I recently read an article called ‘Grief Hides in the Bathroom,’ about how churches too often sweep grief and pain under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. The article began with these words:
“A friend of mine recently lost her daughter, an 8-month-old baby who was just beginning to get to know the world around her. I saw my friend at church not long afterward, a grieving mother holding so much in and around her. As we entered the sanctuary, I could feel something in the air. It felt like grief lingered all around us.
In the middle of worship, while the congregation was preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas, my friend left the room. I followed after her. We ended up on the church’s bathroom floor, weeping together, as people came and went, unsure what to say to us. We chose to grieve together in that moment instead of holding things together for the sake of others’ comfort. Church is often like that. We celebrate together in worship but grieve alone.”
And that’s been my experience of church as well—and I have no excuse because I’m the person who primarily crafts our weekly liturgical hour. As the author says later in the article, “We cover up grief and hope that it will go away, because our sanctuaries are meant to be pristine and our services are meant to be planned and coordinated, not sloppy with tears and sadness.” I prefer my worship services to be neat and organized, happy and cheerful. It’s more fun that way.
And yet, I’m aware that those who walk through the doors of our church on a Sunday morning, myself included, enter with baggage and pain and hurt and grief. We sometimes enter the service happy and content, excited to sing God’s praise. But there are a lot of Sundays where we come to worship distracted, stressed, tired, sad, and burdened. We come with a million other things on our minds. We come with hurtful words still ringing in our ears. We come with hearts that have been ripped asunder. We come with minds that are confused and unclear about the future.
And generally, there’s no place for this range of emotions to be explored and expressed on a Sunday morning. It just gets stuffed down and ignored, too often replaced by manufactured contentment and manipulated happiness.
Now, I’m not suggesting that all our Sunday worship gatherings be transformed into slow, somber services of lament. But I am reminded of the need for all of us, myself especially, to acknowledge that all is rarely well with our soul when we show up on Sundays. Life has a way of battering and bruising ALL OF US. No one is immune. So, while we need not devote each service to the vulnerability of grief, let’s at least do away with the need to pretend that everything is always great (or even fine). Let’s be honest with one another. If someone asks how your week was, it’s okay to say “I’m struggling…would you pray with me.” That’s not weakness, but great strength. Let’s be a church of honesty and genuine community, where we truly know one another and allow ourselves to be known.