Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
Grief as a healing process
Grief is the necessary suffering that follows a personally significant loss. It is suffering because we feel diminished, fragmented, and bereft of an outlet for our love. It is necessary because through it, we heal. Just as we heal from a flesh wound through pain, bleeding, scabbing, and scarring, we heal from loss through shock, anger, disorientation, and sadness.
Personal significance matters too. You may see a travel mug worth about fifteen bucks. I may see in the same travel mug a purchase in a sacred place at a critical time in my life, a vessel from which I consumed tea on a journey to reconcile with an estranged loved one, or a reminder of a valuable lesson learned. If I lose it, you may say I lost fifteen bucks. I may say I lost a piece of myself.
We grieve dreams.
The day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died of a heart attack, Debbie Reynolds died of a stroke. Perhaps the loss of a future with her daughter overwhelmed her. Reynolds lost a dream that her daughter would walk with her to the end.
Long after the embers of love darken to cold ash, divorcees still grieve the dream of life together forever till death do us part. As the shadows of life grow long, those who devote their lives to ambitious causes mourn outcomes they will never realize.
We grieve the smaller dreams too: the teenage crush never consummated in a kiss, the hours devoted to practicing piano without becoming a virtuoso, or bare recognition for years of selfless service. It adds up.
Shame gives dream grieving a bitter aftertaste. We can scarcely admit the grief to ourselves much less to others because they were only dreams, after all. Before some insensitive lout gets a chance to dismiss our tears, we elbow ourselves in the ribs and tell ourselves to suck it up. This too adds up.
Your dreams matter.
Stoic counsel to detach from hopes and mortify passions only stultifies us. Buddhist advice to drop the story line of our dreams and abide fully in the present has therapeutic value when our dreams no longer serve our best purposes. But no one escapes the need for dreams to move forward with purpose.
In an active life, we drop story lines only to rewrite fresher versions. Monotheistic religions of the book – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – insist that stories matter to God. In theory, God does not have to care about stories and the dreams that drive them, but in fact, God does.
Christians believe a most radical proposition: God entered the fray in a Son. More radical still, we believe that Son lives and still plays the lead role in every story and cares about the dreams that drive them. The resurrection makes that possible and assures that after dreams die, the story goes on beyond our wildest dreams.
So whatever dreams you grieve as a new year begins, do not be ashamed. Claim them. Pray your lament. Listen for the beautiful story God tells still with your life. More in touch with reality than before, let God’s dream for your life unfold.
My Friendly Quarrel With Buddhism
Suffering Without Shame: How the Second Beatitude Changed Me
Let Go and Grab a Mooring
My Most Prized Possession
Privilege and the Compassion Deficit