Your absence has gone through me.
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
— M.S. Merwin, quoted at the start of Chapter 3
Grief is a confusing, life-altering process and one which all of us would prefer to avoid. Loss breaks into the normalcy of our days like a wrecking ball, demolishing our sense of security and leaving us to sit stunned in the rubble and wonder, “Why?” and “What do I do next?” Loss, and with it the process of grieving that loss, is an uncomfortable subject. We were created to be united to the giver of Life; when sin entered the world, it brought the necessity of grief. No two people will grieve the same and no two losses can fully mirror one another. Thus, when we begin to feel the pain of loss or witness another’s grief, we tend to retreat from the work that must be done; that is, the work of grieving.
Aubrie Hills and Jonalyn Fincher aptly note that loss is beyond our control yet our grief is not. In Invitation to Tears, Aubrie and Jonalyn beautifully and compassionately guide their reader into a new way of viewing grief-work. Grief is not a check-list. It is not a race. Rather, it is a process of rebirth. As we honor that person or thing which was lost, we have the opportunity to learn more about God, about ourselves, and about others. We have the chance to “grieve well”.
I approached this book as someone who has lost loved ones to death and to broken relationships. I came to the pages bearing the wounds of abuse, having lost pieces of my innocence and – for a time – my ability to trust while also losing my self-loathing and my guilt as healing has come. I also read as someone who has regular contact with survivors of abuse. In cases of assault, rape, domestic violence, etc. the losses are limitless.
Perhaps what resonated with me most in Invitation was Aubrie and Jonalyn’s treatment of the relationship between faith and grief. I have too often separated the two, viewing them as enemies. My faith was supposed to stop the grief, act as a Band-Aid so I could forget the hurt and resume normal life. Grief, to me, stood in the way of my faith and my humanity. The sooner I pushed it to the back of my mind, the sooner I would feel whole again.
That’s not how grief works; “our faith is not disconnected from our loss”. Ultimately, as Aubrie and Jonalyn put it, “grief can make us more human”. Even in suffering, we grow and change for good. We exhibit traits of our Creator, Who is well acquainted with sorrow and grief even in His perfection and omniscience. Grief is holistic, a revelation I am grateful the book elaborated upon. It affects every part of us, including our faith. While a loss never fully leaves us, it teaches us how to engage the world in honor of that person or thing we’ve been parted from.
The authors noted that faith means we invite Jesus into our joys and our sufferings. Jesus demonstrated grief while He walked the earth, from empathizing with the losses of others to seeking God’s mercy in the face of His own suffering. Contrary to how I’ve often viewed my own grief, Jesus never taught that grief should be tidy, that it had an expiration date or that emotions like fear or loneliness were off-limits. He did not patronize the sorrowful (something we all are apt to do when we don’t know what else to say). Jesus, as fully God and fully man, knew how to grieve well.
As to the construct of the book itself, I most appreciated 1) its brevity and 2) its tone. Now, I’m not saying “Oh, I’m so glad they stopped writing after six chapters!” Far from it – I would have happily kept reading. That being said, the authors were wise in their choice to be succinct without being trite. In the midst of suffering, depression, emotional turmoil, I never wanted to pick up a book that I knew I would not finish due to its length (try reading something the length of Tolstoy’s War and Peace when you barely have the energy to eat or crawl out of bed). While battling depression, the only book apart from Psalms I could successfully focus on was John Piper’s When the Darkness Will Not Lift, primarily because he said what needed to be said but kept it short. The same can be said for this book. It’s packed with wisdom and guidance without taking up a lot of space on your bookshelf.
Secondly, the tone of the book is conversational and empathetic. I read it comfortably in one sitting but it left me with much to think on and pray about. Aubrie and Jonalyn are not prescribing the ultimate “how-to” list for overcoming loss. Rather, using their own stories and the stories of others, they validate the process and the pain. They offer support, as one of your own close friends might. They provide the reader with the reassurance that they are not alone in their grief. They reshape the common notions and preconceptions of grief and loss so that the reader is better equipped to work through grief when the time comes. They offer a variety of resources and “checkpoints” so that the reader has a helping hand in processing their own grief.
Whatever loss you have endured or are currently facing, I am confident this book will speak to your unique suffering and grief journey. Moreover, if you have a loved one who is grieving and are looking for ways to comfort them, this book offers great insight into the do’s and don’ts of secondary grief (e.g. do learn how to sit quietly with someone who is hurting, don’t fill the silence with platitudes).
A big thank you to the whole Soulation team for allowing me to read this book before it’s 26 May release date and asking me to participate in the book launch by writing this review!
Other Books by Jonalyn Fincher:
Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (co-authored with Dale Fincher)
Opening the Stable Door: An Advent Reader (co-authored with Dale Fincher)
Long Live the King: A Passion Reader (co-authored with Dale Fincher)
Jonalyn’s husband, Dale, also blogs at Free at Last, which has been featured on this blog previously. The couple are co-founders of Soulation, a team of Christian voices seeking to help people become more fully human (linked above). For Jonalyn’s biography, click here. You can also follower her on Twitter: @JonalynFincher.
Aubrie Hill writes for Soulation from the unique perspective of a thanatologist (thanatology is the study of death). Read/watch her most recent Soulation post, where she and Jonalyn talk about the book, here. You can read her biography here. You can also follow her on Twitter: @AubrieHills.