Why we need grief

A few weeks ago I said I was quieting the digital noise. It was about slowing down, I said, and that was true. But it was also about running away. When we notice harmful patterns in our lives, I think it’s important to ask ourselves why they’re there. So I started wondering why I’ve become so addicted to all this noise. Sometimes it’s purely a desire for entertainment because I feel bored. But often, it’s a way to distract myself from the things I don’t want to deal with.

Some of these things can be personal—conflict in relationships, words I wish I’d said differently, things that worry me. Others are farther outside of me, the unrest and tragedies that are changing the world as we know it. So when I’m faced with these things, I get on Pinterest. It diverts my attention for a while and takes the edge off whatever it is I’m avoiding, but when I close my computer, it’s still there.

In one of my classes we’ve been reading Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. One of the main jobs of the prophets, he says, was to turn the Israelites from numbness to grief. They’d let themselves become numb to the cries of the people they were oppressing—their very brothers and sisters. The prophets, then, were to grieve for the people and help the people grieve.

The reality is that if we truly let ourselves feel the weight of every single tragedy, it would destroy us. But at the same time, if we never feel anything, we’ll never do anything, either.

I sing songs and pray prayers like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” But then when I see tragedy, I find myself looking the other way. I search out distractions so I don’t have to feel the pain of someone else’s loss. I teach myself to be numb.

It is comfortable, yes, but it is not truly living. Because when we numb ourselves to the pain, we also can numb ourselves to hope. And, as Brueggeman says, hope only comes out of grief.

If we are going to be the people of hope that we claim to be—that I claim to be—in the face of darkness, then we have to be people who are willing to grieve. It is the only place we can find hope. Not just for us, but for the world.