All Posts /

Permission to Grieve

Permission to Grieve

Pastors and church leaders: We have a remarkable sacred access to both soaring celebration and the deepest of sorrows in our congregation. I was happy to serve as a youth pastor for over six years. We love our church body through summits and valleys. And through it, I know I got some things wrong about grief. What I learned and unlearned in nearly a decade as a hospital chaplain is, I believe, valuable for both patients and pastors, for families and staff, for the pulpit and our prayers.

My job as a hospital chaplain has taught me a lot about what grief is—how it operates, how it affects us, how it isolates those who suffer from it. Grief may have a textbook definition, but to a grieving person, such definitions will inevitably miss the mark. As such, I’m not here to teach you how you ought to feel.

I also know what grief is not. Grief is not some sort of poisonous shame that must be removed by force. Rather, grief is a story gasping to be told. Grief does not guarantee closure, and it does not always go away. Grief is lament, and it is unique to every person. The DNA of your grief is universal in its humanity but specifically yours in its expression.

There is no such thing as too much grieving. And as you mourn your loss in the ways that come naturally to you, do not limit yourself to the following few days. Please, I hope you will take as long as you need.

I used to think that grief had a singular, common expression, a somber response of tears and sadness.

I used to think that grief needed time, needed activity and direction.

What I did not expect is that grief can look like everything. It can need anything.

We grieve differently, as much as we need differently.

You may be feeling that your grief is too much. Or maybe you worry your sorrow is a burden or the way you express your sadness is odd. My time as a hospital chaplain has shown me that there is no one right way to mourn. Sometimes it looks or feels strange to us even as we experience or embody it. Amid your grief, do not give yourself a harder time by expecting your emotions or actions to look a certain way. Our bodies cling to what we need to survive the moment, even the smallest plank in the hardest sea.

We know Jesus grieved when Lazarus died, even though he knew his friend would soon be brought back to life (John 11:35). Jesus’s example shows us that grief is natural and worthwhile—a universal expression of love and loss. The next time you worry that your sorrow is too much for the world, remember that Jesus himself mourned the necessity of suffering—and even if you believe he has conquered death, he still mourns with you nonetheless.