Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised

by Jonathan Trotter on December 22, 2013

Living abroad is an amazing adventure, but it comes with some baggage. And sometimes, the baggage fees are hidden, catching you by surprise, costing more than you planned.  You thought you had it all weighed out, you could handle this, squeeze right under the limit.

But then it got heavy.  Your new friends moved away, or your child’s new friend moved away.  Far away.  Like other continents away.   And your kid’s broken heart breaks yours.

Someone died and you didn’t get to say that last, fully present, goodbye.  Family members celebrate a birthday, or the whole family celebrates a holiday, and you’re not there because the Pacific’s really big, and you’re on the wrong side of it.

Or your child can’t remember her cousin’s name, and she doesn’t even know that’s sad. 

And you realize there are just some things Skype cannot fix.http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515

And you grieve, and your kids grieve.  Maybe.  But what if all these things happen again? And again.  You have another round of airport goodbyes, another holiday season with sand. Another Christmas with crying.

What if grieving gets old and annoying and time-consuming and exhausting?  What if it becomes easier to just not grieve?  To not let others grieve?

I’ll tell you what happens: Grief itself gets outlawed and a curse descends.  And everyone learns that some emotions are spiritual and some are forbidden.

Has your grief ever been outlawed?  Have you ever felt that your sadness or grief was “wrong and not very spiritual” and you should “be over this by now”?  If so, I am very sorry.  The prohibition of grief is a terrible, terrible curse.

Sometimes it’s outright, “Don’t cry, it’ll all be ok.”  But oftentimes, it’s more subtle (and spiritual) than that.  It’s the good-hearted person who says, “It’s not really goodbye, it’s see you later” or  “You know, all things work together for good.”

What if your kids miss grandma and McDonald’s and green grass, and someone tells them, “It’s for God,” or “It’ll be ok someday; you’ll look back on this as one of the best things that ever happened to you.” What if you tell them that?

Grief gets banned, and what was meant as a balm becomes a bomb, ticking.  The intended salve starts searing.

When loss happens, why must we minimize it?  Why are we so uncomfortable with letting the sadness sit?  Are we afraid of grief?

We sometimes act as if you can’t have grief and faith at the same time.  Sometimes, shutting down grief seems spiritual.  We tell ourselves and others, “Forget the past and press on.  God’s got a plan.  God is sovereign.”  We use Bible verses.

But banning grief is not biblical, and it’s not spiritual. 

Maybe we feel that grieving a loss of something or someone shows that we don’t have all our treasures in heaven.  Perhaps we delude ourselves with the twisted notion that if we had all of our treasures in heaven, our treasures would be safe, and we’d never experience loss.  And although this is crazy talk, we speak it to ourselves and others.

Does grieving really signal a lack of faith?  Would the truly faithful person simply know the goodness of God and cast themselves on that goodness?  No one would say it, but we sometimes treat the sovereignty of God as an excuse to outlaw grief.  I mean, how could we question the plan of God by crying? 

We may feel that grieving a loss that was caused by someone else (through neglect or abuse) shows a lack of forgiveness.  And although we know it’s not true, we act as if once a person’s truly forgiven an offender, the painful effects and memories disappear forever.

What if the loss was caused by parents or a spouse who decided to become an overseas missionary?  Does the goodness and holiness of their decision negate the grief?  Of course not, but sometimes we feel that the truly spiritual would recognize the godly sacrifice and be grateful.  As if gratefulness and grief are mutually exclusive.  As if a decision has to have 100% positive or 100% negative results.  Gray exists, after all.

Maybe you made the decision to move overseas, and it was a God-thing and your call was sure, but now it’s just really, really hard.  How will you deal with your own grief?  Will it threaten you, or will you courageously allow yourself to feel it?

Remember, grieving isn’t equal to sinning.

Sometimes, outlawed grief goes underground.  It becomes a tectonic plate, storing energy, swaying, resisting movement, and then exploding in unanticipated and unpredictable ways.  A tectonic plate can store a heck of a lot of energy.  Sort of like grief, once outlawed.  It descends below the surface. And sometimes heaving tectonic plates cause destruction far, far away.  Really smart people with even smarter machines have to do smart things to pinpoint the actual location of the destructive shift.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake like this, caused by buried grief?  It might not be obvious at first, but after a little bit of digging, you realize that the pressure and tension had been building for a long, long time.

So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.  Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.

And if you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, please remember that they probably don’t need a lecture, or a Bible verse, or a pithy saying.  But they could maybe use a hug.


Jonathan Trotter is a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving with the church planting mission Team Expansion.  Before moving to the field with his wife of thirteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years.  In preparing for the field, Jonathan worked as an ER nurse in an urban hospital, where he regularly witnessed trauma, suffering, and death.  His little sister died when he was six, his mother died of breast cancer when he was seventeen, and his father died of brain cancer when he was twenty-five.

For more thoughts on grief (although not specific to missions or third culture kids), check out Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please (and other lessons from the Valley)

Edited and adapted from Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised, August 2013.

Black and white photo by Saca, at http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515


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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
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  • Lynbo

    Thank you a million times over! Burying my grief has nearly destroyed me. Colleagues in ministry who have never had to go through certain trials , can do more damage than they realize with well-intended Rom 8:28-type bullets. Living in 4 countries is not easy, moving 3 times in less than two years is no fun, even if it is for the Great Commission.

    • Jonathan Trotter

      Indeed. I’ve come to think of Romans 8:28 as the “anti-grief” verse, not because it’s untrue or I don’t agree with it, but because it seems to be used a lot to shut down grief. Sounds like you’ve been through a whole lot of transition, which is the same as saying you’ve been through a whole lot of loss. May God wrap his loving arms around you and yours, especially during this Christmas season!

  • Wow. This. is. good.

    • Jonathan Trotter

      I’m so glad this was helpful. May God teach us all to see people like he sees them, grievers included!

    • Jonathan Trotter

      I’m so glad this was helpful. May God teach us all to see people as he sees them…

  • Dan

    Thanks Jonathan, I totally agree and resonate with your piece, thanks for writing. Jesus wept and so should we. I wrote a poem with a very similar idea to the exploding tectonic plate after my Mum and then my sister died of cancer, you can read it here if you’re interested https://www.facebook.com/notes/dan-saunders/grief-awaiting-the-imperishable/10150134476477048

    • Jonathan Trotter

      I’m so sorry about your mum and sister. I would love to read your poem, but I’m having trouble with the link. Any chance you could post it here or e-mail me directly? Thanks so much.

  • Joanna

    Thanks. My husband, sons and I are preparing to go overseas. This is a great reminder to acknowledge the hardness of our transition and the ongoing sacrifices we will make there. The sadness should propel us into Christ’s strength, shouldn’t it? We can’t deflect it by pretending to be spiritual or strong.

