Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,
My church has been under grief for over a year, due to a lady in the church losing her baby girl just before she was born.The woman had to give birth to the baby even though the baby was going to be dead on arrival due to a blood clot that stopped the baby’s heart.
Last night I attended a women’s meeting where the women of the church old and young got up and declared that grief is always a part of us, there is no expiration date, and we just need to grieve forever, allowing grief to be apart of us.And saying things like no one knows anything about grief unless they have experienced the same thing themselves.Talking about the physical debilitation it can do to your body and so on.
Then after all this they had the woman who lost her baby get up and answer questions about her grief talking about it for 30 minutes or more. She proceeded to make angry remarks about people whose babies had been healed and how praying and putting your grief down to live a victorious life was all more harmful than good, because a life of faith is a hard life with no advantages except for the afterlife.
Needless to say I don’t feel like this is biblical at all.Yes, we have time to grieve,but it shouldn’t be for ever and one eventually needs to pick up the pieces and move on.
Please help! Thanks ever so much for your time.
As a student of our teachings, you have most likely heard us often explain that, as important as our emotions are, we must be in control of them rather than allowing them to control us. You have successfully worked on yourself to “think Biblically” and what you have learned is guiding you. We want to validate that your instincts in this case are entirely correct.
As you say, ‘it shouldn’t be forever’ because if it is, added to other deaths in the church community, all of them also observed forever, eventually the church becomes overwhelmed by an incessant tsunami of grief in the midst of which no celebration of anything is ever possible.
The Bible does impose a time limit on (public) grief “and when the days of his grief were over” (Genesis 50:4) and “The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.” (Deuteronomy 34:8) Privately, one observes an annual commemoration on the anniversary of death however, imposing one’s grief upon the entire community forever is wrong.
We do want to warn you that we don’t think that there is anything that you can say or do that will change the minds of the women in your church. They seem to be following today’s general culture that elevates feelings above all else.
Ancient Jewish wisdom has a great deal to say about grieving. This should come as no surprise. Life and death, and joy and sadness are huge parts of our lives. Ignoring death is unhealthy but so is letting those difficult periods overwhelm us.
The grief of this woman in your church seems to have turned into bitterness against church teachings and God. She needs wise and warm counseling from a faith leader. People who mean well sometimes say unhelpful things to those who are suffering. Among these are statements like, “If you truly had faith, nothing bad would happen,” or “You must be very special for God to choose you for such an affliction.” People are uncomfortable around grief and while trying to help, can cause a great deal of pain.
Unfortunately, by attempting to validate this woman’s pain (a good thing) it seems that, as a group, the women in your church are losing all perspective (a bad thing). As it says in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a proper time—and time limit—for all things. “A time to cry and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”.
In Genesis 23:2 it says that Abraham cried after the death of his wife, the matriarch Sara. Not visible in translation is that, for all time in a proper Torah scroll, one of the letters in the word meaning ‘to cry for her’ is written small. This leads us to the ancient Jewish wisdom teaching that Abraham diminished his grief. While personally devastated at the loss of his loving partner, he recognized that his mission in life demanded both proper mourning and then a return to an active and joyful life. Learning to do so doesn’t mean forgetting or turning your back on your loss. It does mean that stopping to actively grieve is as important as actively grieving. Life has changed and we can never go back to what it was before this death, but our own life, filled with meaning and happiness, does need to go on.
We have written in a number of places about the Torah’s directives for dealing with the loss of a close relative, starting with seven intense days of mourning surrounded by friends and family and then an easing back into full life. Death in utero or delivering a stillborn baby follows a different path. In some ways that can be more difficult. There has been a trauma, but the mourning is private and less regimented. What we can learn, is that making this into public, unending mourning is not helpful. Rather than supporting this poor mother’s healing, her grief (and anger) is becoming institutionalized. This is not good for her and it certainly isn’t good for the church family.
Perhaps what these church ladies need is for a pastor or church leader to offer a special class on how God calls upon us not to follow our hearts and emotions. He would draw a distinction between secular culture in which talking about feelings has been elevated into a form of secular devotion and religious culture in which we learn to control our feelings and not be controlled by them. “Remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes,” (Numbers 15:39)
We hope that you can share your reservations with others especially those in leadership, Gina, but you will need to do so in a firm but sensitive way. This is no easy task.
Everything in its time and place,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin