By Christopher Cummings
Appearances are deceiving in the new Disney+ drama WANDAVISION. Set in the aftermath of the latest Avengers movie, Wanda Maximoff and her android beaux Vision enjoy domestic life in the suburbs of New Jersey… despite Vision’s heroic death several years prior.
Unbeknownst to Wanda, she’s using her supernatural gifts to avoid her grief and reshape reality in profound ways: From recreating and sustaining “Vision” as long as he’s nearby, to psychically brainwashing and repurposing her neighbors to play supporting roles in a sitcom version of her life to fulfill her need for family, happiness, and a sense of normalcy.
At the end of the first season of WANDAVISION, the townspeople are freed from their mental slavery. They surround a visibly distraught Wanda, shouting at her: “When you let us sleep, we have your nightmares,” “We feel your pain,” and “Your grief is poisoning us.”
Wanda frantically rejects their panic-stricken observations — to the point of using her powers to strangle the crowd to silence them. Horrified at her actions, she releases them. But the damage is done. Because of her inability to work through the pain she feels, she has pulled an entire town into her downward spiral and scarred them all forever.
In my own life, I know what it’s like to suffer loss and feel the pressure to put on a happy face to try to convince myself and others that things are fine. A few years ago, I worked in the games industry. The startup I was working at ran out of funding, and I found myself in an emotional twilight zone.
At work in my operations role, I focused on helping my co-workers find their next opportunities while I sold our computers and furniture on Craigslist and eBay to refund our backers. At home, I planned my next career move while tightening up our finances and explaining to my children how our lives and our spending would be changing. On the outside, I attempted to cheerlead everyone. Inside, I quaked with fear and anxiety as I obsessed over my family’s looming income gap and the implications that held for our future.
Theologian Tim Keller once remarked, “While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught that the answer to this was not to love things less but to love God more than anything else. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief was not to be eliminated but seasoned and buoyed up with love and hope.”
In my situation, I was blessed to be involved with a Christian community who rallied around me and my family. The men in my life pointed me to Jesus during this tough time. Part of me resisted. As I stared down the long hallway of unemployment and potential bankruptcy, I felt the urgent need for new income, not for spending more time with the son of God in prayer. But the more I was directed toward Jesus, and the more I paid attention to him, the more I realized Jesus was walking with me as I traveled down that long hallway. That realization helped me process and mourn my job loss in a healthy way as I led my family in a loving way through that period of great uncertainty.
The Bible is clear that sorrow is real and equally clear that grief needs to be handled with care to avoid piling hurt on top of hurt. Jesus was not immune to grief and sadness. For example, in Matthew 14 Jesus learns about the death of someone he loves, John the Baptist, and his response gives us three notions to contemplate.
Matthew 14:13a (ESV) says, “Now when Jesus heard [about John’s death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” Jesus recognized that he needed time to process so he went some place where he could have privacy. Possibly to grieve. But also likely, given Jesus’ pattern in the New Testament gospels, to spend time in prayer with his Heavenly Father. However, it wasn’t uninterrupted time.
The crowds followed Jesus. Matthew 14:13b-14 says, “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Unlike Wanda, who literally uses other people to comfort herself, Jesus makes a different choice. In the middle of his grief, his familiarity with suffering allows him to show compassion to others in need.
But Jesus does strike a balance as we see in Matthew 14:23: “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone”. After tending to those in need, Jesus returns to a place of silent contemplation because he still needs time alone with his Father to process his sorrow and loss.
If we put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, how would we react as we approach shore and see that crowd of needy people waiting? We might be tempted to pull a Wanda and wish everyone away into a corn field. Or respond like I did initially after my job loss, keeping a happy face up front while raging and panicking inside.
Although Jesus grieves the loss of John, he uses that grief for his ministry. He does not fall into self-pity or lash out at others. He uses that emotion to show compassion to people who desperately needed his love.
As we process our own losses and sorrows in life, my prayer is that we run to Jesus. That we spend time with Jesus, who understands our grief, and won’t abandon us to self-pity or lashing out at others. And that the Holy Spirit would empower us with a compassion that loves God and our neighbors as we work our way through our grief.
Christopher Cummings is an elder at GracePoint Community Church in North Andover, MA. He blogs about the art and science of product management at christophercummings.com.