    • Yes indeed. I’m so grateful that Jesus is comfortable with our grief, so that when sadness propels us “into Christ’s strength,” we find him entirely sufficient. And I’m not exactly sure where we get the idea that being “spiritual or strong” means we can’t also grieve a loss, but it’s a pretty popular notion. May God richly bless you and yours during the upcoming chaos we call transition.

  • Blessed MK

    Jonathan, this was beautifully written. I resonated with so much of what you wrote here as an MK from DRCongo. Thank you so much for putting into words what so many MKs and TCKs are feeling. Jesus Christ is identified as a “Man of sorrows and acqauinted with grief.” Thank you for the reminder that grieving is so very necessary and is not a sin. Merry Christmas.

    • The fact that Jesus really, actually, and fully understands continues to comfort me too. Thanks for your feedback, and Merry Christmas to you!

  • Terri

    Wow all I can say is this so hits home. So so many times I feel guilty for feeling or showing sorrow over something that has hurt me. No one wants be around a downer right so I don’t feel safe in sharing my emotions. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Ha! Yeah, we internalize the idea that being a “downer” is not socially acceptable, so we just shut it down. But my goodness, if we never allow ourselves to mourn, we’ll never experience the promise, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” May God steal away our guilt, and may we run with abandon into his comforting arms.

  • Hannah

    Thank you for posting this – a lot of what you said resonated with me. I’m an MK – well, I’m in the US now, have been for a year – from Ghana. And I think my parents need to read this, need to implement it with my siblings, and maybe it won’t be too late for them.

    • My heart breaks as I read this. I will pray for your siblings tonight; may they find the space to grieve, and in their grief, may they find the One who comforts.

  • CaptainMommy

    This was really wonderful. I left a wonderful military post overseas and returned to the states to a spiritually dry place. People didn’t understand why I was so miserable, when God had brought us back to America, closer to family, We have since moved on (literally) and we are in a better place now. Every time that whole year comes up, people try to tell me to look for the good, that I wasn’t nearly as unhappy as I thought I was. I just really want to hear someone say “Aw, honey, I’m sorry that was such a rotten year.” and then stop talking and give me a hug.

    • You bring up an excellent point; most people who are grieving simply need validation of their feelings (“I’m sorry that was rotten”) and a hug. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  • tiffany

    Thank you for this. We are on home assignment in the US for a year and I am grieving my home in Uganda… and grieving this Christmas in the states without my mom–even though she’s been in heaven almost three years…. I haven’t been here to “miss her here”…. I couldn’t figure out why I can’t stop crying…… it’s just hard. And I was trying to “just focus on Jesus…after all , It’s Christmas, I ‘shouldn’t’ be sad. Also, we work with orphans in Uganda….. many of whom have never had the freedom to grieve…or a person to hold them while they do. Thank you for putting words to what I had been feeling about their need to grieve… in their/God’s timing… God Bless you.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing from the heart, Tiffany. Thank you so much for your work in Uganda, and may God strengthen you and yours as you comfort the crying. I’m convinced that that type of ministry is very close to the heart of the Father.

  • EvangelistM

    I’ve always dreamed of missions work in Africa with my family. As they grew older, I realized it would be such a difficult transition for my family that I delayed the pursuit. This article confirms my actions and divulges the harsh realities of fulfilling the great commission on a distant land. This article support the assertion by missions workers that missions work is a quite different from the 4 wall ministry so many in the US find comfortable and sufficient for their call.

    • Indeed. It’s not “holier” work, nor is it limited to the “Christian elite,” but it is different. Very different. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dan

    Hi Jonathan, sorry the link didn’t work, sorry it’s so long! Apart from John 11:35 I’ve also found 2 Cor 1:1-12 very helpful, if Paul ‘despaired of life itself’ then surely we can also as we seek comfort from the God of all comfort. This was written in March 2011, soon after my unsaved sister died:

    “So since my sister, Naomi (aka Mirabai Anraya Light) died earlier this year of ovarian cancer at age 40 leaving behind her 2 year old son and husband (11 years after my Mum died of leukaemia), I’ve, by necessity, been spending much time in consideration of grief and death as I’ve travelled through my own death experience and grief processing. Of course though we seek to avoid these topics in western society, they’re unavaoidable as simply part of the fallen human condition. Its true also to some extent that perhaps contemplation of grief and death is even more appropriate at this moment in human history given the recent floods, tsunamis and earthquakes around the world. I’m encouraged by Jonathan Edwards who resolved, “To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of common circumstances which attend death.” and also by John Piper who writes, “Death and sickness have an amazing way of blowing the haze of triviality out of life and replacing it with the wisdom of gravity and gladness in the hope of resurrection joy.” This poem is moving towards hoping in ‘resurrection joy’, at least for those who know Jesus, but for now where I find myself is still in a place of contemplation of death and grief itself, yet yielding finally and thankfully to awaiting the imperishable (1 Cor 15:50-57). My prayer is that you find it helpful as you work through your own experiences of dealing with death, suffering, grief and pain.

    Grief: Awaiting the Imperishable

    O what life is this?
    That suffering so readily exists
    To flood the inner recesses
    Of the soul, as blood consumes
    And pours out from an open wound?

    It lies beneath the surface
    And rises up as a whale
    The monster of the deep
    Yet we are compelled to watch
    As it snorts its water spout.

    The gravitational pull of a waterfall
    It tumbles out and down
    To the roaring sound of tonnes of water
    Exploding within, without.

    It must come out or forever
    Remain broken, seared in pain,
    Calloused hurt, the resurfacing wound
    Hits like the whale breaking the ocean lining
    To breath, to breath by release.

    It must release, or deny peace
    As pollution rises into the atmosphere
    Only to be caught and rained down
    So it rains down,
    Amidst the cloud, the shadow, the dark
    Thundering lightning, the storms of life
    Released in thunderous, physical grief.

    And so it comes, in waves
    Washing over within, without
    Victory pain stabs, mortal wound, curse of Adam
    The sting, the sting of death remains
    Awaiting the imperishable.

    • Whoa, these lines…
      “It must come out or forever,
      Remain broken, seared in pain.”
      Thanks for sharing that, Dan. And thanks for your prayers and encouraging words. God bless.

  • Ruth

    What a beautiful post, Jonathan. I almost feel guilty for joining in because the grief I have right now pales in comparison to others; however, in talking with seniors this holiday, I’ve discovered it is a relevant topic:The change of life, the death that happens while everyone still walks and talks but family has moved away, moved on in their lives, (even divorce or broken relationship and the distance is palpable) and the parents (grandparents) smile but feel tremendous loss. Easy to say,’This is the way life goes.’ I think there needs to be permission to grieve these times too.

