Grief comes into all of our lives, but is often not acknowledged or healed because there are greater demands on our time or the process seems too painful. But to do life well, it is important to pause as often and as long as you need to, to care for your sadness.
Grief is the emotional response to loss. Loss is more easily understood to be the result of death or divorce, but there are many other losses as well: the loss of friendship, the loss of childhood, the loss of trust in marriage, loss of jobs, as well as the loss of hope through unfulfilled personal desires. Where there is hurt, there is loss, and this loss must be acknowledged and grieved. God reminds us that He is here to help and will restore your heart. As David writes in the 23rd Psalm, He restores my soul (NKJV) (And David certainly experienced many losses!).
Visual Pictures of Grief
Vehicle: Grieving has sometimes been compared to driving a car. When grief has occurred it is important to look forward through the windshield, to continue as best as you can to do life forward functionally. At the same time, you must pay attention to the rear view mirror, looking backwards to feel those emotions your loss has generated and address the challenges you face as a result of your loss. So often we choose one or the other: living forward as though no loss occurred or backwards, getting stuck in our feelings, neglecting our present, daily responsibilities. To grieve well, it is important to do both simultaneously, living life moving forward as your present responsibilities demand and looking backward to care for your loss. Of course, grief is not a straightforward process; sometimes we are only able to “do” forward and sometimes we are better able to look back. The important point is to not get stuck in one or the other.
Waves: The emotions of grief are often experienced like waves. Waves come to shore as they please, with their own intensity and frequency. Waves also recede out to sea. Like these waves, grief emotions have their own flow in and out and their own intensity. By the way, waves do not take into consideration that you are at work, at the grocery store, in a meeting, or caring for any other daily responsibility. They just come! It is important that you remember: God is aware of and caring for your every emotion. He will come with each wave and be your Comfort, Refuge, and Strength. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3, NKJV). Remember to care for each wave of emotion from your "sit place with God.” Be intentional in sitting with God and if you are able, writing in your journal your thoughts and feelings.
Mountains. Here is another way to process your grief when it requires life changes. List your loss. If due to your loss, you are now challenged with loneliness, regret, financial distress, single parenting, anxiety, selling your home, moving, or sleep-deprivation, to name just a few, each one of them can seem like a mountain to climb. Label the mountains you need to climb and work through. It is also true that facing each mountain calls for different emotions from you. It is necessary to climb each mountain separately and care for the particular emotions as you integrate into your new life.
Isaiah encourages your heart with these words: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10, NIV). List what your new life will look like when you have climbed to the top of the mountain.
As you integrate into your new life take His help and the help of others to work through the loneliness, create a new financial plan, seek effective ways to manage single parenting, find the help needed to lower your anxiety, or get more quality sleep. Facing each of these mountains will help to rebuild your new life apart from your loss. It is never easy, but with God and others coming alongside, you can journey through your grief and step into your new life.
Grief and Emotions
Anger is an emotion that often shows its face on the grief journey. I encourage you to give it your attention. Feel it without judging or reacting to it. Take note what thoughts or images are connected to it. You can write these down in your journal. Then drop each one of these thoughts or mental pictures into the stream of God’s love. If you find that you are angry with God, share your feelings with Him. He can handle it. There is no judgment or condemnation from God for your feelings of anger.
Self-blame, regret, or guilt are often encountered on the grief journey. What did I do wrong to cause this to happen? I must not have had enough faith or she would have been healed. There must be something wrong with me. I should have been able to do something. These thoughts must be taken to God in your sit place. Allow Him to speak truth to you, speak comfort to you, and take these thoughts away from you. It is also important to take yourself off the hook; if you need to, forgive yourself, as we discussed in chapter five.
Joy does not overcome your sadness; it only comes to care for you in your sadness. In due season, joy steps in front of sadness, but can never remove all the sadness of your loss. I believe grief is often a lifetime journey, depending on what your loss is. Sadness may always be present, but joy will carry you alongside your sadness throughout your life. Your intimacy with God, sharing with Him all your thoughts and feelings, will always help you in your time of need. These are His truthful words to you: You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy (John 16:20, NKJV). David reminds you of this truth: Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalms 30:5, NKJV).
A Word to Those in Relationship with Someone on a Grieving Journey
Offer comfort in the form of a hug if the person is open to it. Speak words such as, "I am very sorry this has happened to you." Just sit with them and listen to them. Do not offer solutions. Do not say, "I understand what you are feeling," if you have not felt this loss yourself. There are many variables to each loss. Do not ask, "What can I do for you?" They are feeling overwhelmed and may not be able to put their finger on what they need. Be sensitive, attentive, and observant of what their needs are. Call them, invite them for lunch, or ask what errands you could do for them. Be mindful of important dates and holidays or events on their grief journey: birthday, anniversary, date of death, child's birth date, or special occasions. Ask them what dates or memorable events are important to them. Then write them down to remember them on those dates. Check in often. Not just for a few weeks, or several months, but in some cases several years or a lifetime depending on the loss.
Remember: every person will grieve differently; there is no universal timetable or formula. Journaling can be very helpful in processing your grief. In God’s Presence, you can write down—or shout out!--your uncensored thoughts and feelings. Then wait to hear His comforting words to you. Write these words in your journal, too, so that you begin to build a record of God’s grace and comfort to you. You can return to that record when you feel the waves washing over you.
The Importance of Thanksgiving
In the midst of loss and grief, thanking God and praising God seems counter-intuitive, but this action and attitude of the heart is vital for your healing. Paul says, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NKJV). You are not thanking God for the loss, for what happened to you, but you are thanking Him for Who He is. For all that He has done for you. And for all that He will do for you in your future. Giving thanks when your world is turned upside down is no easy task, but it will strengthen you when everything seems impossible or overwhelming.
Finally, there are many questions we do not know the answer to—why did God allow my husband to develop cancer? Why didn’t he heal him? Why did God allow my daughter to be killed in a car accident? Where was God when my father was molesting me? We live in a fallen world, where terrible things happen. There is no easy answer as to why God seems to allow hurt and suffering. But in the end we must come back to the foundational truth that God loves us with an everlasting love. And that He will work all things to the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Come to Him and let Him show His comfort and compassion to you as you begin your grief journey.
Dr. Roselene Coblentz