Outlawed Grief, A Curse Disguised

by Jonathan

[Note: For an expanded version of this article, click here. The expanded version appeared on A Life Overseas in December, 2013 and is geared more for a missions/TCK audience.]

Someone dies, or gets cancer, or gets cancer and then dies.  Someone else says something eminently useful like “All things work together for good” or “He’s in a better place” or “I have a time-share in Florida and the carpet’s getting replaced this week.”

Someone moves to a foreign field, and it’s hard, and it’s sad, and they have kids.  And the kids feel it too.  They’re sad.  They miss grandma, and McDonald’s, and green grass.  Someone tells them, “It’s for God,” or “It’ll be ok someday; you’ll look back on this as one of the best things that ever happened to you.” Maybe their parents tell them that.

And grief gets outlawed, and the curse descends.  And the child understands that some emotions are spiritual and some are outlawed.

When something sad happens, why must we rationalize?  Why are we uncomfortable with letting the sadness sit?  Are we afraid of grief?  Why must we s1add a curse to sadness by outlawing it?

People do this in many ways, both to others and to themselves.  Is it ok to be sad?  If it’s ok to be sad, how long can something be acknowledged as sad before it’s no longer ok to be sad about whatever it is that made you sad?  When exactly are you supposed to “just move on”?  It’s almost as if you can’t have grief and faith at the same time.

Outlawing grief is something super-spiritual, and is often supported by Bible verses.  Forget the past and press on.  God’s got a plan.  God is sovereign.  It’s very Biblical to outlaw grief, after all.  If you grieve a loss of something or someone, then you must not have all your treasures in heaven.  You can’t lose your treasures in heaven.  If you grieve, you must not have faith, because the truly faithful person would know the goodness of God and would cast themselves on that goodness.  If you grieve, you must not believe that God is sovereign and in control.  How could you question the plan of God by crying?

If you grieve over a loss that was caused by someone else (through neglect or abuse), then it’s obvious you haven’t forgiven the offender.  You should work on that, because everyone knows that once you’ve truly forgiven someone the painful effects and memories disappear forever.

Annoyingly, grief is not on a timetable and doesn’t run on schedule.  Sometimes it even leaves the station, only to double back and park again.  And stay.  Sometimes, outlawed grief goes underground.  It becomes a tectonic plate, storing energy, swaying, resisting movement, and then exploding in unanticipated and unpredictable ways.  A tectonic plate can store a heck of a lot of energy.  Sort of like grief, once outlawed.  It descends below the surface. And sometimes heaving tectonic plates cause destruction far, far away.  Really smart people with even smarter machines have to do smart things to pinpoint the actual location of the destructive shift.

So please allow grief, in your own heart and in the hearts of your kids.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief, you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.

And if you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, please remember that they probably don’t need a lecture, or a Bible verse, or a pithy saying.  But they could maybe use a hug.

For more thoughts on grief, check out Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please (and other lessons from the Valley)


Jonathan Trotter is a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving with the church planting mission Team Expansion.  Before moving to the field with his wife of thirteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years.  In preparing for the field, Jonathan worked as an ER nurse in an urban hospital, where he regularly witnessed trauma, suffering, and death.  His little sister died when he was six, his mother died of breast cancer when he was seventeen, and his father died of brain cancer when he was twenty-five.

34 thoughts on “Outlawed Grief, A Curse Disguised

    • Please feel free to share more. I’d love to hear your perspective and input. From the comments here and on Facebook, this seems to be an area that many people feel strongly about.

  1. Thank you so much. This is so true!! After our son died, our pastor actually instructed us to not think about our son, to remove all of his pictures from our home and to get rid of his stuff. He said that we had to “go on with Jesus.” Whatever that means because I don’t think I could have made it through one day without Jesus.

    One of the best shows of support I had was from a woman in my church, who came up to me on Mother’s Day and just started telling me the things she missed about my son. We sat and cried and grieved. Together. Then we prayed…we thanked God for his life and asked God to help us all heal.

    Anyways…thank you. Be blessed.

    • Indeed. A friend who’s willing to cry with you is sometimes good, good medicine. I’m so sorry for your loss and your pastor’s advice. I’m not quite sure what motivates that kind of advice, but I do know it causes deep wounds. Sometimes, I believe, the wounds are deepest when they’re inflicted with religious words. I’m so thankful for a God who cares. May he bless you indeed and comfort you well.

