A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Cry: The Hidden Art of Christian Grieving, Part I

It was one night several years ago when a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room following dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.

Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it–and then, also out of obedience, backed out.

But I shrugged following my honest admission to my friends, part of my consistent discipline to trust God and choose to be joyful. It was going to be okay, I asserted.

My Irish friend paused, a toy in her hand, and looked me in the eyes. She said something like, “Janel, you need to take the time to mourn this. It’s a little like a miscarriage. You were expecting to have a child and now you’re not.” This was true. I had bought her clothes; we’d visited orphanages. “You need to grieve this, rather than stuffing it somewhere.”

To this day, I am thankful for what she gave me that evening: permission to grieve.


Sometimes I wonder if, in the good and righteous and just plain hard choice that is joy, we miss some of the good that comes from grieving. Because grief and joy aren’t mutually exclusive. Joy is an unchanging happiness in God; an anchor for the soul in the midst of grief—not instead of it.

At times, I confess I have not fully grieved what is wrong about this world—not mourned with God—because somehow I’ve become convinced that a joyful Christian is not sad, or discouraged, or ticked. In all honesty, I think this has stilted my worship. I have been a plasticky sort of Christian. In my haste to not complain or sin out of unbelief, I pretend that hurt or grief or disappointment or anger aren’t even there.

Instead of making a choice to believe God’s goodness in the midst of those–I pretend those aren’t there at all.

In even the small losses–like the ones that brought me to tears on my jog the other day–are opportunities for worship; for mourning, which restates our joy in new ways. Juxtapose this with Henry Ward Beecher’s words:

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!

Godly grief doesn’t keep us from looking with eyes of gratitude. It helps us find gratitude and worship in all of it. Like my husband said to my kids, who were crying as their grandparents boarded a plane for America: Grieving speaks to the value of what you’ve lost.

So in your time with God–and even with a close friend–it’s okay to acknowledge what you’ve lost because of your daughter’s learning disorder, or that someone in the Church hurt you (avoid gossip by only speaking to someone who can be part of the solution for you!), or that yes, I wanted that job. (My next post will talk about  biblical lament, if you’re interested.)

Christian joy isn’t some version of Barbie, with the eternal smile that can’t be wiped off: Well, God said to rejoice! Have a cookie. It acknowledges, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). It says, I have deep, abiding happiness in God that surrounds me in hope and peace and belief, even when I can’t see through my own tears.

Here’s to a less plastic Christianity.

Be sure to catch Part II here!



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  1. Janel, I had started reading your most recent post and clicked a hyperlink that lead me here.
    Your words are so what my heart needed today. Thank you for the permission to grieve the small losses. It can be tempting this time of year to–as you say–plaster on the Barbie smile and pretend it’s alright.
    Thank you for your faithfulness to this work, friend!

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