    • Thank you, Ruth, for the reminder that loss doesn’t always happen in a “big” way. Sometimes it’s the slow leaving of the known. Please don’t feel guilty for joining in the conversation; your thoughts definitely add to the discussion. In fact, I believe I saw your point fleshed out, even this week. God bless.

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  • Sashi

    Thank you for this piece that articulates my struggle so well. After 5.years as a missionary, the tectonic plate shifted and erupted from outlawed grief going all the way back to my father’s death when I was 10. The constant leavings of the mission field broke me , so much so that I had to return. I am still grieving in small ways.

    • Sashi, I am so sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry for the grief that got outlawed. You mention that you’re still grieving. If you’re comfortable sharing, what have you found to be most helpful to you on this valley road?

  • Researcher

    Thank you for this post on grief. Now please write one on anger. I find it so hard to disentangle these two. At times they seem to me to be the same face just viewed from different angles.

    • You’re absolutely right. In fact, in the secular world, they talk about the “five stages of grief,” with anger being the second stage. (Of course, the stages aren’t linear, with people always traveling through them in numerical order. Sometimes we go back and forth.) : )

    • It took me a while, but I recently wrote a post on anger. You can read it here: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/anger-abroad/

      I hope it is a blessing to you on the journey.

      Grace & Peace,

      • Researcher

        Dear Jonathan,

        Greetings from Romania.

        Thanks for writing this blog post. I actually had read this through an RSS feed but had not noticed that you were the author. We are saving this one and your post on grief to assign as reading and discussion for our new interns.

        Harry :-{)


        • Wow, that’s great! Thanks for letting me know, Harry. May your team (and interns!) be filled with the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit. — Jonathan T.

  • Donald Kilmer

    There are some very helpful ideas in this article. I know the
    pain of good byes when leaving home to minister overseas. Too often there
    is a hush, hush on grief and people feel guilty about a proper type of
    grief. As it is a Christian based article and Scripture was referred to,
    I would have liked to see some Bible references used. We find in the
    Bible that grief has its place when we look at Job (Job 1:20-22), Paul (2 Cor
    1:8; 7:5) and Jesus (John 11:33, 35). The interesting thing here about
    Jesus grief is that He was grieved because of their wrong grief due to unbelief
    in His power. Some people suggest that Jesus wept because his friend
    Lazarus was dead, but why would this be so when He know He was about to raise
    him from the dead? I think the passage (John 11:1-44, especially verses
    11-14, 23-26, 37-40) shows that Jesus was grieved, but it was due to their lack
    of faith that He groaned within Himself.

    While I realize this article is addressing a particular area of grief, we also need to understand that there is
    a wrong type of grief when we refuse to draw near to God to get His help in the
    grief (2 Cor. 1:3-5; 7:4-7; I Peter 5:7).

    • Donald, I so appreciate your comment and your commitment to the Scriptures! I am so grateful that we have passages like the ones you mentioned, as well as so many Psalms, that demonstrate healthy grieving.

      Sometimes I wonder if our definition of “Biblical grief” is more informed by our western norm of stoicism than it is the actual text. In other words, do we grieve as Americans grieve (generally, without much emotional charge)? And then, because we’re Christians, do we look for (and find) Bible passages that back up our approach? I’m not saying that the typically stoic western approach to grieving is wrong, but it does differ from many other cultures.

      Also, it’s fascinating to me that in the story of Jesus weeping in John 11, we read in verse 36, “The people who were standing nearby said, ‘See how much he loved him.’” So whatever Jesus’ motivation for weeping, those closest to him at the time interpreted his emotion as evidence of deep love, not judgment. The people on site didn’t feel like Jesus was groaning in exasperation, but weeping because of love.

      Thanks again for the comment, Donald, and may God be gracious to us all as we learn to love him (and people) with all of our minds, soul, strength, and heart.

      • Donald Kilmer

        That is a good perspective on how the people understood Jesus grief.

  • Docsmith

    I know someone who breaks out crying for someone who died almost 30 yrs ago…as as if they died yesterday. I’ve seen people grieving to the point where life has no meaning any more. In a few (only twice…rare) but a person (one a mother, the other a father) the death of a child led to their death…presumedly. They were neither sick etc. They just gave up n died. I agree with the article…but even in the bible they had a “pierod of grieving?” Does “joy comes in the morning at some point”. Ie we have learned how overcome or deal victoriously with the grief? Of course it might sound as if I don’t emphasize…but is there something as “unhealthy grieving? Notwithstanding, I love n agree with most of the article. We must weep n grieve…there is a time to weep…greive…but there is a time to rejoice. Grieving can become a spiritual problem (suicide etc..). Like eating, if taken to its extremities, it can be problematic. Blessings!

    • I believe with all my heart that “joy comes in the morning,” and that is why I am so very much looking forward to the Resurrection. You bring up an excellent point about prolonged grief and the existence of
      unhealthy grief. In my article entitled Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please (see link above), I wrote this:
      “It should be noted here that the type of deep sadness and grief that incapacitates the griever for
      long periods of time, or greatly interferes with normal, daily life and functioning, should be processed and felt with the help of a professional or pastoral counselor. I have gained so much from solid pastoral counseling. Also, my experiences as a volunteer with Kansas City Hospice showed me that many people, especially children and teens, need help walking through the shadowlands. If you’re a parent, please, please ensure that your child or teen gets the help he or she needs.”

      Hopefully that clarifies a bit. Thanks for the comment, and God bless!

  • Jenny

    Thank you for sharing this. Our family just moved last month to the other side of the Pacific to serve God as long-term missionaries. Not the timing I would have preferred being just before a major holiday season in the U.S., but it was the Lord’s timing. Even so, we are grieving losses, sharing heartaches with young children who have a hard time articulating their sadness and loneliness, and discovering the “hidden baggage fees” you so well described. SO in the middle of all that. Also what you said about how “everyone learns that some emotions are spiritual and some are forbidden…” this is an apt reminder to give myself and my children permission to feel what they are feeling. Having celebrated our first Christmas away from family and friends, I read again Isaiah 53: “He was… a man of many sorrows, well-acquainted with grief…” I feel the need to “make it better” and to “say the right thing” when someone I love is grieving. That’s not my job. Whether I am home with what is familiar (on the “right side of the Pacific” 🙂 ) or far away from all that, I am to stay close to Jesus and help my family do the same. He is the One who binds the wounds of the broken hearted. As you said, I help them better if I just listen and hug them.

    • Yes! Thanks for reminding us about Jesus, the man of sorrows, who was indeed “well-acquainted with grief.” May God give us all the strength and courage to love our children well, even in the grief, even in the loss. And may we allow him to be the Comforter he’s promised to be. God bless you and yours, Jenny, especially in this first Christmas season on the other side of the pond.

