The experience of my daughter, Holly, dying recently has led me to think more about grief, Many well meaning people suggest that grieving is something needs to take place, to be allowed to run its course, and in some way we should not be to concerned or worried about redirecting it. Is this true? Can grief go wrong? As I observe the grieving of my family, I find myself asking, are they OK? Do they need help? What direction should be given? For me, I hope and pray that through the process my family draw nearer to God. How can we encourage those who grieve to draw near to God?
First let us define grief as a person’s reaction to a difficult loss. The loss of a daughter, a wife or a sister, as with Holly’s death is one of the most profound losses that one can experience. We expect a noticeable grief reaction. What is the best way to help one another with this? Is it best to just let it happen? Or is there something we should do?
Many have some familiarity with the stages of grief introduced by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages were arrived at by observing many people’s response to grief over dying. They are descriptive of many people’s response to profound loss. Some think, if you are not experiencing profound loss in this way, you are not grieving well? Is this true? Others suggest if one is progressing through the stages then one need not worry? Is this true?
Grief often does significantly alter how we function in the world. It can impact or ability to function at our jobs. It can disrupt households. It can have an impact on our relationships. These things are important but from a Christian point of view there is something of greater importance, which is the role a person’s grief reaction can play in one’s relationship with God. Does the anguish of grief lead to growing closer to or more distant from God? This is what I would like to focus on. When one finds themselves in the clutches of grief, how is it helpful and even necessary to be guided by the bible?
Some Christians may think the path of a grieving Christian should be different than the way common to mankind. Just because something is commonly experienced, does not necessarily mean that a Christian should not go through the common stages. It is not wrong to eat, to sleep, to work, to read, etc. These are common. So too, experiencing these stages of grief over time is not necessarily wrong. Yet, eating a lot more than one needs is not beneficial and is described in Proverbs as the sin of gluttony. Sleeping all day, when one should be working, can be counter productive and can involve the sin of laziness. We, easily, will follow paths in ways that do not help us to draw near to God. So too, we can grieve in a way which is not good for us and does not help us draw near to the Lord. This happens because as the bible the bible says, “the natural man does not [naturally] receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” (1Corinthians 2:14) Yet, Christians strive to look to God even with the common things of life. “We are encouraged to start our eating with prayer, to read and pray before sleep and when we rise, and when we work we should do it with all of our heart as to the Lord. (Colosians 3:23) Eating, sleeping and working are good, but as we are encouraged to look to God with the simple things in life. Should we not more so look to Him with the harder things?”1
As Christians, we hope the despair of profound loss does not drive our loved ones away from God, away from reading His word and crying out to Him. Yet, how long does it take, how deep does God allow us to travel down into the valley of the shadow of death before, even there, opening our eyes to His presence beside us? (Psalm 23:4) Do we hope that they will quickly bounce back from the death of a loved one, get back to work and seem to get back to how they were before? What if this happens and nothing really changes in their relationship with God? What if they are no more apt to cherish comfort from His word and to seek His help? Are we willing to be patient, as our loved one spends a long time traveling the road of grief? Do we pray that God will stay close and bring the life changing comfort of His word closer. Do we, will even in these trials, look for joy, knowing that God uses such trials to test our faith and work patience that we may, ultimately, lack nothing in Him? (James 1:2-4) Yet, in all this, is there more we can do?
I found an interesting approach in an article titled -A Biblical Model of Grieving- written by Bob Kellemen that gives some food for thought. He says,
These proposed stages in the grief process seek to track typical grief responses. However, they do not attempt to assess if this is what is best to occur. Nor could they assess, simply through scientific research, whether these responses correspond to God’s process for hurting (grieving) and hoping (growing). We must understand something about research in a fallen world. At best, it describes what typically occurs. It [scientific research] cannot, with assurance and authority, prescribe what should occur.
He lists the typical stages of grief that occur in our fallen world and considers a biblical approach to each stage, as outlined in the following table.
|Typical Grief Response||Biblical Grief Response|
|Denial/Isolation||Candor: Honesty with Myself|
|Anger/Resentment||Complaint: Honesty with God|
|Bargaining/Works||Cry: Asking God for Help|
|Depression/Alienation||Comfort: Receiving God’s Help|
|Typical Acceptance Response||Biblical Growth Response|
|Regrouping||Waiting: Trusting with Faith|
|Deadening||Wailing: Groaning with Hope|
|Despairing/Doubting||Weaving: Perceiving with Grace|
|Digging Cisterns||Worshipping: Engaging with Love|
He encourages us to
remember that these “stages” are a relational process, not sequential steps. Grieving and growing is not a neat, nice package. It isn’t a tidy procedure…Grieving and growing is messy because life is messy…We don’t “conquer a stage” and never return to it.
He also says that “positive movement is possible. In fact, it is promised. You can find God’s healing for your losses. You can find hope in your hurt.” Although not explicitly stated, I trust that he means that positive movement is possible and promised for those who, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:28, “love God and are called according to His purpose.”
We ask God for help through prayer. God responds primarily through His Word. Jesus, who is also called the Word (John 1:1-14), is our rock and tower, our sure foundation in the storms of life.2
There is something refreshing and hopeful suggested in the labels that Bob Kellemen has given to each stage. When we find ourselves denying our grief and the goodness of God in it, the bible encourages us to be honest with ourselves. When we find ourselves resenting who or whatever we think is behind our loss, we are encouraged to have an honest discussion with God. It is OK to say, “Lord, I hurt. I hate the fact that I am separated from my sister. Lord, I want to know why. Lord I want another chance to love her.” When we find ourselves making promises to make things right or make up for failures in your relationship, we can cry out to God who has promised to help those who, in truth, cry out to Him. (Matthew 11:28) Where it seems depression ought to prevail, with the Lord God there is help. He is your refuge and strength. ((Psalm 46) He comforts you under His wings, as a mother hen does her chicks.3 You are not left to just accept things as they seem to be and move on. You can learn to trust and hope in the grace of God. In Christ, you will again be able reach out, to worship and love the Lord and His people.
I hope these thoughts on grief are helpful and encourage you to evaluate responses to grief. I hope they help people draw near to the Lord God and partake of His good way when faced with life’s most difficult losses.
In writing this, I wish to acknowledge the willingness of my son, Tim, to engage and challenge my thoughts on grief. I have not experienced profound and prolonged sadness over the death of Holly. This does not mean that I do not miss her. I do. Or that I did not really love her. I still do. The Lord has given strength and gladness that comes from knowing that Holly is His daughter. This brings comfort. I am learning that a part of my grief has to do with struggles over changes in the family. My grief has sadness and concern that things are not the same. I wonder how things will end up. Then, I wonder if there is a struggle with my own pride. If, at times, my family “appear” to be looking elsewhere instead of to God, what does that say about me as leader of the family. Can I leave these things in the hand of my Lord, the Lord God?
- From a conversation with my son, Tim Kenyon.
2. Psalms 18, 28, 31, 42, 62, 71, 144
3. Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4, Matthew 23:37.
- A wikipedia comment on Grief – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grief (as of Nov 19, 2015 – content could have changed since I read it)
- Bob Kellemen’s article on biblical grief, https://www.rpmministries.org/2010/07/a-biblical-model-of-grieving/
- The New King James Version of the Bible