What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie, Free for CAPC Members
Nancy Guthrie’s overwhelming message in What Grieving People Wish You Knew is to enter into the awkwardness and difficulty of loving grieving people.
Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
My elder daughter is working on amassing a collection of My Little Ponies; each one plays a special role in her imaginative kingdom Ponyland, and she prefers the unicorn and Pegasus-styled to the “regular” ponies. Not that the candy-hued equines with tattooed rumps can ever quite be stylized as standard. For quite some time now, one of her favorites, whom she calls “Butterfly,” has been missing, and she recently turned up, stashed in a handbag in the depths of the dress-up box.
I care about her, I explained, so I care about what she cares about.My daughter discovered the missing Pegasus herself, while I was lying quietly next to my toddler (in a concentrated effort of getting the little one to take a nap). This time is nearly sacred in our household, and I’m strict about what interruptions I’ll allow. “No, you don’t need to come in to tell me you need to go potty, and you can get your own water.” But my big girl crept into the still, silent room, tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered delightedly “I found Butterfly!” I gave her a big smile and shared in her joyful reunion with the prodigal Pegasus.
Later, we played Ponyland together, and her excitement about the recovered pony was palpable. “I’m so happy for you that you found Butterfly!” I exclaimed, no longer constrained by the necessary limitations of naptime. Although she clearly wanted me to celebrate with her (or else she wouldn’t have felt compelled to tell me the instant she found her toy), she wanted to know why I felt as happy as she did. I tried to explain that it’s what loving someone is supposed to do—we rejoice together and we grieve together. I felt saddened by her sadness at losing Butterfly and happy for her happiness in rediscovering her at last. I care about her, I explained, so I care about what she cares about.
I imagine she attributes some of my joy to enjoying playing Ponyland with her, and it is a pretty awesome game with its castles and pony families and field trips to Cinderella’s farm and occasional dragon attacks. I tried to articulate too the thrill of recovering a loved one, suddenly, unexpectedly, after months of searching. So I told her the stories of the Prodigal Son and the lost lamb—how the shepherd, just like my daughter, could not be fully content with the ninety nine sheep while the 1 was lost. Neither could my daughter enjoy playing with her other ponies without feeling the loss of Butterfly, and each time she played, Ponyland’s joy was deflated: “I miss Butterfly.”
So too did the father of the Prodigal Son abandon propriety to embrace his wayward child, just like my daughter stretched the iron rules of naptime to express her over-brimming excitement. It feels to me like one of those times where we get a little glimpse of what God feels, the way that God sees. How much greater must the shepherd’s and parent’s joy be at their reunions with a lost child and lamb than my daughter’s delight with her Pegasus?
I say that not to diminish her feelings, which were a true joy that I share with her, but to differentiate by degrees. She knows too that the pony was replaceable in a way that is impossible within these other stories. She saw versions of Butterfly at stores, even as she maintained a loyalty and affection for her own missing toy. I think even if I had replaced Butterfly, her feelings at their reunion would have been the same, because loving something or someone makes it special to us—unique in all the world, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says.
The shepherd values the lost sheep even while the ninety nine are in the fold. The father regards the lost son even though he’s more troublesome than the one who stayed behind faithfully. And God regards us all, each one unique in all the world, and beckons to us, so that we can share in his joy and grieve with his grief. His love summons us and he seeks us out, but we, unlike Butterfly, can answer and move toward him too in our own little ways. For he rejoices in us more than I can even imagine, and the delight in his presence is even cooler than a fully-restored Ponyland.
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