  • Rene

    Great article. I agree wholeheartedly with this article, and would add two more grief categories of baggage. Interpersonal conflicts with those you are serving with, NOT the people you went to serve, and when your child struggles not because a friend moves away, but because they don’t fit in with other children and are isolated. That’s a deep grief for parents who know their children are experiencing this because of decisions they made to be obedient to the Great Commission.

    • Thanks for mentioning those, Rene. Those two types of grief are all too common on the foreign field, involving both the loss of relationships as well as ideals.

  • Fred

    I have lived in Africa as a church planter for 25 years and have experienced many goodbyes, but I do not agree with your article or maybe I do not understand what you are saying. I always go back to Paul’s example in the bible. I do not see him grieving his loses. Sometimes it seems like Americans are too saturated with self centeredness and seem too concerned with their feelings. Where is immediate, costly, and sacrifical obedience?

    • Thanks for joining the discussion, Fred! Your years of experience offer a needed perspective. Part of what I’m trying to communicate through this post is that tears and faith aren’t mutually exclusive. That is, a person can choose “immediate, costly, and sacrificial obedience,” as you put it, while still feeling the loss. People grieve in different ways, and people feel loss in different ways, but for too long, I believe the Church has treated everyone the same…”Don’t be sad, read the Bible more, and pray.”
      Practically, how are we to treat those who are experiencing deep loss? Do we lob Bible verses at their heads and expect that to heal their hearts? How do we mourn with those who mourn?

  • KimA.

    ahhh, loved this article. We are just moving our young family overseas and I feel as if the tears will never stop somedays. Packing up our house was awful and it w.as a very difficult time with lots of tears. I felt like there was something wrong with me….medication anyone??….and then someone graciously pointed out that there are lots of things going on and grief is quite natural, it was such a lightbulb moment. I thought I was maybe too sentimental or nostalgic, now I know it is okay and I am okay. Thanks for this

    • I’m so glad this was helpful. You know, in our mission training, they lovingly called that part of The Transition Bridge “CHAOS,” and it tends to be tear inducing. Was for me, anyways. : ) Thanks for dropping by, and God bless you and your family as you cross the bridge and “resettle” on the other side.

  • Moth

    I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for me to join this discussion. On one hand, I’m a missionary kid. I know this grief. On the other, I’m not a Christian. And my comment isn’t entirely relevant. But I think I will tell the story anyway, and leave the judging to you.
    When I was five or thereabouts my parents moved us overseas. It was frightening. I didn’t understand why we had to go there when there were people who needed help right here. But I made some friends, and for a while things weren’t so bad. The tectonic plates, as you say, didn’t begin to shift till I was in my mid-teens and we took a furlough to the States.
    I was so jealous of the people there, who had things I had wanted and didn’t know I had wanted. Not just particular foods and good infrastructure and a semi-stable government, but schools with teachers who could be relied upon to reappear the next year, families who saw each other regularly, friends who lived in the same neighborhood and had known each other their entire life, and silly things like media in English and wall-to-wall carpeting and dishwashers.
    When we returned in our umpteenth move to our umpteenth house overseas, I was angry. Without any outlet, all that jealousy and anger and yes, grief, turned into depression. I was grieving the life I would never have because of my parents’ calling, the friends I had lost and the loneliness I imposed on myself for fear of losing more. I didn’t know how to cope. My parents were often busy, and would give me lines like, “Living here is good for you! It’s something few other people ever get to experience. When you get older and look back on this time, you’ll be grateful for what you learned here.” Their comments were well meant, but they didn’t know the depth of my pain, and I wasn’t very good at explaining it to them. I didn’t – don’t – understand why God would do this to me. Why the process had to hurt so bad. What benefit it could ever serve. And that was when the carefully cultivated faith of my family broke in me.
    My parents were somewhat right. I look back at that dark time and am thankful for what I learned about my own mind and the motivations of others. I wouldn’t be who I am, have the skills that I do without it. But deep down, I have never forgiven my parents for their faith, for their insistence on following it. For their prioritization of it over me. I know that’s wrong, but it’s also true, even if I despair of its truth.
    I still grieve the possibilities lost, even if I don’t do so publicly. I’m afraid that those around me would see it as inappropriate, after so much time and so many benefits from the chosen path. I think my parents think that I’m reconciled with it all. I wouldn’t want to hurt them with my pain.

    I write all this because in the stories below, I don’t see one quite like mine. It’s good to have a variety of perspectives from which to make a conclusion, whatever that conclusion might be. And the anonymity of the internet is a good place to do so.

    • Lois Manda

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m one of those missionary parents. Although our children are grown and in the U.S. now, I still wonder how we did helping them through all the grief times. I realize now it was harder for our first child to leave home (i.e. go back to the U.S.) than I thought it would be. And I still wonder how she is really doing, deep inside. If I were your mom, I would want to know, even though it would hurt to hear. You know if your mom doesn’t want to hear it–but if you’re not sure, please give her a chance!

    • It is SO appropriate for you to join this conversation. Thank you.

      There is nothing I can say to take away the pain you’ve experienced, and even continue to experience. Just know that I am deeply sorry. I wept while reading your story, and I prayed, O God have mercy on us all!

      Your words contain a lot of raw emotion, and I’m glad you were able to express them, safely, here. You mentioned the anonymity of the internet, but if you ever want to dialogue more personally, I’d love to hear from you. There are few ways you could get a hold of me, if you wanted to; just check the About Us section of our website here… http://trotters41.com/about-us/

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Hi – I grew up daughter of missionary’s as well….and though my faith journey is a bit different there is much to relate with in what you say. I think what surprises me, and many fellow TCK’s is that grief can lie dormant for a long time – emphasis on long. It makes working through it complicated – we create a crisis in those we love. We are not who they thought we were….we’re actually not who we thought we were. And so many of us keep it to ourselves for fear of causing more pain. So.so glad you commented. Far more people have stories like yours than we are willing to admit. At the risk of self-promotion I’ve written a few posts on grief from the perspective of the TCK that are linked here: http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2013/05/07/learning-to-grieve-well/ and http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2012/08/13/when-grief-surfaces/ Again – so glad you commented.

    • MikeP

      Dear Moth,

      I’m an MK and I raised my three kids as MKs and TCKs. I, too, wept reading your very honest post. You could easily be one of my children. – If I were your dad I would want to say that I am deeply sorry for the hurt, confusion and loss that you have experienced. Those words look so trite on the page and yet are true. I can hear myself assuring my own kids that their experience was hard at times but would be worth while. I can feel the wrestling as we hit various decision points and decided to stay ‘on the field’ longer. I can feel the tug of questioning decisions to stay but the realization that ‘being in the US’ would not guarantee a life without pain and loss. Maybe your parents experienced something similar. That doesn’t mean your pain and losses are not deep and real. I’m glad that you can acknowledge them, feel them, and hopefully move through them.

