Grieving as Though Not Grieving

 

By John T. Schwiebert, ThM
john@tearsoup.com

 

 

“[Let] those who mourn [be] as though they were not mourning . . .”

--1 Corinthians 7:30

 

For the past 27 years I have been part of a group of 10 to 15 people who gather every weekday morning at 7:20 to sing, pray and reflect on how God speaks to us through a selected reading from the Bible.

Ever since I agreed to write an article on grief every month for this online newsletter, my ears perk up whenever we read a scripture passage that mentions grief.  And I am amazed at how many times the stories, poems, prophecies and letters in the Bible acknowledge the reality of grief.

Several days ago we read a passage that included the words quoted at the beginning of this article.  We found ourselves asking what it could possibly mean to mourn as though we are not mourning.

We decided fairly quickly that when the Apostle Paul wrote these words he most certainly did not mean that we should avoid grief, or pretend that we are not grieving, or try to make it appear to others that we are not devastated by grief, even though we know that we are.  When he speaks of “those who mourn” he is talking about virtually everyone who at some time is experiencing a significant loss, meaning—well—everyone!  We all have the need to grieve at some time or another, and we all have permission to grieve in all those times when we experience loss.

What then does Paul mean by the phrase “as though they were not mourning?”  And how can his understanding help us reflect more clearly about our own personal grief?

We know from the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that he is here addressing not so much the private grief of individual persons as he is about public grief—the grief that is shared by a class or community of people together because of some loss of social justice or community well-being.  Think, for instance, of all who have lost their jobs and their homes, and their social and economic security through no fault of their own but because they were born into poverty or into the sinking fortunes of the middle class.  Or think of the populations of cities and countries that have lost everything because senseless wars were fought where they happened to live.

Paul’s advice about mourning can also apply to private, personal grief, but to understand where Paul is taking us, we must begin by thinking about public grief.

I suspect that, for Paul, “mourning as though not mourning” means grieving, to be sure, but keeping our grief within a larger context.  That larger context is the hope and expectation of a future in which loss, and the grief that attends loss, will have become a thing of the past.  A hint of the kind of future Paul is talking about is expressed by another New Testament writer who speaks of his vision of a new social order that God is bringing to pass in which “mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  (Read Revelation 21:1-5)

A similar insight is expressed in a contemporary song first recorded in 1964 by a British rock band named Gerry and the Pacemakers.  Although the song is about the loss of love relationship these opening words, especially the last two lines, work well for any kind of loss:

Don't let the sun catch you cryin'
Tonight's the time for all your tears
Your heart may be broken tonight
But tomorrow in the mornin' light
Don't let the sun catch you cryin'

The night time shadows disappear
And with them go all your tears
For sunshine will bring joy
For every girl and boy so
Don't let the sun catch you cryin'

We know that cryin's not a bad thing
But stop your cryin' when the birds sing

In other words, grieve as much and as long and as deeply as you need to, but grieve as one who is not grieving—because of knowing that we live in the promise of a “morning” in which “mourning” will no longer be needed!