Charlie Brown used to say it all the time. It was a sort of exasperated, frustrated response to whatever difficulty he was facing that day. But for me, I’ve been thinking about the seeming oxymoron a lot lately just at face value. Good grief. Good being the adjective describing Grief. Does that even make sense? Is grief good?
It’s been a season of grieving for me. In October 2021 we brought an end to the gathering of our church. After 13+ years of ministry through this particular community and hundreds of people who passed through, bringing this to an end was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I labored over that decision for months. I struggled through what it would mean for those who called STORYCHURCH home. I grieved to know that there are dreams we have / had for this community that we won’t get to see happen. I struggled to think about what it would mean for my family and for our future. Breaking the news to my kids was some of the most difficult parenting I’ve ever done. For my family, it’s been our identity together, our ministry, our purpose, our family and our friends. It’s been familiar, it’s meant stability and security. There was a lot to grieve. But with barely 24 hours after our final service, our grief was just beginning.
The next day an unexpected grief hit home. Our family dog Holly collapsed on that Monday and it set off a series of events that would ultimately lead to putting her down before the week was over. To say we grieved is an understatement. We ached. We cried as a family like I don’t think we’ve ever cried before. I spent just about every waking moment with her. I even slept on the couch next to her to help her through the night. Making the decision to say goodbye to her was agonizing. I dug her grave, I held her as she went off to sleep for the last time, and then I buried her.
There’s a strange connection I feel between me, my dog, and my dad. Five years ago I lost my dad to cancer. This time of year always reminds me of him. His birthday, and the anniversary of his death are in November. The reason we got a black lab years ago was because it reminded me of my dad. He had at least a few black labs himself. Holly was with me during the season that dad was going down hill fast. Holly sat with me (sometimes on me) during that time as if she knew I needed her to be with me. Sitting with her in her final days brought back specific memories of sitting with my dad in his final days as well.
So I’ve been doing a lot of grieving lately. And in the midst of it all, I have to admit – there’s Good in the Grief. I almost don’t want to admit that. There’s a passage from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that has always kind of bothered me. It’s only recently started to make a little more sense to me. It says:
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 (NASB)
What I’ve been learning in this season is that there’s something deeply true about the proverb above. Grief is somehow a sign of true life. We grieve when someone or something we love is lost. And it’s that love that is exploding out in tears and in sorrow. And when we grieve together, there’s a deepening of love happening — not just toward that which is lost, but toward those with whom we share the loss. The deeper the love, the deeper the grief maybe. The gifts we’ve received in the midst of our grief are surprising. We’ve had the opportunity to express our love and gratitude for our church, for our dog, for each other. We’ve been fully present in these moments. Present with each other. Not distracted by appointments and notifications and mindless scrolling. Our grief has allowed us to express our limits. Our frailty. Our humanity. It’s forced us to reach for each other, to reach toward heaven. In the house of mourning there’s clarity. Clarity about what matters most to us. About who matters most to us. And in the house of mourning there is love. Deep, expressive love.
So maybe Charlie Brown is on to something. Maybe there’s Good in the Grief. That’s not to say we’re glad it happened. That’s not to say we prefer their loss over their presence. But there’s a surprising amount of gifts that are showing up in my grief in this season. Gifts I couldn’t have received in a house of feasting. Gifts that are helping me to heal and to keep moving forward. And for that, I’m grateful for the grief.