      As to Jonathan’s charge that we ban grief with the phrase, “Don’t say goodbye, just ‘see you later’,” I’m also guilty. My desire was not to dampen grief but to give hope; that hello’s are as much a part of life as goodbyes, that joy does come in the morning or as my father, a well-known friend to TCKs used to say, ‘Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has promised in the light.’ – This was very personal for him as he struggled with depression and grief himself. – But encouragement to keep hoping and to press on should not come at the cost of stuffing grief. Jonathan mentions one aspect of grief being anger. Another is denial. Denial that one has experienced the loss is also normal and sometimes parents, too, will say, “Well, we didn’t REALLY lose X, I mean, we can always Y (place bargaining alternative here)” This can actually be part of the parent’s grief process but painful to their children. So, as parents, we learn and grow but still make our mistakes. I hope you can forgive your own parents their errors even as they navigated their own losses.

      As to your feelings that your needs were subverted to the ‘call’ of your parents; I ask your forgiveness on behalf of myself and would, if possible, include all parents who by omission or comission communicate to our children that our ‘work’ is more important than our family. The truth is that ministry begins at home.

      Your parents, imperfect like me, imperfect like my parents, love you deeply and perhaps grieve with you the possibilities of life that were missed by the life they chose for your family. The both/and is that you do have gifts you would not have had otherwise…neither negates the other. I have just two quick closing thoughts to share.
      1. I hope you will share your pain and process with your parents. If you cannot, I hope that you will find a safe place to walk through your process of acknowledging and sorrowing over your losses. (The point, as some made, is to be able to come to an ‘acceptance’ point and move forward.)
      2. I hope you will feel free to express your anger and sorrow to God. I would want my children to know that the mistakes made were mine, that the hurt was caused by my ignorance or selfishness, not by God’s design. His acceptance and love for you is perfect and unconditional. His plans for you, though not pain free, are ALL for good. And if you look at Job, David, Elijah and others in scripture, your Father in heaven is big enough to receive all your questions and emotions and to answer you back in love, truth and grace. – Don’t let anything keep you from that privilege and his loving, healing, sustaining touch.

      Sitting with you in sadness,
      An MK dad

    • Angie

      Moth, I was a Pastor’s Kid, and I relate so well with this. I struggled a lot with depression in junior high and high school after several moves. I have always envied people who lived in the same place their whole life. I would love to be able to drive a few miles and see the hospital where I was born or my friends from elementary school.

  • I really resonate. My family and I live in SE Asia, too. Since 2000, life has been one big transition. Each time we come and go, say hello or goodbye conjures new feelings of grief. My wife and I call it mourning. We’ve learned that it’s part of the package.

    We’ve also learned to put on some thick skin. We’ve experienced dramatic misunderstanding that led to big upheaval for us. Ironically, it mostly came from other Christians (this is far from universal).

    Jesus operated from a core of compassion and instructed his guys to do the same. It is a pity how often areas of importance to Jesus are downplayed or ignored by His people.

    That being said, it is our responsibility to provide fellow mourners space to heal. Jesus wept at events that cause Him real pain, and it’s our right to do so as well.

    Love fully. Cry deeply. Heal responsibly.

    • You’re so right, Dustin! Jesus lived and breathed compassion, especially on the broken and hurting. And that whole “Love fully, Cry deeply, Heal responsibly” thing? Yeah, that’s going in my notes. : )

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for this article. Someone shared it with me on Facebook, and I intend to do the same. My husband unexpectedly died from a massive heart attack at the age of 40 in April 2010. I am still very much going through the grieving process. It is like a roller coaster. I have 2 children who are now 12 and 15. My world revolves around them, but their dad was a huge part of our lives. I have struggled with my grief, because I feel like I have been grieving “part time” because of my children. Every day is a reminder that my husband is gone and won’t be here to see home runs, dances, graduations, or weddings. Every loss is unique, and they must be treated that way. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say until you have lost your husband, you will never understand what it’s like, so please do not judge more or put a time limit on my grief.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for giving your perspective on this. You know, I’ve heard that jet lag is different with children; that is, first your kids adjust to the new norm, and then you do. I wonder if there are parallels in the journey of grief…
      Again, thanks for sharing, and may the God of all comfort envelope you and your children. Every day. Without a time limit.

  • Shari Tvrdik

    So thankful for this! We have four children, two of them are adults now and became MK’s at ages 13 and 15. Boy did they grieve. Actually every night for the first year at least one of the 4 cried themselves to sleep. It did not change the fact that we knew we were in the right place at the right time…but it hurt like nothing else. The grieving of the life they had went on for a ‘season’ and it wasn’t a quick season. It did end though. I’m sure that I desperately tried a million ways to get us through our grief, but in the end it was just to let the tears flow and to let the pain happen. I’m also sure I said a lot of the wrong things, and for myself I outlawed grief for a good long while. It caught up to me though, as you mentioned.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Shari. It’s always encouraging to hear from folks who are farther down this road of raising kids on the foreign field. God bless.

  • familyinCambodia

    I’m the mom of a “child” in ministry abroad….the other side of the world. Whenever I mention that I miss my son and his family, whomever I am speaking to mentions Skype etc… Your article was helpful to me, comforting really, as I sit here and think of them and pray for them,……. and shed a tear.

    • Truth be told, I’ve often wondered if my mother-in-law has the hardest job of us all. She had to say goodbye to her daughter and her four grandchildren. Oh, may God be with all of the parents and grandparents who do their crying at “home” as the senders.

    • Also, I just remembered, my wife co-wrote an article with her best friend about the grief of those who stay behind. Their article has encouraged and comforted many.
      View their post called “A Sorrow Sandwich” here…

  • Holly Lovegrove

    My mother died in the USA of cancer after a 9-month illness while I lived overseas, and I had only been with her a month in that time. I got the news on the phone mid-way through a house group we were leading in our home. When I came back into the room, shaken and in shock, my then-husband’s reaction to my news was, after the first hubbub, to expect me to worship right along with everyone else as if nothing had happened, as a way of honoring Him. Needless to say, I was unable to do this. The expectation that I should have been able to was severely out of order. This is a crass example, but it exposes some of the weird ideas we get when we see some normal human emotional reactions as “acceptable” and some as “unacceptable” because of our theology.

    • Whoa, Holly, that is a horrific example, but I’m so glad you shared it. I am so sorry. I remember the precise moment I found out my mother had passed away, and I guarantee you there wasn’t a whole lot I could do but weep. May our churches be filled with people who care about theology, but who also remember to be kind!

  • Maria

    Thank you for this.