  2. this is beautiful jonathan. i didn’t know what to do with my grief for some time after my brother-in-law’s death and i started reading a grace disguised and pretty much cried thru the whole book. it was quite therapeutic for me. it is very difficult for me to see others in pain, but i know that grief is ok. i struggle with how to mourn with those who mourn, because nothing seems right.

    • You’re the second person who’s mentioned that book to me recently. I may have to check that one out. And yeah, I totally agree that sometimes “nothing seems right.” Because sometimes it’s just a mess, and there’s no explanation. In that case, I believe that simply being present is enough. Thanks for keeping in touch, and may God continue to teach us all how to love others deeply.

      • That one and The Grief Recovery Handbook was recommended by our counselor at SECC to Julie and I after loosing her mom and now mine in two years. They are great resources.

        Most important thing we’ve found is the realization that grief is yours and no one else should have a say in how it “should” go for you. Some of these statements you’re speaking of are hardest to deal with when they come from close family and their expectations. It’s even worse when you can see they’ve chosen to just burry things and not deal with them and then expect you to do the same.

  3. So good. The picture of unresolved grief is so integral to the lives of TCKs. I’ve leaned on your way of explaining it many times in the past 6 months when talking with TCKs (or their parents).

  4. Pingback: Back to school – talking about grief | Tanya's Stories

  5. Thanks so much for writing this. Our family has had to deal with some intense grief over the years… especially when we had to say goodbye to our daughter Sierra in 2004. I could have written what you did here many times over! Hugs to you all…

    • I remember you talking about her and showing us your family photos. I remember thinking, “Whoa, that sounds very, very hard.” Thank you for sharing some of your life and family with us, and know that we’re all very excited to see you and your family soon!

  6. This is brilliant, Jonathan! Full of “wisdom from above.” It’s especially helpful to hear insights from someone who has lived life in the Arena.

    Your writing is clear, concise and very needed in the evangelical Church. (I learned this lesson on grace in grieving from a group of Benedictine monks.)

    You join Paul and a long line of Disciples of Jesus through the ages who have found that GRACE RULES! (Romans 5)

    I am praying for you this morning, dear Brother. Much love, joemc

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  8. Awesome post! There’s a lot to be learned about grief. There’s a short book written in 1970 called Good Grief that really helps people on all sides of grief understand what people who grieve are going through. Here’s a link to Amazon if you’re interested. http://bit.ly/GoodGriefBook

    Again, loved this post. My wife and I are getting ready to take our 3 children overseas next year, and we are preparing ourselves for just such emotions and sadness.

    Thanks again!

    Go with God,
    Donald B.

    • Hey, thanks for the book rec, Donald. I’ve heard of that book, but I have not yet read it. Sounds like exciting times coming up for your family; what part of the planet are you heading to? (If it’s a secure country, feel free to ignore my question.)

  9. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have felt over the years. We are moving to a new country of ministry after 20 years in the Congo. I just want to sit down and cry even though I’m excited about the future and know God is in this move. I miss having my daughters here with us especially during the holidays. I want to spend time with my Mom who is 92 and so far away. There are so many things that I wish could be different but know that the Lord has called us and hasn’t released us to return but we still miss our loved ones and friends. So thank you for giving me the ok to grieve without it being a sin or a failure. I am also guilty of being a Bible thumper and thumping someone with a Bible verse when a hug would’ve been more appropriate. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Janice, I am humbled by your story and your years of service. Thanks so much for your comment! May God be supremely gracious to you and yours during this upcoming transition, and may you always remember that tears and faith are not mutually exclusive! : ) — Jonathan

  10. Thank you. An amazingly timely message. One of my prayers, once upon a time, was that the Lord would teach me to grieve gracefully–to live fully, honestly, and faithfully out of the abundance of His grace as I walk just as honestly through grief. He said yes and has given me opportunities to learn! He’s still teaching, and I’m still learning, and this post is encouraging to see that I’m not crazy and it wasn’t an unbiblical prayer. So thank you.

    • Whoa, that’s a bold prayer! Thanks for the comment, Jaclyn, and I’m so glad this post was an encouragement to you. May his grace continue to be found in abundance! — Jonathan T.

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