Sunday, April 4, 2010

The value of mourning

This year, my church decided to celebrate Easter by running away to the woods in West Virginia together, and while in the woods, reflecting on the death of our dreams. The question we put to ourselves and to one another was "what do you do when your dreams die? How do you bring resurrection into that?"

On Friday night, the Best Writer That I Personally Know led us through the Stations of the Cross, and then sent us outside into the dark, dark, way-up-in-the-mountains-and-nobody-around dark night to take a walk in the woods and reflect on the dreams we've had that have died. After what seemed like a really long time, he called us back in to the cabin and we spent some minutes in silence, writing down these dreams on squares of rough-grained paper that we laid in a box and covered with a black cloth... buried. Our task on Saturday was to spend some time reflecting on these dead dreams, and then on Saturday night, we sat shiva for these dreams, all of us in one room, letting the conversation go wherever it wanted to go.

It wasn't a totally mournful weekend, of course. We have about as many kids as adults in our church, the weather was gorgeous, and we were in a mountain paradise. We went on hikes and splashed in streams. I had an absolute blast playing with all the little kids and carrying various babies and toddlers around on my shoulders. I also had a blast kicking a soccer ball around and singing with Darryl, a mentally challenged fellow who started showing up at our church a few months ago. As it happens, Darryl not only can kick the crap out of a soccer ball, but he throws a football like a quarterback (right AND left handed), and he and I sang such a rousing duet of "That's Amore" that we scared off several of the older kids. It was a really great weekend.

But we mourned, too. I mourned. On Friday night, laying on the grass beneath a jillion stars that you can't see in the city, I mourned... even when I saw a falling star. On Saturday afternoon, walking away from the hiking group along a ridge top, I mourned. Late on Saturday afternoon, sitting alone beside a stream with my feet in the water, I mourned. I cried, and I wrote, and I remembered, and I let it all hurt me... and I didn't try to make any of it funny or turn it into some sort of Divine object lesson... not to anyone else, and not, most importantly, to myself.

I grieved. I grieved what I've lost. And it. felt. AWESOME.

It is so hard to be real so much of the time. There is so much to be done, and we want people to trust us. Nobody wants to be the Depressing One. Everyone (well almost everyone) wants to be liked. I, in particular, don't want to be seen as a burden on anyone, and I desperately want to move past the things in my life that have wounded me.

But the truth is that no one really is the same after bad things happen, and that grief really works itself out over your whole lifetime. Years and years and years after you thought you were well past something, grief will pop up at a random time... in some restaurant somewhere or getting a haircut or sitting at your desk, someone will say something or laugh in a certain way or you'll smell someone's perfume and all of the sudden you feel a stab in your gut and you're right back there in the middle of what you've lost, suddenly feeling totally exposed, shaken and alone.

I've ignored these things when they happen. I've ignored my own grief countless times, pushed it aside, swallowed it down, squished it, buried it, shouted over top of it... because I thought that's what I was supposed to do... because I wanted people to trust me, I wanted to be strong, and I was afraid that people wouldn't believe in me if I seemed sad. Honestly, I am both strong and trustworthy, but that doesn't mean I'm not also a bit busted up, a bit scarred. So spending time this weekend grieving, crying, telling God I didn't know how to not see Him as terribly cruel sometimes felt WONDERFUL. It felt like telling the truth. It felt like forgiving myself.

I think that if you fail to mourn, then Christ's suffering, death and resurrection lose most of their meaning. If you don't mourn, how do you understand the depth of Christ's sadness? If you don't mourn, how do you understand what a great gift God's grace is, and what a release there is in the hope that Christ's resurrection gives? If you don't mourn, what was there for you to be saved from? Why bother with faith, if there aren't real, substantive challenges to faith?

I'm not saying anyone should fake depression or turn small disappointments into grand tragedies... but to fail to mourn our losses is to miss the power of Grace, and to do so because we think God doesn't want us to mourn is to worship a sadist. To mourn, in a sense, is to confess our need for Christ. In that sense, it is prayer, and it can be praise, in the end.

The takeaway for me is that mourning corporately is a powerful thing. Being able to sit together in shared sadness is a truly great intimacy. It's been a while since I've experienced anything quite like that, and this couple of days have given me far more peace than the traditional Easter service ever does. I'm truly grateful.


Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Craig Frogale said...

I'm sorry I missed Saturday night. It sounds like it was beautiful. I've still got my dead dream nicely packaged and stored with the others. But don't worry I'm working on it everyday, slowly but surely.