There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is grief. We don’t know how to grieve, and we don’t want to learn. We’d rather distract ourselves with a myriad of gadgets, movies, drugs, food and social media. But grief doesn’t go away if we ignore it. We will have to keep plugging the holes of grief over and over again, using whatever distractions are at hand.
Unless there’s a better way.
I recently talked with a friend who is experiencing incredible loss. She is a healthy Christian. She believes the gospel and trusts the sovereignty of God. And she’s also angry. She’s confused. She’s discouraged. Does this mean she’s losing her faith and failing to trust God?
I think Christians have an added obstacle to grieving in a healthy way because we get scared when our thoughts are despairing and our emotions are unstable. We punt those thoughts and feelings as fast as we can because we think they mean we don’t have faith. Instead of allowing ourselves to ask the hard questions before a heavenly Father who loves us, we explain away our anger and pain by slapping on some Bible verses and forcing ourselves to smile through the pain.
But this is never what God intended. So many of us are bleeding. And not the type of bleeding that comes from a scraped knee. We’re talking gunshot wounds and jagged cuts. We don’t need a Band-Aid. We need a surgeon.
If you aren’t currently grieving, you likely know someone who is. Grief takes lots of different forms and happens for many reasons. It’s not just about losing a loved one to death. It might be the loss of a job, a dream, a relationship, status or innocence, especially the things in which we put our hope, confidence and value. And no one teaches you how to do it.
However, we do have good examples of healthy grief in the Bible. David grieved over the oppression of the weak and wounded (Ps. 10). Isaiah grieved over the sin of Israel (Isa. 6:1-7). Jesus grieved over the loss of His friend, Lazarus (John 11:28-37). What can we learn from God’s Word about how to grieve?
Create Space for Grieving
Instead of hurrying past the pain and hard questions, set aside time and energy for grieving. You will experience strong emotions that may be foreign to you. The most common emotions are anger, fear and despair. When these feelings come, allow yourself to feel them in the presence of God. People usually suppress their emotions, distract themselves or wallow in the pain. None of these actions are healthy expressions of grief. Instead, set aside a specific amount of time in which you enter God’s presence and express to Him your emotions. Ask Him to guide you and remind you of His goodness in the midst of sorrow.
You’ll also experience thoughts that contradict the biblical truth you have learned. Many Christians instantly stifle those thoughts and try to forget them. But, again, this is not a healthy way to grieve. Before God, and often in the presence of trusted friends, express your thoughts. The most common thoughts include questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty. We must remember that grief is an opening of the eyes. We are face to face with the reality of pain and death, and it’s heartbreaking. Refusing to acknowledge the pain or hurrying past it keeps us from experiencing the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes through suffering.
Grieve With Others
There’s a reason people invented things like funerals and wakes. We need each other in times of grief. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced wounds in times of grief at the hands of well-meaning people who said unhelpful things. Surround yourself with compassionate Christians whose goal is not to fix you but to support you. Because we’re all uncomfortable with pain, we want to “help” others move past it. However, grief is not something to get over. It’s something to experience in the presence of God and others.
How do you know whether a person will support you in your grief? Well, you don’t. Be prepared that others won’t know what you need. You’ll have to be explicit in asking for help and support. And then you’ll have to draw from the power of the Spirit to be gracious to those who aren’t very helpful.
If you’re someone who is seeking to support grieving friends, often the best things you can do are to listen and pray. They don’t need advice. They need the surgeon, and you’re not Him. There’s no pressure to make anything better, so you can be free to encourage and pray and provide practical help without the need to get rid of the pain.
Remember the Savior
Jesus Christ experienced the ultimate grief when He was separated from His Father on the cross. He understands. He is the only one who knows how you feel, not just because He’s been there but because He lives in you. And He sits at the Father’s right hand, pleading for your joy and freedom and peace (Heb. 7:25). Run to Him. Plead with Him. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).