  • Loraine Wilson

    Jonathan–I don’t read many blogs except for my son’s, but I am bookmarking yours to read over and over. This is the best article I have read on this subject since my son and his family moved to Ireland in July of 2012. I had such a hard time expressing my feelings and still struggle. I have grown so weary of comments made by people who just don’t understand and have hidden my grief so as not to give them more fodder for negativism. Hearing things like “If God really called them there, why are they facing so many obstacles” and since he still cannot find employment “isn’t it time they realized they heard wrong?” are just a couple of things people have said. The very worst comment is “How could they take your 4 granddaughters away from you especially the two-year old whom you will never really know?”. The reason it’s the worst comment is because those thoughts have been in my and my husbands hearts too and then we feel so guilty for thinking them. We are Christian parents who love God and love our kids, but sometimes the ache is so deep and all-encompassing. We don’t tell our family that we are hurting and sometimes lost for fear of making them feel worse. And (in the worst seasons) we have thought that maybe they heard wrong also, seeing there are so many obstacles. My husband and I know that they are truly following their calling and hate ourselves for any doubts or angst. Your article freed me to grieve along with supporting them in their ministry. Thank you so much for this post. I will be reading everything I can get my hands on that you have written. I don’t even know how to follow a blog, but I will bookmark this and find a way. May God truly bless you.

    • Oh, the heart of a grieving mother and grandmother! Thank you so much for sharing, Loraine. I am so glad you have found the freedom to grieve and support. My wife co-wrote an article with her best friend about the grief of those who stay behind; their article has encouraged and comforted many. View their post called “A Sorrow Sandwich” here:

      And as I’ve said before, my prayer remains, “Oh God, please comfort all of the parents and grandparents who do their crying at ‘home’ as the senders.” God’s richest blessings on you and yours, Loraine.

      • Betty Draper

        ONe of the things we try to do is contact parents of those who are serving over seas. They have to count the cost too and need a helping hand sometimes to do this. My husband and I have been on both side, we took our children from the family, what was familiar and lived over seas for seven years of their school years. Then we left one in the state, went overseas again with the last one…worst feeling in the world to leave that 18 old daughter at the airport crying because we were leaving. Then this very same daughter married a man who knew God wanted him to serve in the jungles somewhere so they took our two grand children and off they went. Later they also took their third child back with them. Those words, “counting the cost” are far reaching. I am thankful for grief, for tears, for laughter, for memories that will some day be rewarded by the one we serve with a,welcome home my faithful child. There is no other reason other then being a soldier that I would suffer this kind of grief. I do believe and our children do too that it will be worth it all someday when we see Jesus. But we will not feel that down here on earth. Which is why I think we need to build on the foundation truth that God understand our grief to the fullest…how He must have grieved to see Him suffer for someone else sin…
        so thankful for this site, as I have commented already, going to tell others about it.

        • Thanks for sharing, Betty. It is so good to hear from folks who’ve walked this road…

  • skype grandmother

    I am the missionary and my kids are the ones being left “home”. Five years into the healing process of the dissolution of a very long marriage I felt the Lord calling me to Cambodia. To that point my desire for old age had been making dinners for my now grown children and future grands. Suddenly life changed. Three of my five children moved out of state, with no plan to return to reside here. I was enjoying the two being local, and my one granddaughter whom I am very close with. Cambodia? The children have been supportive in their way. What I am doing in Cambodia is wonderful, my heart’s desire for many years. (But why now? At this age?) Working there is joyful, but there is pain and loss associated with going. There will be times when we go through things that we cannot share together in. Good and bad. I had written this here once, then had to make a screen name, and lost the message. Now, rewriting as Skype grandmother brings tears to my eyes. I am stateside with them now, but not enjoying them to the fullest knowing I leave in a week. It is wrenching both ways. No one can fully understand that but the Lord. He knows what He asks, that it is hard, and it will cost us and those around us. Thank you both, for your writings, but also those who posted in response, as it gives me a better perspective of what my own kids might be going through, and to find a way to talk to my children more about this. God bless you!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I can’t imagine how hard that would be. And thanks for the reminder that, yes indeed, the Father understands fully. It remains a rich mystery, but the fact that the Son left the Father’s side, and longed for their reunion, is very comforting to me.
      May God give you much grace over this coming week; grace to engage and enjoy fully, and wisdom in finding a way to discuss these ideas more with your adult kids. May you feel the presence of the Comforter, deep in your soul.

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  • Betty Draper

    My daughter posted this on her fb wall…and I am going to repost it and also send it to a couple of missionaries friends. You are right on brother, right on. Not dealing with grief that comes from “counting the cost” will bring on things much worst then grieving. Great post brother, great post. (by the way our daughter and family serve in Papua New Guinea, they are home for furlough. We have served in two countries and now serve in the states as member care reps out west. This is so well written I want to copy it and share with the missionaries we meet with. Thanks .

    • Wow, thanks for the encouragement, Betty! I’m so thrilled that God could use these words, drafted in pain, to bless your family. And my goodness, your point about how not grieving can “bring on things much worse than grieving”? That is a sobering truth.

  • Betty-Anne Van Rees

    Truth spoken. It sounds like your thinking might be influenced by a good book I read and needed many years ago. “A Grace Disguised” by Gerald Sittser. If not, you’d appreciate it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic asking God for understanding in His purposes for suffering. I’ve written about it here: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2013/04/03/emotions-thinking-about-what-we-feel-part-1/ I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Thanks, Betty-Anne! I feel like I’ve heard of the book you mentioned, but I don’t think I’ve read it. I’m planning to check that out, as well as the website you linked to. Thanks so much, and God bless.

  • Dawnonafarm

    Why is it so hard for so many families to deal with grief and loss. My family was also Missionaries. We moved about 9 times in my life not including my going to college. There was always loss. My brother died in a car accident on a trip back to the US. We didn’t grow up knowing grand parents, cousins, having a place to land when we came back to the states “home” but without really having a home. Then when we made friends, you or they always left the field and again there was loss. It got to the point that I told my husband I don’t want to move again. I want our kids to grow up someplace and be able to call it home. They have gone to 1 school, we moved once across the street into a different home, we have gone to the same church all their lives. Do they still feel loss, some, but not to the same degree. They have friends from school who they have known since K. In some ways I am jealous, but sometimes I get a longing to return to some of the areas I have left. Which is really pointless because the people are not there.

    What really made things hard was when my mom was dying of cancer. She wouldn’t accept that her time was through here and she didn’t take the time to spend it with family. Towards the end, she and my dad left for Mexico and my mom died en route. My youngest sister was in Spain and could’t get back in time for the funeral (they bury within 48 hours because they don’t embalm). None of us really got to say goodbye and that again made one more grief that we never talked though. It is hard still to this day as my father is so disconnected emotionally he hasn’t a clue. We are lucky if we see him 2x’s a year.

