Christianity And Grief

"Your expressions of grief are welcome by a God who longs to comfort you." By Karen Hurula
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Who wants to talk about grief?

Pain, loss, sorrow and suffering … our natural inclination is almost always to avoid it. We even try to convince ourselves that because of our faith we do not need to be sad … ever.

The last two years have brought us so much loss that there is nearly nowhere to go that doesn’t bring us grief on some level.

We have lost jobs, mission trips, internships, celebrations, vacations, family gatherings and for many of us, have lost loved ones to death. Some days have felt like there is grief at every turn, and we don’t have good skills to deal with it.

Dr. Colin Murray Parkes, a British psychiatrist, once said, “The pain of grief is … perhaps the price we pay for love.” The loss of anything or anyone we love can bring a certain measure of grief, and that recently has felt overwhelming, with grief heaped upon grief.

Christians and Grief

My experience with grief has taught me a few things about how we talk about grief as Christians that I believe are not true and not helpful. I have heard of grief over the loss of a loved one being minimized with trite statements like, “God must have needed them in heaven” or “You must be rejoicing that your loved one is in heaven.” I believe these statements come from the heart of someone attempting to bring comfort or lessen the bereaved person’s pain, but pain can’t be healed through deflection or denial. I have also heard responses attempting to deny pain by comparing it to other greater losses, such as saying, “What you are going through is not so bad, others have it much worse.” While there may be some truth to these statements, they do not erase the very real pain and grief one is experiencing. Instead, these statements often have the unintended effect of making the grieving person feel as though their pain is not legitimate, or that if they were stronger Christians they would not be grieving.

What The Bible Says About Grief

It is curious to me that we ever developed these habits to deny pain, because it is opposite of what the Bible tells us about grief. Proverbs 14:13 states, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.” I interpret that to mean that deflecting away from our pain does nothing to remove or heal it, but rather saves it up for a later day, when we notice it is still there. In Matthew 5:4, Jesus teaches us that “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I personally learned the most valuable lesson regarding God’s unconditional love for me while receiving His comfort after a very painful personal loss. I have often wondered if our tendency to deflect and avoid the pain of grief comes from a poor interpretation of I Thessalonians 4:13. Here we read, “… so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Here, the apostle Paul is encouraging Christians to know that when believers die, they can grieve with the hope of knowing they will be reunited in heaven. But it doesn’t say that they won’t grieve at all, just that they can grieve with hope.

In Ecclesiastes 3, we are told, “there is a season, a time for everything … a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance.” Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Rather than making statements that attempt to lessen pain, I believe the Bible invites us to feel our pain and losses and sit with our brothers and sisters and be willing to accompany them through their times of grief. Throughout Scripture, there are many examples of the role and the normalcy of grief. There is an entire book of the Bible called Lamentations that gives us an example to follow to grieve and lament those things in life that have hurt us including lost opportunities and injustice in the world.

The Journey of Grief

There is no one prescriptive way to grieve. There is no perfect timetable for how long one will grieve. No two people who experience the same loss will grieve in the same way. The grieving process can take you down a surprising road with twists and turns and waves you might not expect. Grief is an emotional process that often is experienced very physically, often felt like extreme tiredness, regardless of how well you are sleeping, or a heaviness of mind and body. Sometimes grief comes with many tears, sometimes not. Grief most often steals singing from me. I hear other people singing at funerals and I cannot join them, and sometimes that remains for weeks and months after. I might attend church and not sing a word because grief steals that from me for a time. But hearing others sing is a whole new blessing of grief for my soul. There should be no comparison to others, no right or wrong of how you experience grief. Your expressions of grief are welcome by a God who longs to comfort you.

Dr. Hurula holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College. Her passion is the integration of psychology and Christian faith in our understanding of people. Dr. Hurula is a fifth-generation Salvationist (member of The Salvation Army) and attends the Oakbrook Terrace Corps in the Central Territory. She currently serves of the Director of the Wheaton College Counseling Center.

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