A few weeks ago I took my wife to Virginia Beach for her birthday and stopped for lunch at a delicious Colombian restaurant. Little did we know that we would both end up bawling our eyes out, hoping the waitress and the people around us wouldn’t think we were going through some marital crisis!
That day was the third anniversary of the death of my wife’s grandfather and his wife, who were involved in a tragic car accident. The fact is that this is not the only loss I’ve experienced in my life, but it is certainly one of the few I’ve been able to grieve over.
When I was five years old, my dad decided to migrate the United States to give us a better future. For the next five years, my mom would raise my brother and I, without a husband and without a father present. As a result, and compelled by external and internal pressures, I came to the conclusion that I had to be the man of the house. We eventually reunited with my dad when I was ten years old, but because of reasons that are too complicated and perhaps irrelevant, I never truly went back to being just a child.
Being “the man of the house” was not something I enjoyed or even knew how to do. Being a man, in my mind, simply meant being the glue that holds it all together. This felt particularly true when during my senior year in high school, we received the news of a tragic triple death in our family. Both of my dad’s sisters, and the husband of the one who was married, died in an accident.
I had never seen my dad so distressed and lifeless, and I had never before felt more obligated to step up to the plate and keep my family from crumbling. Although my memories of those days are somewhat vague, I do remember struggling to feel sadness… struggling to feel anything. I had told myself that I couldn’t cry and that I had to be strong for everyone, but rather than feeling strong, I felt nothing.
I had a flashback to that period of my life just a couple months ago, when a young man came to me for counseling and shared some deep struggles his family was going through. He shared with me that he was hurting but couldn’t show it, that he had to hold it all together and be strong for everyone else. Hearing this young man reminded me how my heart felt at one point, and some of the lessons that God has taught throughout the years. Here are two of those lessons:
Men cry too
I consider myself a very sensitive person. In fact, I am more likely to cry during a sad scene in a movie, than my wife is! However, when it comes to handling real suffering, crying became difficult for me. As I have mentioned, I thought being a man mean not expressing my emotions – particularly emotions that revealed my pain or my weakness. Then, three years ago, the Lord put me in full time ministry, and in a matter of months I did four funerals. As I searched in the Bible for direction and wisdom to deal with the pain of suffering of other people, the Lord brought me to this:
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15
The pressures of a pastor can be similar to the pressures of a husband and a father. A Pastor can also feel the temptation to be strong for everyone else by suppressing his tears and hiding his emotions. However, as Christians we are called not only to join the excitement of those who are rejoicing, but also to come alongside the heartbroken and weep with them. In fact, that’s often what people need the most before they can be reminded of Truth. Therefore, it isn’t only ok to grieve as a Christian man, but is also commanded.
It’s about courage
Now how does a man hold his family together in times of affliction? The answer is courage. However, this is not the courage we see portrayed in Hollywood by desperate husbands and fathers who take matters into their own hands. A Christian man demonstrates his courage by consistently walking according to the will of God and in the light of his word. Paul told the church in Corinth:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3–4
Paul clearly identifies God as the source of comfort, and declares that we receive comfort in our affliction. For years I had false expectations of my role as a man during times of suffering. I thought I couldn’t allow myself to feel affliction because I had to be strong to comfort others. That perspective left me without comfort, and without any real comfort to give to others.
The truth is that it takes real courage for a man to weep and express his affliction, and even more courage to receive God’s comfort – to believe in the darkness what God has said in the light. As David said in his affliction:
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! – Psalms 27:14
At thirty years of age, I haven’t fully arrived, but God faithfully and patiently continues to teach me how to be a man that can lead my wife, my children, and my church. I’m now free to allow grief and tears to accompany my affliction, knowing that it will not cause those around to crumble down in their affliction. I’m now able to experience God’s comfort and better shepherd others in their suffering.
Bawling my eyes out with my wife at the restaurant reminded me of this… and it was liberating to know that I did not have to muster enough strength to hold her together… that we were both free to grieve in our affliction while courageously trusting in the God of all comfort.