 NIV

It’s hard not to empathetically resonate with these heartfelt cries as they give expression to our personal pain. This is what the Psalms do—give us words to express our grief. Even as we’re able to empathize with others when they express sentiments like this, God empathizes with us.

MEDITATIVE EXERCISE:

Which one of the psalm excerpts most resonated with you? Read it again. This time, if a particular word or phrase strikes you, stop reading and ponder it for a while. Try to articulate why this word or phrase resonates with you. Write down the reason. Then carry this word or phrase with you for a few days. Repeat it to yourself. Turn it over in your mind. Let it ripple through your being. Ask God what he wants you to do with it. Do all of this knowing that an attentive, listening, and understanding God is with you.

And then pray.

CLOSING PRAYER:

Ask God if there are things in your life that you need to mourn more fully—so that you can let them go and be comforted. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to see—so that you, in mourning your loss, can better see the face of God.

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