Where shall it go, all this grief? We do not have the depths in us to hold it. Any death is grievous. Any senseless murder is more than we can take in. But children. Many children. I love the moments just after recess when schoolchildren are all kind of flushed and sweaty and a little disheveled and lively, bordering on rowdy. The classroom pulses and smells earthy and alive! There's not a place more overflowing with life and hope than an elementary classroom. The grief of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, is as large as all that bursting life and hope. It has no boundaries. Where shall we put a grief so large? We do not have the depths in us to hold it. We must not pretend we do.

Tears cannot help us hold it. Tears are the overflow as grief pushes in and finds not nearly enough room. Tears are grief's edges turned liquid, but there are never enough of them to lessen the weight or make room for the grief to fit with any comfort. But still we weep. For ages we have wept. Jeremiah knew this weeping, this deep kind, for children. His weeping became part of the first Christmas story, when wicked Herod (afraid of a child) killed all the male children in Bethlehem two years old or younger. Matthew recognizes this weeping:
A voice was heard in Ramah,

weeping and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.

(Matthew 2:18, quoted from Jeremiah 31:15)

Anger cannot help us hold it. Anger strikes up a fist-fight with the grief, pummeling it and making tiny splashes in a hurricane-size wave. The comfort of anger is temporary, lasting only as long as the passion of our pummeling. And then the grief multiplies, like a tsunami pulled up by a rising tide that sends it the next moment crashing into shore.

We could give up the effort to find a place for this grief, letting it loose and watching it seep into every light-filled crevice, finally leaving us surrounded by the dark and either despairing or perhaps just oblivious, forgetting about the light. When grief takes over, it grows, allowing and inviting more deeds that can be done only in the dark. Perhaps the grievous deed of 12/14 reflects a culture that is darker than we think. Many of our younger generation suffer from fatal oblivion, desperately needing to be reminded of the light.

There Is a Place


There is a place for this grief. The only place large and deep and strong enough to hold it is the heart of God. He is eternal; his being reaches from eternity past to eternity future. Everything that exists came from him, made by the breath of his mouth. He is other than and larger than all of it. He can hold our grief.

God can not only hold our grief. God can heal our grief. Not in a little quick way, but in a huge, eternal way---a way that matches the extent of it. God sent his Son that first Christmas to take on the darkness, to invite into himself the whole universe-sized wave of sin and pain and brokenness and grief. Jesus the Son of God held it all, on the cross, suffered it all for us, with an eternal capacity for suffering that we cannot imagine. Jesus paid it all, with his death. Because he is God, he could suffer so, and he could pay perfectly, and he could rise victorious. "The light shines in the darkness," John writes, "and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). I will speak those words, even in the darkness.

Where shall it go, all this grief? It is here, and we must find (and we must share) a way to hold it today, on the way to eternity. It is a large grief, and we do not have the depths in us to hold it ourselves. God does. God has, in Jesus his Son. Such grief as grows in the darkness can be held and healed only in the heart of God---the eternal God who made us and who offers eternal life to us in his Son. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4).

Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible studies, she speaks often at women’s conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible. She shares a heart for students with her husband, Niel, president of Covenant College from 2002 to 2012 and now leading an enterprise developing resources for Christian schools around the world.

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Kathleen Nielson


Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible studies, she speaks often at women’s conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible. She shares a heart for students with her husband, Niel, president of Covenant College from 2002 to 2012 and now leading an enterprise developing resources for Christian schools around the world.

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