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Grief AND thankfulness: Wow, I just found grief in my favorite passage on thankfulness

Lynne Baab • Thursday November 21 2019

Grief AND thankfulness: Wow, I just found grief in my favorite passage on thankfulness

I have long collected biblical passages that call us to thankfulness. Now that I’m on a journey of holding thankfulness in one hand and grief in the other, I’m exploring the ways grieving is built into some of the passages. I had never seen this before.

Consider Colossians 3:12-17, a passage my husband and I chose for our wedding ceremony, and a passage I have preached on at several weddings I have performed.

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:12-17

The Apostle Paul mentions thankfulness three times in the context of a rich call to a caring, Christ-centered pattern of daily life. I’ve always emphasized thankfulness when I talk about or ponder this passage.

But how can we be compassionate and kind – to others or even to ourselves – without engaging in some degree of grief? Seeing pain hurts! How can we bear with one another without some grief for how challenging many relationships are? How can we forgive others or ask for forgiveness without some level of grief for what we or others have done? How can we let God’s word dwell in us richly without grieving for how far short we all fall from the ideals set out in the Bible?

This week I had an email from a reader reflecting on the last few weeks where I’ve been emphasizing this call to grief AND thankfulness. My reader wrote:

“With grief, I am always so interested to know why we expect it to go faster or smoother or simply. Whether it’s the person who is grieving or the community supporting them, everyone has the same expectations, but I can’t help but wonder if the point of the grieving process is for it to be messy and slow and disordered. God creates/moves/ puts into action out of chaos. My mother reflected today that a memorial service for my Nanna was much harder the second year compared to the first which got me thinking about expectations and reasons why it might be harder despite more time passing.”

I think there are a lot of answers to this question of why we think grief should be quick, and I’ll explore some of them in weeks to come. Here’s one of them: Many English-speaking countries were influenced by a huge best seller for more than six decades, The Power of Positive Thinking by Normal Vincent Peale. While I’ve always been critical of too strong an emphasis on optimism and relentlessly upbeat perspectives, I have to admit that my own reading of Colossians 3:12-17 in many ways emphasized the positive. I have always stressed thankfulness instead of the kind of compassion and kindness that enters into people’s pain to the extent that grief is evoked.

I encourage you to do some pondering of why, when you hold grief in one hand, do you want to let it go as quickly as possible.

Next week: another scripture I’m thinking about on this journey. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.

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