    So I appreciate your kind words and permission to grieve. Jesus never said suck it up and stop crying. He gave more grace than we give each other, and he himself was in grief as he looked over Jerusalem and wept for the city and the loss they were experiencing by not knowing him, his leaving for heaven and their disbelief.
    Thanks again for writing what we needed to hear, kind words that are a salve to our sad and sometimes heavy hearts, and providing grace as we trod on this sod so laden with sorrow.

    Blessing and keep writing. I am convinced that those who have experienced much sorrow and loss are often the most compassionate and tender.

    • Thank you for your comment. Your loss sounds intense and ongoing. May God continue to comfort you with his grace…

    • Grandma of 6 MKs

      Lest we think that only military kids or missionary kids move a lot–my husband’s family moved at least 2 or 3 times a year (read that 2 or 3 schools a year), and my family lived in 5 states (read that 7 schools before college) here in the US. As a couple, we have lived overseas, and now both children have or do live overseas, with 5 of our 6 Grands being born in 3 different countries. So we know the issue from several different angles. Still, allowing for the grief (I only saw my father cry two times–when his mother died and when I took his first Grandchild overseas), we do believe it was/is within the perfect will of God, and are able to take it to Him, and to express it to others who are willing to grieve/pray with us.

      I highly recommend joining a group of on line POM’s (Parents of Missionaries) or gathering a group through your church/city that are willing to hold up your arms when your are flagging–to rejoice with you as well as comfort you. Someday in heaven we will meet those who will thank us for our part in their being there. Praise God that He is in charge of the results.

      And yes, I do thank God for skype, even when the picture is so fuzzy it’s hard to guess who you’re looking at, but thrilling to hear a 1 year old call out “PawPaw” and try to kiss the computer scheen!

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  • We need to grieve

    This outlawed grief extends to many. Our culture does not encourage healthy grieving. Pastors kids grieve when they move and move and move in their childhood years. Pastors grieve when leaving fields. Even children of parents with Alzheimer’s grieve the loss of recognition, but are not allowed to in our culture. This resulting unresolved grief causes many problems in peoples lives as well as future and present relationships and even affects the church greatly.

    • It does impact the church greatly! Thank you for your comment and the reminder that grief outlawed, no matter the type, is always damaging. God bless.

  • Joy Hill

    Brilliant … accurate … true … a hidden reality whether onfield or at home … thank you for a very perceptive piece!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Joy! And thanks for dropping by. God bless you and yours.

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  • mamazee

    love this. my mom, five weeks after announcing her divorce from my dad (after 39 years) asked “Are you “only going to be okay till lunch” forever?” (after asking me how i was doing and getting an honest answer. Maybe she wonders now why i don’t need to be around her, since she is unrelenting. In her case, i think it’s her guilt over her sin that causes my grief to be such a burden to her. But she’s destroyed more than just a marriage now. And i hope one day she will deal with her own issues – grief, sorrow, shame, regret.

    • Whoa, sounds like you know exactly what I mean by “outlawed grief.” I am so sorry. May the Comforter bring healing to you and your mother, and to your relationship.

  • Denise Ramsay Porter

    Lots of hidden grief — with a former “bipolar” spouse and then quickly getting involved in a new relationship. While things are better there wasn’t much time to deal with the grief issues surrounding the marriage failure and a subsequent miscarriage. Thanks for causing me to think….

    • Thanks for the comment, Denise. May God give you great comfort and guidance as you bravely unearth the buried grief. And may he surround you with wise listeners.

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  • Emily

    This is one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. Thank you.

    • I’m so grateful this post was such a blessing. Praise God for his infinite goodness.

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  • timmeece

    thank you Johnathan. From an old MK who finally made it home.

    • You’re more than welcome, Tim. And thanks for the very poignant comment…

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  • Lisa

    I love this article! Here are some similar things I wrote a while back.

    “GODLY men buried Stephen and MOURNED DEEPLY for him.” (Acts 8:2)
    Deep sadness and its expression is not a sign of a lack of faith or ungodliness. You can be godly WHILE feeling deep sorrow.

    A friend once pointed out that we aren’t made for separation. He was referring to leaving friends and family when people move or part ways. But it also brings to mind God’s nature. The greatest suffering and punishment is eternal SEPARATION from Him. In experiencing the death of someone we care about, it’s like a tiny taste of the grief people will feel in being separated from God Himself, the source of Love. Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is the cry of one feeling the pain of that separation.

    • Thanks so much, Lisa! And that verse from Acts is perfect: it’s possible to be godly AND mourn deeply. Well said!

  • Debi Yoshimura

    Jonathan, thank you so much for this blog. I appreciate the time and emotional investment it took to write. A little over two years ago my mother choose to end her life. She loved Jesus and I know she’s in Heaven now, whole in every way and for that I am happy.
    For the first year following her death I had this idea that I needed to mourn “right” as a Christian. I wanted to do it well. What that well ended up being was locking Mom, her death and every memory of her, in a box and never going near it. Needless to say I wasn’t doing this grieving thing right or well. This lie within the church is destructive. No one told me not to grieve. No one tried to minimize my pain, but some how I falsely thought that to deal with Mom’s death as a “good” Christian meant to be happy all the time.
    God put in my hands the book “God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting” by Robert Kellemen. I met with a couple of friends weekly and we slowly went through this book together. God showed me that feeling sorrow, even being angry by my loss, was not a weakness in faith. If anything, I learned to trust God with my pain and all I was really feeling. For the first time in my life I began to fully believe that God is good no matter what is happening in life.
    I have made a decision to be real about my pain, to share openly and honestly with people. It makes some uncomfortable, especially since suicide is involved, but it gives others the freedom to be honest with themselves and God. Being real hurts more than the box but in it God is healing my heart and is using me to help others.
    God bless you.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, Debi. You said, “some how I falsely thought that to deal with Mom’s death as a ‘good’ Christian meant to be happy all the time.” It’s amazing how we internalize that message, and you’re right, it’s destructive. I’m so glad that God is walking with you through the pain and even ministering to others through you. May the God of peace be with you and your family. Thanks again.

  • Lindee

    How do you grieve 3 grandchildren you have never met? One of them is 8 now. They only know us from pictures. I have never even had a conversation with them. I do not think I have to explain how that feels. Please dont give me the standard “no one has left houses or families or land Ect” answer.

    • Oh Lindee, I am so so sorry. I have no idea how I would grieve in that situation, so I sure can’t tell you how you should grieve. I do hope there are people around you who are good listeners, people who will allow you to feel that sorrow in a safe environment without offering standard answers, as you mentioned. May the God of peace comfort you deeply. PS I will say that Tim Keller’s book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering was very helpful for me personally.

