Grieving in front of people is not something we’re particularly good at in my culture. Weeping often happens behind closed doors, or in the arms of a loved one. Yet when a diagnosis of chronic illness enters our lives, or the lives of our family members, it’s impossible to avoid public places, and often just as impossible to avoid tears!
As Christians, church is a public sphere where we may find it hard to contain our grief. But should we be trying?
I don’t think so.
4 Reasons we grieve chronic illness in public
1. We grieve chronic illness in public because we care
We respond emotionally to the things we care about. That’s just natural. When we or someone we love is diagnosed with a chronic illness, we will respond emotionally.
In the same way, if you’re a Christian, church is something you’re invested in. The group of fellow believers you meet with weekly to encourage and worship God together – that’s a big part of your life.
We give time, effort, energy and money to our church. We care about it deeply – and so, like chronic illness, we react deeply as well. Whether it is outrage over a new policy or discomfort from a hard-hitting sermon, church should and will cause an emotional response.
Is it surprising then, that our grief over chronic illness can manifest in church? Not at all.
We respond emotionally to things we care about. Tweet!
2. We grieve chronic illness in public because we are confronted with truth
There’s no side-stepping the fact that ‘deep truths’ are dealt with in church. In a single church service it’s not uncommon to talk about death and life, suffering and rejoicing, friendship and loneliness. After all, our God did all of this. He came to rescue us from our sinfulness and death; He himself suffered horrendously on a cross. It is not unnatural that we would discuss such things.
When we Watch someone suffering, these realities make up our everyday life. As a result, life and death and community and alone-ness all take on very real meanings. We know what they feel like. We know how they hurt.
For this reason, church does not deal with abstract concepts for us, but living realities we are deeply invested in – and so it is not surprising we may be moved to grieve while others remain dry eyed.
3. We grieve chronic illness in public because we are used to grieving
Dealing with a diagnosis of chronic illness is draining. It is exhausting to spend a lot of time around sick people, and can put us under a lot of emotional stress.
Chronic illness can leave us worrying about the future. Dealing with our own emotions. Staying up all night with sick children. Visiting aging parents at all hours of the day.
No answers. Little sleep. Horizons which are always clouded.
These things wear us down. Physically, it is going to be harder for us to hold in our tears until they are ‘appropriate’. That’s just reality.
4. We grieve chronic illness in public because we have to talk about it
It’s astonishing how normal tragedy can seem until we actually have to put it into words. Sometimes voicing our agony can make it even more painful (in the short term). At church, when we are surrounded by people who (hopefully) care deeply about us (or at the very least, are curious) – we will be asked questions.
How are you?
How are you really?
How can I pray?
What are you struggling with?
These questions are difficult, personal and deal with ‘deep’ things. Our answers may include tears. That’s natural.
Grieving in church is okay
Do any of the reasons above seem wrong to you? They don’t to me. And so if you find yourself weeping at church or sniffling at the shops, I think that’s okay.
Grief is okay.
Sadness is okay.
That doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, or comfortable, or that it makes singing worship songs or buying cereal easy – it does not.
But it’s not wrong, and sometimes I think we all need a reminder of that. There’s nothing shameful about grief.
// Have you found yourself grieving in public before? How did you feel about it? How did others respond?
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