Good Grief

Emotions are tricky things. Complex and unavoidable. To our frustration, we find them both uncontrollable and controlling forces in our lives. We live with our emotions daily but are  surprised repeatedly by their variety and veracity. People from angsty teens to academics have written enough to fill libraries on the subject, but humankind still misunderstands as much as we “know” about emotions causes and effects. Today, I want to talk about one emotion in particular: grief.

On the emotional spectrum, grief is about as far from happiness and contentment as you can get. It’s what we feel as the result of loss. When our loved ones die, we grieve. The same when our material possessions burn (or break, or disappear). We grieve, too, when we recognize opportunities that we’ve missed. Common to all of these circumstances are loss and the acknowledgement that there’s nothing we can do to get something back.

Grief, though, can be good. As with so much in life, whether we experience “good grief” or “bad grief” depends entirely on us and how we choose to react to loss. The apostle Paul knew this. Here’s an excerpt from his second letter to the Corinthian church:

Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7: 8-10)

Paul distinguishes between godly (good) grief and worldly (bad) grief by their outcomes: repentance and salvation without regret, or death. In other words, we can choose to learn from our losses or we can suffer more loss. It’s up to us.

There’s an important and subtle implication nestled in Paul’s letter: indecision and passivity result in the same outcome (death) as choosing to give up. Just like the title of this blog implies, doing nothing and hoping for the best won’t get you anywhere, certainly not out of your pit of despair.

Loss hurts. Anyone who’s been broken up with or divorced; had their car broken into; lost a job; or experienced the death of a friend, parent, child, or sibling knows this. I do. But what I’ve been guilty of forgetting is that in every loss there is a lesson, and in every lesson an opportunity to improve. Conversely, every wound we endure, if untreated, can lead to an infection of the soul that will, eventually and inevitably, lead to death.


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