All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him. – Genesis 37:35, NIV
Perhaps, I have grief on my mind today as I did a funeral and graveside service this morning. I don’t know. What I will say is that I believe our society and churches do grief poorly. Everyone is so quick to ignore the reality of death–whether the death of a person or a relationship.
“When are you going to get over it?” That seems to be a theme that divorcees, adultery survivors, and even widows/widowers experience.
Personally, I sense it is another case of “your expression of grief makes me uncomfortable.” The speaker might be willing to make an allowance for a week or maybe two, but after that, you are supposed to be over the loss and/or trauma. Or–minimally–you aren’t supposed to show that you still have feelings about it. Heaven forbid, if you have strong feelings years later! You forgave him/her right?!
Today’s verse is about Jacob’s response to the lie that Joseph was killed by animals. It stands in stark contrast to our culture’s teaching to just “get over it.” Here we have the Biblical Patriarch reject the comfort offered to him. To him, the death of Joseph was intolerable. He loved his son. And I suspect this refusing to be comforted was a way he stayed connected and honored the memory of his son. (Fortunately, we know, Jacob is reunited with Joseph many years later.)
My mentor who taught me a lot about grief used the image of a puzzle with a missing piece. Think of that piece as the death of the marriage–either by divorce or adultery. Life will never be the same. The picture will never look the same. A piece will always be missing. And that is okay.
As we heal from a significant loss or losses, our memories become less painful and traumatic. We may be able to look back and receive the good gifts from our relationship with our adulterous ex-spouse. In other words, we won’t just see the negatives. Yet our lives are reorganized with the reality that this piece is missing and always will be. This is what healing looks like as my chaplain mentor taught me.***
But do you ever “get over it”? Not really.
The pain of the memories and the need to punish your perpetrator lessen as you find healing and progress in forgiving. However, you will never be the same. Not after discovering adultery.
At this point, I would add to both the survivor and other Christians: If you ever do feel neutral about the adultery, then I humbly suggest something is spiritually wrong with you! God is not neutral (see the Ten Commandments). And we ought to strive to be like God–i.e. godly.
So, to suggest to someone who has survived adultery that they must “get over it” shows gross ignorance and insensitivity. Grief does not work that way.
The piece is always missing.
And some days–even years later–its absence will be felt more keenly.
It does not mean that you are some freak.
You survived, and those memories are now resources for the community as to how you made it.*** Forget the fools who are more interested in their own comfort than from learning from you. And do not caste you pearls before pigs.
Your heart deserves better.
***A special thanks to my mentor Chaplain Peter Lundholm from the St. Cloud VA Medical Center, and all the brave Veterans we journeyed with there.