Grief is the new pandemic we need to talk about.
The HBO series Chernobyl, is a fictional retelling of the worst nuclear disaster in human history, exposing millions of people in the surrounding area to radioactive contaminants.
In one of the episodes, a few unsuspecting people stand on a bridge watching events unfold near the site of the nuclear reactor. They think the problem is far away but it has actually already touched them and gone through them, the effects of which will only be experienced later.
The pandemic is like radiation poisoning. Even those who think they were unharmed have been harmed. All of us have been touched by it and we might never be the same again.
The pandemic did not simply affect bodies. It broke hearts, tested minds, poisoned imaginations, assaulted emotions, planted doubt, and left us reeling and shaking in fear.
Grief has touched everyone. How we grieve now is the most vital thing for our emotional and spiritual health.
Once grief gets into you it never leaves. It implants itself within you and takes on a life of itself. Sometimes it will swell up unexpectedly and overwhelm you. Other times it will shrink into near-nothingness as if nothing tragic ever happened.
Once you have tasted grief, it changes the way you experience joy; it becomes like a shadow cast behind your soul by the light of joy that shines on your heart.
Grief changes you. It will change your heart, one way or another, but there is no guarantee it will change you for the better. Grief can either harden your heart or soften it. The most important thing about grief is what will happen to you after what happened to you.
Too many hearts go hard after grief—walling themselves in, locking people out, adapting to life in the darkness that follows. Too few hearts find in God’s Son, a fellow-sufferer—sitting with you, walking with you, weeping with you, able and willing to redeem the pain.
As the waves of the pandemic retreat (we hope), what will be left in its wake is a nation touched by grief that may not know it is grieving. But as christians we are trained to grieve with hope.
In the new pandemic of grief, all of us are patients and all of us are nurses. We need to be sensitive to the hurt we are feeling and sensitive to the hurt everyone else might be feeling.
The post-pandemic world needs a post-resurrection church.
The disciples before the resurrection were arguing with each other, concerned about greatness, competitive, insecure, and slow to learn. The post-resurrection christians were filled with the Spirit, united, devoted to Christ, compassionate and courageous.
In post-pandemic India, our churches have an opportunity to be safe places for the grieving, the hurting, the suffering and the weary. We need to nurture a culture of compassionate curiosity, sensitive listening and hope-filled truth-telling.
During the second wave of the pandemic, my wife and I started seeing a counsellor to help us cope with the burden of leading a grieving church while tending to our own grieving hearts. She told me what people will need from me as a pastor, “They need to hear the truth and they need to see your tears.”
Last year my mother went home to be with the Lord. She died just before the second wave started—without any warning, untouched by Covid-19. On March 21, it had been one year since she passed away. I was at a church retreat that weekend and it was not on my mind until the next day.
That morning I met my father for a brief time together. That evening I thought I would post something on Instagram in memoriam. As I scanned through pictures on my phone, the grief caught up with me. I broke down and wept alone.
It is surreal how grief leads your mind through a hallway of memories that flash in front of your eyes. It is like walking awake through a dream. As I kept weeping I noticed something strange. I could feel the grief in my body. I could sense its weight on my mind. But my heart was not heavy. It felt as if there was a strange happiness inside it.
I was grieving and hopeful at the same time. At first I thought I could not explain it. But then I knew I could. Of course I could. It was as simple as an empty tomb, “Because his cross was heavy, my grief is light.”
In our grief, our tears matter to God. May his truth matter to us. May our lives be empowered by the Holy Spirit to channel the consoling power of the gospel to all who are struck by grief, so soon after being struck by a pandemic.