Interview with Jonalyn Fincher About Her New Book, “Invitation to Tears”

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Jonalyn and Aubrie Hills just released their new book, Invitation to Tears, a fantastic little book on how to grieve properly.This post includes a brief review as well as an interview with the author on how this book can help pro-life advocates in particular.

Followers of my work will recognize Jonalyn Fincher’s name. Dale and Jonalyn launched an organization called Soulation that I’ve greatly benefited from. Jonalyn interviewed me for her blog last year and we followed it up with a mock debate. Jonalyn is a dear friend and she’s doing fantastic work.

Jonalyn once showed a family member a ring she had designed. It had taken upwards of a year and a bit of savings. As she held it out, the sapphire sparkling, this white gold begging for adoration, this family member was unimpressed. So she quickly slipped the ring on her finger and tried to change the subject.

Grief is like that precious, time-costly ring, an expensive undertaking that few will thoroughly appreciate. Grieving well is costly. Energy you could have spent on friends or family must be spared. You have hard work ahead to learn a new language…It’s no wonder Americans don’t have time for it. Grief is neither dependable nor efficient, but it will make us more human.

~ Excerpt from Invitation to Tears

I was fascinated by the section where Jonalyn and Aubrie describes some of there different ways people handle grief, the “Displacer,” the “Replacer,” the “Minimizer.” I’m what they call the “Postponer.”

The Postponer keeps grief at arm’s length, hoping to avoid the pain until it fades away. Grief is an unwelcome visitor, never invited past the front step. Postponers may be perceived as doing better than expected or quickly recovering from a loss.

~ Excerpt from Invitation to Tears

You didn’t think I had it all together, did you? No, this book was illuminating to my own soul as I explored how I handle loss. It’s a book I plan to re-read the next time I experience a loss, so that I can apply these principles to my own life.

I had the privilege of asking Jonalyn some questions about how her book can help pro-life advocates to grieve better when they and their friends experience loss, including abortion and miscarriage.

Me: Do you know people who’ve had an abortion? How do you interact with them? How does your book help Christians grieve better?

Jonalyn Fincher

Jonalyn Fincher

Jonalyn: I do. The ones who are vulnerable enough to share their abortion with me are also close friends. I feel like they’ve unlocked a door to something very private and very painful. So I go in as if I’m entering a chapel, quietly and carefully. I ask questions. Often they have not spoken of this abortion much at all. Usually post-abortive women are still processing the meaning of what this did for and to them. There are not a lot of places to talk about past abortions without many of us extracting a high cost of shame, guilt and chest-beating.

Invitation to Tears is really a guide to help us learn to grieve and to help those we love grieve well. We have movies, songs and exercises at the end of each chapter to really experience healthy and helpful ways to grieve. We have a chapter dedicated to “What Our Faith Can and Cannot Do” for those who think Christians ought to be happy cheery types all the time. Quite the opposite, being human means we join Jesus, who knew this life would prick our hearts and leave us with scars. If Christians have hope, then we ought to be able to sail into the sea of grief with more confidence that we don’t need to sink. I think Invitation to Tears helps Christians be less afraid that grief is somehow ungodly.

One of the hardest things to fake is long-term empathy and grief skills. What is your favorite tool this book offers for long-term empathy?

Long-term empathy only works if you can remember the last time you cried so hard you wanted to cover your face. If you have no memory of that kind of weeping, you probably ought to stick to sympathy and listening with a box of tissues in your hand.

I think the best tool for grief skills is a disgust for a timetable. You can throw the stages of grief out the window if you think you only go through each stage once, and only for a limited amount of time, and only in a certain order. Invitation to Tears offers another model, built on excellent research, that gives us the tasks of grief. And you might be able to guess, these tasks can be done in any order, for as long as you need, as often as you need.

Since I’m trying to help pro-life people become less weird, how is grieving well related to getting out of our weirdness?

Everyone grieves, some of us do it poorly. For instance, we rush through it, or we assume it will make us depressed so we avoid it. Frantic activity and denial are both types of grief, just not particularly healthy types. Poor grievers come out rather weird.

