Grief as a way forward: The importance of lament and hope

Each day of the Coronavirus pandemic appears to bring a new unfolding chapter, with a deepening reach and influence felt from the virus.

This is true of our work as well. Whatever is said in regards to the workforce will fall short in its own manner. Our responses to the ever-unfolding dynamic often feel like grasping at the wind: seemingly helpful but fruitless.

In a time where more than 36 million workers have filed for unemployment in the past two months, there is a wide range of experience and tension people are feeling in their jobs.

For some, work has sped up. Those working in essential industries like healthcare, government, grocery, and delivery have seen their workloads and pace increase tenfold, with greater reliance and need placed on these workers and sectors due to the shifting sands of non-essential business closures.

For some, work has slowed to an abrupt halt. Restaurants, retailers, and other event-dependent businesses have faced dire straits, some laying off many while facing hazy futures about when and how things might normalize.

For some, work now takes place at our dinner table or couch. Working from home might provide flexibility and a semblance of normalcy, yet the outlets of vocation, family, and rest for many are now shoved into a blender and become one in the same.

Many now live in a world where self-scheduling and discipline is not merely a nicety but a necessity for survival in their work. Stress mounts as concentration shifts through the seemingly endless strands of Zoom meetings. Each day brings a feel of repetition and monotony.

For many of us, our work has suffered a rupture, and it’s in desperate need of repair.

Revealing our fragility

The fragility of our lives and institutions is being illuminated. Though we might hastily portray a sense of rugged individualism, our need for our Creator and one another has never been more pronounced.

We were made to be dependent.

Genesis speaks of a world where God walked with Adam and Eve, the Psalms speak of God as an ever-present refuge, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians encourages Christians to boast in their weakness, knowing God’s favor and presence is enough to strengthen in times of desperation.

Even amid a pandemic, our need for work and our need to continue the Genesis 1:27 cultural mandate of being fruitful and multiplying still holds fast. While the work may look different, the promises of scripture stand firm amidst the shaking of our own infrastructures and idols of comfort.

For some, this manifests as exhaustion through the constant juggling of home duties or even overwork caused through a now unexpectedly essential vocation.

For others, this looks like anxiety over the loss of work and savings in the collateral fallout of the virus’ altering of society.

For others, this looks like depression over a lack of productive work that came about through an unexpected job loss or cutback on hours.

No one is unaffected in their vocational lives through the influence of COVID-19, and a healthy response for each of us involves a moment in the mirror to grieve and lament as we put one foot in the front of another and receive our daily bread.

So, honestly, how might we process a way forward when everything feels shaky underneath our feet?

God’s word given to us through Psalm 46 can help.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

Because God is the object of our refuge and strength, we can have hope and confidence though things feel unsettled.

Rather than shying away from the pangs of life, the Bible is honest about struggles, pains, and questions. Just look at the opening of Psalm 10, where David writes, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?” The Bible is honest about doubt and emotions of lament. It just refuses to leave us alone in them. Our pains always find purpose and direction in the cross of Christ, where the full weight of sickness, pain, and death was dealt with once and for all.

Grief as a way forward

Praxis, a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship, recently put together a thoughtful reflection on the ways leaders should consider this season of disruption.

In their recent reflection, they lay out the notion that all organizations and businesses should look at the pandemic not as a hard winter or even a short blizzard but as a potential months-long Ice Age.

“We’re not going back to normal,” writes the Praxis team. “If you’re a leader in an organization, it is time to rewrite your vision deck.”

With this in mind, they seek to guide workers and businesses forward — with reframed expectations — on what the Christian faith might have to offer in light of this unexpected disruption.

Specifically, the team singles out grief as a way forward.

“Christian creativity begins with grief — the grief of a world gone wrong. It enfolds it in lament — the loud cry of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday — and still comes to the tomb early Sunday morning. We are burying and saying goodbye to so much in these days, and around the world people are burying and saying goodbye to those they love. But we do not grieve without hope. If we grieve with Jesus, and make room for others to grieve, we can hope to be visited by the comforter, the Spirit who breathed over creation before it was even formed. And that Spirit will guide us in the choices we have to make, even on the hardest days that are ahead.”

During these ambiguous times, the gospel makes room for your grief. We have all experienced loss in some way shape or form, and the gospel allows us to say with utter conviction that things are not the way they are supposed to be. The idyllic Genesis 1 and 2 shalom in Garden of Eden has been replaced by the death and expulsion of Genesis 3 and 4.

But rather than feeling helpless to the effects of humanity’s rebellion, Christians can take refuge in the strength and promises of the Lord. While we may feel overwhelmed with worry, we serve the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In fact, our grief over the ways sin has affected all of life can strengthen our grip on the hope of God’s restoration. When we grieve with hope, it serves as fuel for a redemptive imagination of the world around us.

What could this actually look like? In Denver, one onsite meal delivery business has pivoted from serving in-office meals to serving those on the front lines in delivery and healthcare, many of whom are working extended hours due to the spread and effects of the virus.

“I want to love God and love my neighbors by keeping our employees working, sharing the food resources we already have, and extending these resources into our communities in need through partner organizations,” says Peak Refreshment Strategist, Samantha Glenn. “This is a Jeremiah 29 way to seek the flourishing of the city.”

One tech organization has organized a COVID-19 Hackathon to serve the growing tech challenges faced by many in local churches around the world due to social distancing and self-quarantine restrictions.

Others are simply doing their own work with greater gusto and fervor, seeing the ways their own faithfulness in their daily tasks contribute to the flourishing of the common good.

The Christian has the great joy of co-laboring with God to offer a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom into our world now. This means even in the ways we push back against the assault of sin on the world, we embody the peace and shalom of Christ to a world in desperate need.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at faithandworkla.com.

Topics: Christian Life, Current Events, Spiritual Formation Practices

About the Author

Gage Arnold is the communications director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div. student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.