Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
When loss strikes, we need helpful listeners.
We need to tell the story of our relationship with the deceased, the precious moments and the unfinished business. We need to tell the story of the work after the retirement or layoff. We need to tell the story of the romance and its decline after the divorce.
Avoiding that painful task leaves festering wounds. We must cleanse. Listeners who hear and respect the pain enable us to be with it safely and with self-respect. Then it doesn’t control us.
This Beatitude promises comfort. Who doesn’t want that? But by blessing those who mourn, it blesses those who follow their natural wisdom and take their time. Mourning does not have a preset normal time span. An egg-timer won’t help.
Comfort comes not immediately but at the end of a journey.
Helpful listeners understand that and refuse to rush to comfort. The rush to comfort can do a lot of damage. It will be all right, we say too soon. It wasn’t so bad. Count your blessings that you don’t live in Nepal or Syria.
Selfish motives underlie premature comfort: We want to comfort ourselves, to escape emotional resonance with pain, to get away before we realize that it could happen to us.
The rush to comfort invalidates emotions. In therapy, we often try to heal self-worth pummeled by recalled and rehearsed statements calling the person’s pain silly or self-indulgent or saying just suck it up. Such toxic statements invalidate pain, prompting shame and guilt over normal grief. Fighting normal feelings is like ignoring a flesh wound. Infection will follow.
Good listeners practice the arts of validation and comfort.
They move from one to the other and back in empathic response to the mourner’s story and waves of emotion. People in emotional pain may scream for comfort, but they starve for validation. Just naming the pain with them and not running away applies healing balm.
Invalidation not only undermines psychological health, it undermines faith. When we broadcast a notion of faith expected to keep us ever comfortable and serene as if Elijah never despaired of his life, David never wept aloud for Absalom, Peter never pined for one more word with his Lord, and Paul never suffered a thorn in the flesh, we invalidate the faith of brothers and sisters following God’s lead through the darkest valley.
But when Jesus surveyed the crowd with their poverty, mourning, anonymity, hunger, and thirst and called them blessed, he validated their faith. He never took a plea of pain lightly. And when he suffered and died, he revealed a God who suffers all pain with us. There can be no greater validation than that. Nor any greater ground for hope that in the end, comfort will come.
The Good Talking About It Will Do
Keeping Faith Amid an Invalidating Environment
Living the Questions Through Loss
For My Father, C. Rees Jenkins, Jr., 1926-2016
The View From Below: A Final Tribute to My Father