Because abortion itself deserves some serious grief time, for instance, we need to get skilled at noticing what’s at stake, who is harmed, the long-term effects of these choices in a sober, intentional way. Too many pro-life advocates grief abruptly or in high gear which means they’ve not grieved completely, they haven’t noted how much has affected them personally about abortion. So, they end up channeling grief in destructive–you could say weird–ways, accusing pro-choice people with shame-based arguments, name-calling, refusing to listen, quoting Jesus out of context. We have great zeal without knowledge, and sometimes this is because we haven’t grieved what abortion has and continues to do to us and our friends.

What are common mistakes that well-meaning Christians make when a friend is grieving? What could we do better?

Grief reads us like a book. It proves how much we’ve addressed our own codependency and differentiation. If someone is crying in front of you, what do you say? How often do we say things proving our discomfort? Things like “God just needed another angel” or “You’ll feel better in a few days.”

We must stop trying to stop the tears, we must stop acting uncomfortable with someone’s display of pain. In fact, I think the worst thing I have experienced when I’m crying is to have my friend want to leave me, alone, with that kind of isolation. But when we tell our friends things like “fix-it” we are essentially saying the same thing: “Your discomfort makes me so uncomfortable that I will fix your pain so I don’t have to feel this, too.” This is the opposite of empathy.

Once we gear up for the slow work of grief, we may find some well-intentioned people more distracting than helpful. Speedy expectations of friends or our church community’s “Christian” phrases can dishonor what we are facing. Well-meaning friends may approach with comments like “At least they are no longer suffering,” “Isn’t it about time to move on?” Or “Isn’t it beautiful-they are in eternity with Jesus!

~ Excerpt from Invitation to Tears

Can you offer some practical tips for talking to a friend who recently miscarried? I can care about a person so much who is going through this, but it feels like walking through an emotional mine field. How much time should we wait before reaching out to say anything? Are there some cases where we shouldn’t say anything and wait for them to choose whether or not to initiate a conversation with us?

A few things that helped me when I miscarried were personal notes and flowers. There was something so life-giving in receiving a bundle of tulips in honor of the baby’s life I had lost. It was as if their life mattered, even though no one but me and my husband got to meet this little one. You don’t have to wait to send flowers.

If you personally know the woman who miscarried, sending gifts like flowers or a small tree is rarely inappropriate. This opens up them up to your awareness that this life matters.

One thing that I would recommend is using another term than “miscarry”. There’s an unfortunate accusation buried in that word against the mother, as if she poorly carried the child and that’s why the baby is gone. I’ve unpacked that a little bit here. You can say, “How have you been since you lost your baby?” instead.

Can you explain the concept of shiva?

Sure. Shiva is a seven day pause practiced by Jewish families who face a death. Shiva includes powerful ways your community comes besides you to grieve, offering a meal of consolation with symbols even in the food dishes, a ceasing of all social events, covered mirrors to have the freedom to neglect your appearance, prayer services, sometimes even eating on the floor to symbolize lowliness. We explain shiva in detail and how to adapt it into your life in Invitation to Tears, in the chapter “Mourning with Friends.”

Would the things in the quote below be helpful for a friend who recently miscarried?

“To create shiva for those we love, we can begin by writing an email or making a call, opening up space to develop a vocabulary for grief. We can get together with the purpose of honoring the loss even (or especially) months or years after the death.”

~ Excerpt from Invitation to Tears

I think that sending flowers that are only buds would be an appropriate and meaningful way of adapting shiva for a family who has miscarried. Even personally delivering them.

I have a picture of just such a vase of flowers that I received when I lost my first pregnancy. I put the only ultrasound picture beside them right next to my kitchen sink, so I could enjoy them every minute.

Click here or on the picture below to purchase your copy of Invitation to Tears in paperback or Kindle. Click here to read other reviews and download images you can share on Facebook.

invitation to tears

President

Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh uses speaking, writing and campus outreach to emphasize practical dialogue tips, pro-life philosophy, and relational apologetics.

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