Joining Others on Their Grieving Journey

A man loses his beloved wife after her long and courageous battle with cancer. A woman’s husband divorces her in order to be with another woman. A man is fired from his job months before his retirement after many years of faithful service. A congregation loses its pastor after he has an affair with the church secretary. What do these situations have in common? They represent significant losses which need to be properly grieved. What does the Bible have to say about grieving and loss? Is the Church today a help or a hindrance to those that are experiencing grief? How can we as Christian caregivers assist those who have experienced loss as they walk through their grief?

The Bible has much to say about grief and loss. We know that Jesus was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and that “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3-4). Jesus expresses His grief in the form of tears at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). David pours out his sorrow over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in the form of a lament (2 Samuel 1:17-27). In addition, David beautifully and vulnerably expresses his grief over his own sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51).

Lamentations 3:32 tells us that God loves us so much that He is compassionate toward us in our grief. In the Beatitudes, Jesus states that those who mourn are blessed, “for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In fact, one of the reasons Jesus was sent was “to bind up the brokenhearted”, “to comfort all who mourn” and to give them “the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:1-3). Revelation 21:4 gives us the wonderful news that, in the new heaven and earth, God will wipe away every tear and that “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

Romans 12:15 instructs us to “mourn with those who mourn.” How do we do this? Our Western culture does not allow much opportunity for the expression of grief. In the case of the death of a loved one, an employer might allow two to three days of bereavement leave. Once the funeral has taken place, there is an expectation that the grieving person will return to work and that life will return to normal. In the case of a divorce, loss of job or other significant losses, there is little acknowledgement or toleration of the need to grieve. Our culture is not comfortable with the outward expressions of grief and rarely experiences the benefits of engaging in such expressions in a corporate manner. Grief is considered to be a private matter. In the Church we have “Celebration of Life” services which honor the one who has died and the fact that they are now enjoying their heavenly reward, but do little to give those who have experienced the loss permission to grieve.

How can Christian caregivers provide a biblical model for coming alongside those who have experienced significant losses? How can we help them move through the grieving process to a place of comfort, healing, and even joy?

1) Recognize that grieving is a journey, a process that requires time–often two to three years. Psalm 30:5 says that “Weeping may endure (literally to “lodge as a guest”) for a night but joy comes in the morning.” The night season may be long. Encourage those who are grieving to take whatever time they need.

2) Recognize that each person’s grief journey is unique and that there are a wide range of emotions that may be experienced. The journey may impact every aspect of the person—physically, spiritually, psychologically, socially, etc. The process is painful and requires hard work which often depletes the person of energy for other tasks. Encourage them to rest and to not take on additional responsibilities during this time. A study of David in the Psalms can be helpful as David is very open and honest in expressing his raw emotions, his questions, and his struggles. We can provide a non-judgmental, listening ear as those in grief express their own emotions and questions.

3) Be familiar with the various stages of grief. Those identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying are very helpful—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Be aware that these stages are not linear–they may be expressed in a different order, repeatedly, or some may appear to be skipped. The intensity of the expression of the different stages may vary greatly depending on the individual. Again, the example of David in the Psalms can be helpful in normalizing the intense emotions experienced by those in grief.

4) Be aware that those grieving may feel angry at God or that He is angry with them. It is helpful for them to be able to honestly express these feelings, following the model of David (see Psalm 80:4-5). At the time, do not argue with them, try to talk them out of what they are feeling or quote Scriptures to the contrary. There may be an opportunity in the future to share the truth of Scripture when they will be more receptive to hearing it.

5) Be willing to sit with the person in their pain, offering a caring, comforting presence, knowing that often words are not necessary, helpful, or encouraging. Giving a hug, holding a hand, or offering your own tears may speak louder than any words you could say. This is a very practical way to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Healthy grieving can lead to major personal growth and transformation. The person grieving needs to know that life will, most likely, never return to what was normal before the loss. However, through the compassion of the Lord and the caring presence of compassionate believers, a new normal can be established and new levels of joy and peace may be experienced.

This entry was posted in Articles, Grief. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.