I have always maintained that a minister’s greatest privilege is standing with people who are going through grief. I have done that, and so have many others. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but it is a great privilege to walk with those who are suffering the loss of a child for example.
Loss of a loved one
How many parents have had to face the death of their baby! A premature baby has died, and young people are in total shock, sitting in a hospital room, not knowing what to do or say. Words are not adequate then—it’s about silence and shock, as the parents face this terrible ordeal. And I guess this is repeated each and every day in many hospitals around Sydney.
How many marriages have come apart on those awful days, when the father can’t deal with his own feelings, let along those of his wife. Friends often stay away because they don’t know what to say. But being with the couple is what matters—even if words are not said. Sometimes parents feel no-one understands what they are going through. Or they may feel guilt and anger.
Speaker and writer Joyce Meyer said one day her aunt lost her husband, and for many nights, she beat the pillow and yelled, “Why did you leave me?” She knew the reality of his death, but her emotions were out of control. And that’s normal.
Grief is not just restricted to the loss of a child. Did you see the musical Les Misérables, and the mournful song of sadness and grief—after the revolution had been crushed? The actor looks at the empty café where the previous night a crowd of students had loudly proclaimed their hope for liberty. The song has the line:
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain that goes on and on
Empty chairs and empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone
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We may never know the extent of grief and loss that people feel, and we need to be careful not to judge them, because one day we will face our own grief—nothing is surer.
The Bible has some good thoughts. Psalm 62:8 says, “Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge”. Our eternal God understands our everyday life, and when we suffer grief, he understands. His own Son, Jesus Christ, suffered and endured an agonising death on the cross. He looked on from Heaven when men crucified him—he was innocent.
God says release your grief to him, and then he will help you deal with it. After all he knows best for you.
A distinguished painter was conducting a class for aspiring artists. He was speaking on the subject of artistic composition. He emphasised that it was wrong, for example, to portray a woodland, a forest or a wilderness, without painting into it a path out of the trees. When a true artist draws any kind of picture, say a landscape, he always gives his picture an out. Otherwise the tangle of trees and the trackless spaces depress and dismay the onlooker.
In the same way God encourages his children by providing a way out of trials of life. He doesn’t leave us to sort out the grief and pain of loss, for example. The Bible is his textbook that gives us the way through. If you’re going through a time of loss—of your mother, father, or brother or sister—let me remind you that life is a roller-coaster of emotions and feelings.
The process of grief
Remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Grief is the way God intended for us to deal with loss. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart. Jesus himself wept when he received news one day that his close friend Lazarus had died.
There is no correct timetable for grief work. Each person must be allowed to grieve at his/her own pace. People who move through a loss rather quickly are not superior and neither are they necessarily less caring. People who take more time are not inferior and neither are they necessarily more caring—it’s just that we are each different. Grief work is messy and uncomfortable. We may take two steps forward and three back. Our grief will rise up within us at the most unexpected and inopportune times and places.
Remember: we need other people. Very few, if any, of us can do effective grief work alone. We do ourselves a favour when we let others in on our grief. And we need to be able to tell others that what we need most from them is not advice, but a compassionate listening ear.
God doesn’t look down on us when we feel grief. He thinks about us, cares about us, and helps us. And the Bible tells me in Psalm 10:14:
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless .
Although the pain often feels unbearable, our losses do not mean God is done with our lives. God’s timing is not our timing, but he is looking out for our best interests. God’s plans for our lives are always better than the plans that we have for our lives. Walking with Jesus in faith is not easy, but he will make things right in his timing.