How Do I Handle Grief as a Christian?

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In these short video clips, we’re trying to think about how to grow in emotional wisdom. And in this particular one I want to help you think about the emotion of sorrow that you experience during grief. And so, what we’re going to do is think about what grief is and then we’re going to think about how we process it.

What Is Grief?

Firstly, grief is the emotional reaction of sorrow, of sadness. And it’s often brought on by bereavements, by loss, or by suffering. And so to grieve is to experience sorrow – often quiet profound sorrow – and distress, and emotional pain.

Let’s think carefully about what the Bible actually teaches us about grief.

The concept of grief is found throughout the Bible.

Grief Exists on A Spectrum

The first thing that we ought to recognise is that grief can exist on a spectrum. The concept of grief is found throughout the Bible and it occurs under a variety of circumstances. For most of us, perhaps we are used to associating grief with bereavement. And of course, I think that is perhaps the most acute, intense form of grief that we will ever experience.

But grief can also occur under a variety of other circumstances. And the spectrum of grief actually resonates with our own experience of life. We may suffer for a variety of reasons. We may experience loss on a variety of occasions. And so, as we go through life, we will experience grief with different levels of intensity, in different times, for different reasons. And so it’s quite helpful to recognise the variety of grief and the spectrum on which it exists.

In certain seasons all of us will experience more profound grief.

All of us will experience grief to some degree. And in certain seasons all of us will experience more profound grief.

Death Is Not The Way It Ought To Be

The second thing the Bible highlights for us as we reflect on the experience of grief, is that death is not the way it ought to be. Death is particularly grievous. And as we face a global pandemic, we are recognising that in a fresh and deeper way. Sorrow in the face of death is therefore absolutely appropriate.

Theologian Timothy Keller says, “death is hideous, and frightening, and cruel, and unusual. Death is not the way life is supposed to be. And our grief in the face of death acknowledges that”.

God Himself Grieves

The third thing the Bible points out as we continue to reflect on this is that God himself can sympathise with our grief and loss. One of the remarkable things we learn in the Bible is that God himself grieves. God knows what grief is like personally and in the Lord Jesus Christ he has experienced it himself.

God knows what grief is like personally and in the Lord Jesus Christ he has experienced it himself.

Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as a man of sorrows, someone who is familiar with grief. And because Christ experienced suffering and grief, because Christ’s life was characterised by loud cries, the book of Hebrews tells us, he can empathise with us in our cries of distress and grief (Hebrews 4:15). And so it’s a comfort, because as Psalm 34 says, the Lord is close to the broken hearted and he saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Our Grief Is Framed by Hope

The Bible, fourthly, provides us with an eternal perspective that helps us to frame our grief with hope. And so, we grieve and we feel the sorrow, and yet we experience that sorrow within the framework of hope. As Christians we look forward with hope to the day when God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. Grief will be wiped out in heaven and joy will be our eternal experience.

We grieve and we feel the sorrow, and yet we experience that sorrow within the framework of hope.

Progress Is Not Predictable or Neat

The last thing to mention as we think about grief is to recognise that in scripture there is no predictable or formulaic grief process. While we long to move from grief to experience comfort, hope and even joy, the Bible never provides us with a predictable pathway, neat categories, or stages of grief. Instead, grief can actually feel like playing snakes and ladders sometimes. You might make huge leaps forwards on certain days. You feel like you’re making a lot of movement in the right direction, only at other times you feel like you’re sliding quiet far down again.

And grief is like that, it’s unpredictable, and in the midst of that we learn to persevere by trusting God.

That’s of course quiet a brief picture of what the Bible teaches us about grief. But hopefully it gives us enough to recognise that whilst grief is on a spectrum, and death is the most acute form of grief – the bereavement of loved ones is the most acute form of grief we’ll encounter – it can occur for a variety of reasons. And yet we can turn to a saviour who is empathetic who we can process our grief with and who gives us hope in the midst of grief.

How Do We Process Grief?

So that’s what it is. Well, how do we process it?

Well, the answer the Bible gives us is that we process grief and loss by lamenting. Lamenting is simply talking to God about our pain.

Lamenting Helps Us

Timothy Keller writes the following, he says, “Christians have a hope that can be rubbed into our sorrow and anger. The way that salt is rubbed into meat. Neither stifling grief nor giving way to despair is right. Neither repressed anger nor unchecked rage is good for your soul. But pressing hope into your grief makes you wise, compassionate, humble and tender-hearted. Grieve fully, yet with profound hope.”

Lamenting is simply talking to God about our pain.

And so, lament helps us to do just that. Lament helps us to grieve fully and yet grieve with hope.

A Helpful Structure For Lamenting

The following outline that I’m going to explain is based on the work of Mark Vroegop. And although, like we’ve said, lamenting isn’t a formulaic process, the structure that he suggests is based on the structure of biblical laments we see in scripture. And so, in that sense, provides some really helpful guidance for us as we navigate our way through pain and loss.

1. Turn To God

So, the first thing we do when we lament is we turn to God. Instead of turning to something else, in lament, we choose to turn to God.

And that’s really – perhaps it seems obvious – but that’s really important. Because one of the things that sorrow and pain can do is tempt us to turn away from God; to turn away to something else. TV, internet, food, alcohol wherever else. To turn somewhere else for comfort. And so the first thing we need to do is turn to God.

2. Talk To God

Having done that we then secondly need to express our pain and our sorrow. We talk to God.

And when we talk to God, what we’re doing is identifying specifically the cause of our pain and our distress. This is quite different to what we think of as venting. We are not simply venting to God. What we’re doing is articulating our questions, our experiences, our frustrations and our challenges.

3. Ask God For Help

Having turned to God and having expressed our pain and grief to God, we then thirdly ask for help.

Our compassionate God cares deeply for us. And in the Bible, again and again, we see that those who are lamenting ask God for help. Again, it’s actually a profound act of faith because in the midst of grief and sorrow, we can be tempted to not ask God for help. And so, to actually make requests of him is a profound act of faith.

4. Choose To Trust God

Finally, we choose to trust. Biblical lament always has one destination in view and that is deeper trust in the God of the Bible. Amid the pain and frustration, we choose to trust God as we navigate our way through pain and suffering.

So turning to God, expressing our pain and our loss to him, asking him for help and choosing to trust him. These four steps characterise the structure of biblical laments. And they will help us as we learn to process our own grief and loss.

Three Very Practical Steps

Let me end with three practical steps I think we can all take.

Step number one is we can read the Psalms of lament. Perhaps begin with Psalm 13. It’s a fantastic example of a Psalm of lament and will provide guidance for us as we seek to lament.

Having read Psalms of lament how about writing your own? Write your own personal Psalm of lament and put your own experience of grief and loss into words.

All of us in different ways are going to be somewhere on that spectrum of grief.

Thirdly share – share it with others. Learning to lament is not just an individual activity it’s a corporate activity. We are living in a time when all of us in different ways are experiencing loss. All of us in different ways are going to be somewhere on that spectrum of grief. And so learning to share your lament with someone else and learning to listen to theirs will be a wonderful way that we can be good friends for each other in this difficult time.

May God Help Us

Experiencing pain is distressing and difficult and we live in a very unpredictable time where we are all going to experience this to differing degrees. May God help us to talk to him, to turn to him, to trust him in the midst of this.