My sisters and I recorded a podcast a few days ago in which we discussed grief and emotional vulnerability. The conversation actually started the Sunday before we recorded, when my dad preached a sermon about using discernment when we’re online because we’re absolutely bombarded by pretty-sounding lies:
So I wanted to ask my sisters whether they agreed with me about the group of individuals who tend to be the MOST likely to accept and then repeat Pretty Lies: people who are grieving.
Specifically, we talked about Grieving Mothers.
Now, I need to stop here, just like we did in the podcast, and list my “credentials.” I have experienced deep, life-altering pain. I don’t have a vendetta against grieving mothers, because I have been a grieving mother. And I have spent countless hours talking with my two sisters while they were traveling through the rawest parts of their own grief–whether it was the torture of imagined tragedies conjured up by postpartum depression, or the real-life loss of two babies, we are no strangers to significant grief.
But what worries me is the way our culture tends to elevate and revere people who are suffering, WHILE THEY ARE IN THE THICK OF IT. Conventional “wisdom” says we must listen–never questioning–whenever a grieving person comes to a Big Conclusion.
When I see stuff like this being passed around, it worries me. I see a trend with the types of people who are absorbing and practicing this stuff, and it doesn’t seem to make the world a better place.
Many of these Grievers are getting exactly what they’re asking for: “Don’t ask me how I’m doing.” “Don’t say that time is a healer.” “Don’t say it was God’s Will…” etc, etc. They are getting all of the “support” they claim they need, and yet those individuals tend to become more demanding and more unlikable as time marches on…
Eventually we should ask ourselves if the “wisdom” we’re being taught by those who are still in the middle of their grief isn’t actually helping…?
My sisters agreed with the idea that grief doesn’t have a timeline, and sometimes it crops up years later when you’re not expecting it. I told them I understand , and I don’t expect anyone to “get over” the loss of a loved one.
But, my frustration comes from the power we give those who want to use their suffering as a Teaching License. I’m fine with letting a person feel their emotions as long as necessary–but let’s notice the difference between asking “is this God’s will?” and declaring, “This didn’t happen for the best.”
Let’s not put hurting people in our cultural drivers’ seats, while they’re at their most vulnerable. Let’s not fail to recognize all the ways their suffering makes them susceptible to Pretty Lies. Let’s not defer to them, as the ones who know best what sort of counseling or advice they should be getting:
Now, at this point in the podcast recording, my dad said he actually AGREED that counselors are often too quick to provide answers, and it’s okay to just be with a person while they cry.
He admitted that he didn’t know how to help while I was grappling with postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts, so he just listened...
But, again, I had to point out that there’s a subtle difference between someone who is asking for help–and someone who wants you to get in line while they tell you everything their grief has taught them. (“Period.” “Full stop.” “No, I will not be taking questions, because I’m the Sad One, and what I say goes.”)
If the person grieving is still in the question-asking stage of their journey, it’s not necessary to “help” them do anything. They’re already processing things, exactly as they should be. In fact, if you encourage them to KEEP asking questions, they will get around to questioning the Pretty Lies as well. That’s a good thing!
But, when a person demands the final word because she believes that suffering gives her the right to construct her own Truth, she is in a dangerous place.
A person who has been leveled by pain and is humbly questioning their old beliefs about God has a very different spirit from the one who bossily insists, “Don’t say this or this or this or that.”
When someone switches from questions about grief to sweeping declarations about grief (like, “This wasn’t God’s Will”), they are looking for agreement. When they start sharing lists of things they expect others to say and do, they are revealing that they want to be the Teacher…and they’re testing the loyalty of their Disciples.
We should not allow this to happen. We need to understand that doubting and questioning serves a good purpose–but while a person is doubting and questioning, she isn’t in a position to teach.
It’s fine to be caught without an answer. But it’s not fine to stand up on a soapbox, pontificating about your Big Doubts, as if your questions themselves are Important Lessons you’ve been called to pass on to others.
Experiencing a change of perspective doesn’t automatically make someone a Wise Teacher with Divine things to say, as the rest of us gather around in rapt attention. Why do we LISTEN to those who admit they’re reeling and confused? Why do we raise them up like Enlightened Sages, instead of shielding them from the Pretty Lies, and gently guiding them as Seekers, which their tragedy has forced them to become?…
I mean, I think I know why. It’s because the people who are reeling and confused are most likely to screech, “YOU’RE SUPPORTING ME WRONG! DO IT THIS WAY INSTEAD!” and we don’t want to deal with that.
But this gives the Grief Sages the potential to become the most dangerous Lie-Spreaders in the culture.
Agree or disagree?