The Power of Mourning

“Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, ‘Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.’ King David himself walked behind the bier. They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also. The king sang this lament for Abner: 

Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
 Your hands were not bound,
  your feet were not fettered.
 You fell as one falls before the wicked. 

And all the people wept over him again…All the people took note and were well pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them…Then the king said to his men, ‘Do you not realize that a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the LORD repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!'” ~2 Samuel 3:31-39

David was an emotional man, a vulnerable king. He knew the gained strength of emotional release in so many trying times. The man after God’s heart was many times, weak. Just read his Psalms. He was a songwriter and a poet. Yet he was also one of the most powerful warriors in history, conquering enemy armies and entire nations.

In the above passage, he was recently (finally) crowned king of Judah, but is also currently in the mess of his reign expanding to Israel as well. All seems to be going well when Abner, the man over the armies of Israel, is killed–the one who just promised to unite David’s kingdom with the northern one. David commands the murderer himself, Joab, and the people with him, to mourn for Abner. This man’s death is a great loss to David, but also potentially to the unity of Judah and Israel.

God is such an intentional author. This great mess of a situation is where He chose to insert the words King David for the first time in the Bible. And in what sentence? King David himself walked behind the bier. At the moment of David’s humility. He walked behind the casket to lead the people in mourning. The first time God calls him by his appointed title and given name together is not when he defeated Goliath or took 200 Philistine foreskins to marry Saul’s daughter Michal or in any other battle. It was when he walked behind a casket. God said yes, this is the turning point moment when he truly becomes the king.

Have there been moments in my life when this happened and I totally missed it?

One comes to mind. A year and a half ago, my sweet Grandma had fallen in her home. She was taken to the hospital, and the outcome didn’t look good. I have been blessed in most of my life to be a stranger to death. The thought of her dying horrified me. I prayed pleadingly for her recovery and tried to encourage my family God would heal her.

I spent time in the hospital that day, an unpleasant place of unknown outcomes with white walls and strange smells. My mom offered that I return the next evening to see Grandma, even though she was sleeping mostly and her body was failing. In that hour I was torn between the pain of seeing her pain and the what ifs if I didn’t go. I drove to the hospital in a haze of thoughts. I took her tiny pink carnations to brighten her room, and I sat talking to her for a while. The tears trickled steadily down my cheeks. I told her what I loved most about her, the cherished times I remembered with her, and how sad I was that she would never see my wedding day or meet my children. Her response was nothing but short breathing, eyes closed. But I know on some level, she heard me. After a time, I whispered goodbye. The next morning she went to heaven.

The months that followed were not pretty. Death came fierce. My grief combined with rising health issues took me into come and go depression. Eventually I moved back home to recover and rest. It was overdo. I admitted I was weak and decided to get help. I joined a Grief Share group.

But maybe something happened when I chose to be brave and face death, armed with grace. The moment God chose to use the name King David was when he walked behind a casket. In the middle of my mess, I think there were two moments: one when I walked into that hospital room and another when I walked into Grief Share.

In writing my life story, I’m not sure how God would call me in these moments. Writer? Teacher? Leader? I don’t know. But I know it would be a new name, something He’s never used in my life novel in previous chapters.

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. ~Isaiah 62:2

God also chose to premier the name King David when David instructed the people to mourn, to express emotion over the loss of a great man. I have learned it is so helpful and healthy to express the emotions of grief. Unfortunately outward displays of emotion are not accepted in my time and culture as they were in David’s. Grief in Biblical times was very physical, a release of pain from the body. They tore their clothes, put ashes on their skin, and wailed loudly in public. David not only allowed this, but commanded it. He wrote a lament for Abner that moved the people. He was a vulnerable leader, transparent in his feelings of grief. King David admitted he was weak with pain.

Today when something tragic happens in our nation, our president stands up in a pressed suit with a patriotic tie and flag pin, and with complete composure and stoic strength, gives a short statement with eloquent memorized words. He says his “thoughts” are with the ones who lost loved ones. Then he steps down off his pretty podium and goes on to the next duty of the day.

Where, O where, are the days of vulnerable-mourning-Almighty God-honoring, King David?

The days are largely gone from our country, the value of emotion expressed lost on today’s American people. That, is a true tragedy.

When I cry out to Him, God’s strength proves true. Grief emotions expressed usher in his power.

I have learned what David lived: there is a new strength that comes in mourning, and its name is weakness-by-grace.

Psalm 24:7-8, A Psalm of David

Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle.


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