The tragic loss of Rachel Held Evans last week demonstrates how messy grief can be in our lives. Add to that the unforgiving terrain of social media, and it’s a huge mess.
Rachel Held Evans was only 37. She was known through her incredible ability to connect on social media and then in other venues. The tragic loss of someone who is just getting started into the parenting life is enough to try and grasp. But her public profile was extensive.
Then, there is grief. And social media. What results is a huge mess. Those who were her closest friends are grieving very publicly and then lashing out at those who are talking about Rachel and her “controversial stances.”
Then, those who get stomped on by the lashing out feel a need to slap back. And on and on we go.
Public grief is messy.
Grieving is messy all by itself, but in a public forum it has no boundaries. And in an American context, it truly has a no holds barred kind of feel. It’s turning into a MMA cage match.
First of all, grief is messy. Period. I’ve even read a piece from a great theological thinker who was getting at another great theological thinker for messing up one particular sentence in his post on his grief.
Friends, grief is not theologically correct. So, ONE, if you are watching someone grieve, don’t think you’re going to hear good theology in those moments. Those grieving are in the pain and that pain won’t have good theological boundaries. It’s just honesty.
C.S. Lewis wrote his thoughts on the loss of his wife, Joy Davidman, and his publisher wanted to run with it. A Grief Observed was first published anonymously because Lewis felt if people read it knowing it was him they would assume he had walked away from Christ. His thoughts were that deep and wandering and theologically boundless.
We have deep pain. In a social media world, we don’t know how to deal with that pain. It comes from us not knowing, as white Americans, how to deal with pain in the first place. We don’t know HOW to grieve. Then, we try to grieve publicly and the onslaught of correction flows our way.
One of the most moving examples of grief I have witnessed (outside of Lewis’s work) comes from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She lost her husband to a tragic accident. Being Jewish, she went into a custom of silence. For 30 days she pulled back from public comment and worked through the intense grief with close friends. When she emerged and returned to public life, she wrote a powerful lament in honor of her husband.
I write this in context of a tragic public death. This is nothing about Rachel Held Evans personally. This is about us as a culture. We don’t do grief well and it’s magnified in this setting.
And in all this, do you know what we’ve missed? Public grief over another school shooting. Public grief over the last video Sandra Bland took as she was arrested which resulted in her death three days laters.
And in missing those places for public grief, we’ve also missed the NEED for public grief. If we HAD paid attention to those events, we would NOT have grieved. We would have debated gun control, “blues lives matter”, and a bunch of other nonsense.
All this to say we are seriously broken as a culture and social media only magnifies our worst tendencies.
In our grief, may those around around us just simply remember mercy. And grace. And the gift of silence.