  • Jen

    I’ve read this before, but it didn’t fail to resonate a second time. As an MK, I’ve experienced many separations in my life. It doesn’t bother me day to day, but on occasion when I see a photo that reminds me of my other “home” or smell a certain smell, or read words like these, I’m nearly overcome. This is possibly the best explanation for those feelings I’ve ever read. As the body of Christ, we need to understand grief better or at least show more Grace and patience to those who are grieving. I’m sharing this everywhere I can. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jen. I love what you said about understanding grief better, or “at least” we need to show more grace and patience to those who are grieving. From what I’ve learned from the MKs in my life, that in and of itself would go a long, long ways. Also, you’ve probably seen this article already, but if not, you might find it interesting… http://www.alifeoverseas.com/3-ways-to-care-for-the-heart-of-your-missionary-kid/ May God’s great peace be with you!

  • Kate

    This post was so helpful–like others have already said, thank you for your words! I am serving short-term in Cotonou, Benin, and as of now I am the only American in an office with 12 Beninese co-workers. I have learned so much from their work powered by faith, and I admire their servants hearts. However, the Christian culture among the Beninese hasn’t struck me as very inviting when it comes to openly discussing emotional struggle. A few months after my arrival, I was feeling particularly weighed down from being far from my family during Thanksgiving. When I began to express this to one of my co-workers, she cut me off– “No, no, you just need to stay close to God.” I was discouraged from sharing my hurt with her. Her response sent the message that experiencing hurt and trusting God were at two far ends of the spectrum, and the fact that I was upset or troubled was unacceptable and showed that I had totally forgotten about God.

    I know my feelings of solitude are far from unique. Loneliness comes in all kinds of packages, and the sting is hard to mistake. But when I express my hurt and am met with reactions like this one, without another reasonable voice around to speak the truth, it’s hard not to entertain the thought that someone is justified in invalidating my feelings, because they have the faith that I should be striving for. I am tempted to believe that their words come from a level of trust in God that I simply have yet to achieve, and the fact that I’m not there indicates some sort of problem. It’s definitely taught me to be very aware of my emotions when something is not right, and solidly convicted that it’s okay to care for myself, too.

    • Kate

      Also, just reading the other comments, I’m struck by how many people mention being hurt by the “anti-grief” philosphy of others (parents giving their kids those optimistic one-liners, etc. even if they mean well).
      I’ve had friends express to me how much they can’t stand the “false optimism” of Christians, especially when they direct it at the grief of others. When a Christian who is not sharing their trials feels free to tell them about how it will all be okay in the end. And I have to say I agree–saying things like that to someone who is grieving is totally misplaced. Even if we are sharing out of love, even if our wisdom comes from personal experience, and even if our words may be 100% based in the truth of who God is, speaking in this way to someone who is in the middle of grieving, as though our words can magically pull them out of the darkness, IS inappropriate. It invalidates what they are going through.
      On that note, I hope to give you an encouragement, Jonathan: Just the fact that this post is still being read and eliciting responses over a year after its posting means it has struck a chord with many people. I APPLAUD (I’m putting it in all caps because I wish I could find a stronger word) the way you have responded so graciously to comments expressing exactly the type of grief you’re referring to. Your words are an example of how to validate pain while still pointing to God, and I think many Christians could learn a valuable lesson on a better way to respond to the grief of others. If I may quote a few examples from your comments that I particularly appreciated:
      “I’m so glad that God is walking with you through the pain and even ministering to others through you. May the God of peace be with you and your family.”
      “Your loss sounds intense and ongoing. May God continue to comfort you with his grace…”
      “There is nothing I can say to take away the pain you’ve experienced, and even continue to experience. Just know that I am deeply sorry.”
      “May God give you great comfort and guidance as you bravely unearth the buried grief. And may he surround you with wise listeners.”

      Keep up the kingdom work, and than you again for your post!

      • This comment is so encouraging! Thanks, and praise God! And may the Church be a place of deep healing and consolation to the MANY who are bruised and bleeding. That remains my fervent prayer…

    • Wow, Kate, thanks for sharing your story! As you mentioned, the temptation to see folks who deal with grief and loss like that as more spiritual is very real. And deadly. I’ve been losing myself in the Psalms, recently, enjoying the depth of emotions that are allowed and even sung about! I’m so glad God hears us when we sing and when we cry. May the God of all comfort be with you. Thanks again for taking the time to share here.

  • Mary Stephens

    I read this article some time ago and reread it tonight. A lot came to mind. My family is missionary rich – great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and uncles and aunts. My dad was a pastor after they left the mission field when I was 6 (Marxist coup, loss of support in new country, finished work). Pastors sometimes move fairly often, and my family did. My parents went to boarding school. It was the thing to do back then. Lots and lots of tearful, heart-wrenching good-byes. I still have separation anxiety. But, in reading this, I’m glad that my parents and grandparents deemed it OK to let the tears and sadness show – in as much as they did. It was more of a blessing than I perhaps realized.

    But, about the outlawing of grief – I think that you’ve had the opportunity to experience something broken in American (Anglo-Saxon?) culture on a deeper level than maybe many Christians do. I see what you’re dealing with here as one facet of a bigger problem we have. Grief is banished because it is scary. “Boys/Men don’t cry.” “Big children don’t cry.” “You need to move on now. Get on with your life.” (Sometimes said…weeks?….after a death?) “Enjoy your singleness.” “You should be glad you don’t have kids.” Ad nauseam.

    It really struck me when I reread the Little House on the Prairie books as an adult. When Mary went away to the college of the blind one of the younger girls cried when Pa and Ma and Mary left in the wagon. Laura’s response was, “For shame, ______!” And she rebuked her sister for crying when Mary had such a wonderful opportunity. Shame. Shame for natural grieving! This has been instilled in our culture for generations. When someone is doing something “good” it’s “bad” to feel grieved in any way, we’re taught. I don’t believe that this is the heart of God or the mind of Christ. Christians are commanded to “weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15), “support the weak, be patient toward all men.” (I Thess. 5:14). “Jesus wept.” (Jn. 11:35) is one of the best known verses in the Bible.

    When grief, anger, frustration, personal opinions and so much more are outlawed in a culture (think “politically/spiritually incorrect”), the resulting earthquakes will be destructive beyond measure. At some point, except for the mercy and grace of God, the thing would have to be irreparably ruptured. This includes both nations and church cultures.

    I’m not sure….but I think this is one of those places that the dying of the flesh needs to meet the resurrection power of Christ. “2 Corinthians 4:8-10 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” It hurts to die, even when it’s for a good cause. When we grieve it’s almost like a part of us is dying. What we need is the healing power of Jesus’ life to help us through and onward – every time it overcomes us.

    • Yes, the fact that you were allowed to grieve, wow, that is a huge gift. Thanks so much for sharing your story here! And that quote from Little House on the Prairie? That’s cringe-worthy stuff right there, but I agree with you, it just evidences a deeper cultural view of grief that needs to be redeemed. Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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