“Congratulations! You must be so excited!”
“How’s the planning going? You must be so full of joy!”
“Your fiancé is so lucky to have you. Being married is a wonderful adventure!”
These are the most common reactions you get from people who find out you are newly engaged and preparing to get married. The above responses, from the kindest of people, are well-intentioned, but they have fallen flat for me lately. It’s not that I’m not excited or not full of joy, it’s just that there is so much grieving taking place, too.
The season of Lent is a period especially marked in the church calendar for the contemplation of death and dying. Leading up to the Crucifixion, followers of Jesus are given these forty days to sit in the awkward silence and the uncomfortable pain that comes with grief.
As a person who finds himself in the process of planning a wedding and preparing for marriage, there is no shortage of grief in my life right now. Yes, there is excitement and a giddy anticipation for what the future holds, but there is also much that I am letting go of. I am thankful for the season of Lent because it forces me to sit in that grief and stare it in the face.
For instance, there is the grief of independence. Perhaps this is a marker of the millennial culture in which I was raised, but I have thrived as an independent single male throughout my twenties. I spent the last decade of my youth studying, travelling, and taking jobs where I have thrived but that offered little in compensation. There is a grief that takes place at this transition; I know I am not losing my independence, but I am merging it with another person and aligning it with her needs and priorities.
A strange thing happens when you recognize that death and grieving are taking place during a time of joy and excitement. Weddings and funerals have very different functions in our society, but I wonder if they have something to learn from each other. What would it look like if our weddings contained elements of grief? How would it feel for our funerals to be times of joyous celebration?
There is a tension here. This tension, between joy and sadness, excitement and grief, is also the tension found at the heart of Easter and the preceding season of Lent. To sit in this tension, to let the awkwardness of these competing feelings seep into our very being, is the epitome of what it means to anticipate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
This might all sound trite to you, but it is real. The grief and sadness of this season have felt like a death to me. It is a dying to my self that I never saw coming.
It brings to light the reality of deep relationship with anyone, not just our partners: to love someone is to die for someone. That is, to let our selves be sacrificed for the needs of another person is the epitome of true love.
There is something strange that happens when we open ourselves up to this kind of death; it also opens us up to be able to better love and support other people. Death creates space. Mysteriously, as we let go of our ideas about something or recognize the ending of a season of our life, we are given the opportunity to live more fully into what is ahead.
I wonder if this is a lesson that the Canadian church needs to embrace in this epoch of post-Christendom wandering.
What do churches need to grieve as we work towards making things new? What needs to die in the structures and habits of gathering as a church for growth to take place?What do churches need to grieve as we work towards making things new? - Justin Eisinga Click To Tweet
What would it look like for us to grieve the seasons we are coming out of, to walk forward more faithful to what we believe and desire as communities of faith? Better yet, how do we help individuals and families grieve as they move from one way of doing things to a new way of doing things?
These are the questions that are raised by my experience of grief during my preparation for marriage. They are questions that we need to seriously grapple with if we are to do the work of planting churches and making all things new in our homes, our neighbourhoods, and our cities.
We must learn how to embrace death and grief to make space for new life and perspectives. By learning this, our communities will have more space for the unexpected, more love for others, and more understanding of the ebbs and flows that take place when we do life together.
Is this not what takes place at Easter? Is this not what the season of Lent is building towards? What takes place at Easter is the kind of death that leads to the truest of life.
May we contemplate what needs to die and what needs to be grieved in our communities during this season of Lent. May we sit in the darkness of Good Friday and let go of what is holding our communities back. And may we gather on Easter Sunday prepared to celebrate and embrace the new life that is emerging all around us.