Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The False Hope of Closure

Have you ever been asked about closure?  You have if you’re a pastor.  You cant avoid the term.  It’s all over the news when violence strikes a community, and it’s on the lips of those who are hurting and want it.

My youngest sister’s husband died recently.  It was the end of a long struggle with cancer.  At the funeral reception I heard compassionate friends offering well meant words about seeking closure.  Parishioners seeking spiritual guidance following an emotionally traumatizing event have often asked how they can achieve closure.  More often they’ve asked when will they have closure.  It’s hard to know what closure might mean to any one person, but it’s a word used frequently with the assumption that everyone knows what it means.  And it does have an implied meaning that the event behind the emotional trauma will cease to have an impact on one's life, almost as if it never happened.

I don’t know when it came into being.  I wish it hadn’t because there is no such thing as closure.  It doesn’t exist.  It may be well intentioned to hold out the expectation of closure to those who are grieving, or have been emotionally traumatized in some other way, but it’s a cruel hope because it can’t be had.

Never defined, it’s left hanging with vague images of something boxed up, put away in a place of forgetfulness where it will fade into non-existence.  It carries with it images of closed doors, locked chests, trash bags tied shut and tossed in the dumpster.  Closure implies a coming time when life will go on, the event a fading memory. 

Closure, in that sense, is not healing.  It’s a chimera.  Healing is real, and healthy grieving is the process of healing.  It takes time, its own time.  If the emotional wound is deep enough, it may take a long time.  Like any deep wound, it will leave a scar that will always be there, but it won’t hurt anymore, at least not all the time.  There is no closure, but there is learning that what has happened does not have to control what the future holds.  The death of a loved one tears the fabric of one’s life.  Their manner of death can tear it to shreds.  The same is true for other emotionally traumatizing events.  But mending is always possible.  Mending doesn’t make anything new; it makes it strong and healthy, but not new.

A related question: it has not been unusual for people to demand to know where God is when it hurts so much.  It masks a demand with its own question: I want it to stop hurting.  Can God make it stop; when will God make it stop; why is it taking so long?  They’re fair questions, but the answer is not always the one they want to hear.  Jesus gave new life to everyone who asked it of him.  The blind could see, the invalid walk, the deaf hear, the mute speak, the sinner forgiven.  Those grieving the deaths of loved ones were shown that in God death does not end life, but changes it.  None of that changed the old lives each of them had experienced.  Who they had been, with all their limitations and reputations, were still a part of who they were and were yet to become.  The pain of the past was a part of who they would always be, but holy healing empowered them to move on free from the power of the past to dictate their future.  

You and I can’t heal like Jesus, but we can be agents of holy healing who avoid giving the false hope of ill defined closure.  In its place we can offer tools for emotional and spiritual rehab that opens the way for God’s healing power to enter in, and help rebuild the strength to get on with life in new and promising ways.

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