To mourn or not to mourn?

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who told me this story:

I was in a prayer meeting this week with a lady who asked us to pray for her relationship with her parents. They were getting divorced after having been married for several decades. She doesn’t live at home anymore. And she talked about the whole thing quite matter-of-factly. I told her that that was really sad, and the sharing of prayer points moved on to the next person.

A few days later at church, she came to me and said, “Thank you”. I asked her why. She told me that no-one else had acknowledged that it would be a painful thing, and she had found it helpful that I had.

It’s a profoundly sad story in lots of ways. What must it be like to married for over half your life and then get divorced? Why do we live in a world where this woman is unable to grieve what ought to have been grieved? Ultimately, it shows the tyranny of political correctness and relativism. But before we see the tyranny, let’s understand why our world thinks like this.

We live in a world that has increasingly refused to call anything bad. Divorce happens. Pornography’s okay if it doesn’t cause you problems. Abortion is just removing a scrap of tissue. Family is whatever you have (let’s make sure we don’t ‘privilege’ the nuclear family). Everything’s okay.

And I want to say, that at one level, part of the motivation for this has been a good one. If divorce is associated with great stigma, then what happens when you go through it? You get ostracized by the community and end up without support when you need it most. If single motherhood is associated with moral failure, then what happens if you find yourself a single mother? Often you and your child are ostracized and left without support. So in an attempt to make sure that people aren’t marginalized, we have started saying that everything is good. If you’re divorced, that’s good for you. If you’ve fallen pregnant outside of marriage, that’s good for you. Our world talks like this because it wants to make life better for people.

My question is, does it really make life better?

My problem with this relativism is that it ultimately becomes oppressive. If something is good, then it shouldn’t be mourned. If divorce just happens, then you shouldn’t get upset about it—particularly if you’re not living at home anymore.

But of course, the fact that sin so besets a relationship that divorce becomes its end is profoundly sad. It’s sad for the people involved, it’s sad for their friends and it’s sad for their children. When a young mother is a single mother because of her failure or her boyfriend’s failure, that too is a sad reality. God created families with two parents for a reason. There are good reasons for seeking a nuclear family for the growth of children wherever that is possible. What we need is a way of acknowledging that sin is real and damaging, without then leaving people with nowhere to find comfort, confess their sins and seek real help.

It seems to me that the gospel is a real answer to these problems. God doesn’t say to us, “There, there. It’s okay; you didn’t really do anything wrong because there is no right and wrong.” He says, “Yes you have failed, and sin is terrible. That’s why I sent Jesus to die for sin—to bring you forgiveness. You are my child. I love you. And I will accept you and care for you in spite of what you’ve done.”

Jesus offers us a way of both saying that sin is awful and that we must love each other. It’s much better than the tyranny of relativism, which refuses to let us grieve what needs to be grieved. True joy isn’t found in pretending nothing is wrong; true joy is found in deep forgiveness, which allows us to acknowledge wrong and to love all the same.

3 thoughts on “To mourn or not to mourn?

  1. There’s another reason people might not have acknowledged that it was painful for her, and this is that we are really bad at responding to pain.

    We can respond to the most awful circumstances with silence rather than by saying “I’m so sorry!” simply because we’re uncomfortable around pain and don’t know what to say.

    Your friend’s story is a wonderful reminder to move towards people in pain, in sympathy and sorrow, rather than away from them, into a hurtful silence.

  2. Thank you, Paul, This is really a very important thing that needs to be said more often.

  3. This reminds me of an interaction with my son Jacob’s teacher the other day. 

    She pulled me aside to tell me how upset he had been to discover that many of the kids come from families where the parents are divorced or separated. He hadn’t reacted in class, but had stayed behind after class to talk to the teacher alone about his concern for the kids and his bewilderment at what their parents had done.  (His yr 1 class have been doing a unit on families at school this term.) 

    She seemed to think his reaction was kind of sweet, and VERY naive, and told me that she had explained to him that “we’re all different, and nobody’s perfect”.

    There was some truth in her assessment, of course – his reaction was partly just the reaction of naivety. 

    At another level, though, it seems to me that his reaction was exactly the right one, and that there’s something really sad about the way the culture we live in works so hard to normalize things that are tragic and terrible and anaesthetize our reactions to them.  It starts early!!

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