I had a bad weekend.
On Saturday morning one of my former students was reported missing in our local mountains. I spent the entire day praying that he would be found and that God would comfort his mother, father, two brothers and two sisters, each of whom I know. Those prayers made their way into Sunday morning when it was reported that his body had been found in a lake.
I was shocked.
Tears streamed down my face.
My heart ached for his family.
My head swirled with questions.
Every fiber of my being grieved.
A day later I’m still in a little shock.
The tears still haven’t dried up.
I’m even more heartbroken for his family.
I know that there are some questions that will never have answers.
And I’m still grieving.
Grief is an interesting emotion. It’s less of an emotion and more of an experience. Happiness, sadness and anger are relatively similar for most people. We feel them to different degrees and potentially express them in different fashions, but the emotion itself is the same.
Grief on the other had, which could be defined as a deep, moving sadness, is different from other emotions. When I say that I’m grieving, that is going to look completely different from someone else who is grieving. Some people grieve loudly and go through entire boxes of tissues. Others grieve quietly and need to withdraw by themselves. However we experience the deep sadness of grief, though, we need to really experience it; we need to embrace our grief.
Grief allows us to acknowledge the importance of something or someone and the hole that they’re absence will leave. The grief that I’m experiencing is two-fold: I’m grieving the loss of a 20-year-old life, but I’m also grieving for the family he left behind. I remember all of the great times I had with my student, but I also think about the great times his family won’t get to have with him in the future. So many of my friends and former students are grieving this loss and it’s been beautiful to see all of their expressions of grief.
The only reason that there can be beauty in this grief, though, is because my student knew Jesus. I wish I could say that he came to know Jesus because of our youth group, but he came to know Jesus because he had amazing parents who took seriously the Bible’s call to pass on a living faith to their children. If anything, our group gave him opportunities to live out the faith that had been passed on to him.
If he hadn’t known Jesus then there wouldn’t be any beauty in the grief, just loss and despair. That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians that as followers of Jesus we need to remember that we don’t grieve like the world around us. If we have Jesus, if our loved ones die but they knew Jesus, then we grieve, but we grieve with hope. We grieve with the knowledge that this isn’t the end. We grieve with the assurance that we will see our loved ones again. We grieve with the conviction to live our lives in light of the resurrection.
So we grieve. We grieve in whatever way is necessary for us. For me that meant crying on Alycia’s shoulder. That also meant going to church but not singing the songs because the pain was still too deep. It also means writing this post, looking at my screen through tear-soaked eyes. In Jesus, though, our grief always needs to be coupled with hope. Because in Jesus grief is not the end, but only a reminder of the greatness of the hope we have in the cross.