Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. | Romans 12:15
Navigating the waters of grief is difficult for the one grieving and for those trying to comfort the grieving. We often are unsure of what to do or say. We wonder if our actions will cause more harm than good.
What should we do?
The answer? I don’t know. Every situation is different. But my hope is to provide insight from my mistakes and experience both as griever and comforter.
Here are four principles to help us think through and approach grief.
1: Grief is not linear; and it never goes away
Most people believe that grief is temporary. It should be dealt with quickly and it will be better over time. Or at least in a timeline that they deem appropriate.
I once tried to share with a friend about my struggles and I was met with a, “Are we still talking about this? You need to get over this.”
A member of a church I attended struggled with depression. He had so many questions about who God was in light of his difficulties. It was gladly met with biblical explanations. But those explanations failed to stop the questions or cure the depression. Over time, the glad biblical explanations became annoyed, impatient pleas to just “get over it.”
But grief does not work that way.
It is more cyclical than linear.
I recently attended an anniversary memorial service for a friend who passed away. The intensity of that grief has been mild for some time now. But the intensity grew stronger as I saw his pictures and his family. I found myself missing my friend more than I ever had before. “If only had done this, things would be different” took over my thoughts. I was unable to focus on the conversations at my table. The grief was too much to focus on anything else. I thought I was over this.
C.S. Lewis explains the grief of losing his wife:
“Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again. . . . In grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Everything repeats. . . . How often . . . will vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.”
Grief never goes away.
It does not end; it evolves.
Do you stop loving the person you lost? Do you forget the memories of what was lost? It would be odd if we “got over it.”
The goal must be to listen well and understand if grief is not linear and never ends. It cannot be “get over it.”
“When we learn to listen, after we have got the art of listening down, we are going to have something to say. But if we never learn to listen, we are going talk talk talk talk talk, and never say a word.” | Rich Mullins
When people’s encouragement includes broad spiritual sayings that lack understanding we often do more damage to the grieving. They do not feel understood.
And not being understood easily makes grief lonely.
2: Grief is lonely
My friend’s cousin gave a speech at the memorial service. He shared how he kept asking himself, “How could this happen?” Their family was close, always happy and laughed when they were together. He said my friend never once talked about the inner turmoil he was facing. He wondered why that was.
His conclusion was that their time together
was not a place to share depressing things.
It was not natural.
This is the reality for many people who are grieving.
Grief is messy. It is not rational. People do not always feel better after you encourage them. We do not know what to say. We get frustrated and tired of hearing prolonged grief. It becomes an inconvenience.
So the grieving stay silent.
They do not have a place to share because people do not want to deal with the mess of their grief, or they are tired of sharing with those who do not understand.
“Jesus’s ministry was an intimate one. He did not protect himself from the details of someone’s suffering. He did not fear being contaminated by another’s sin and suffering…he came near, he touched the afflicted and invited hurting people to speak.” | Darby Strickland
You may not have the words to make someone feel better. You may be tired of hearing the same thing over and over. But sometimes the best to do is to just be there. Even if that is in silence.
3: It’s okay not to be okay
But the first step towards redeeming our grief is to know that it’s okay not to be okay.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep — that is, this brother-in-law who died — “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. | 1 Thessalonians 4:13
It does not say, “do not grieve.” It says do not grieve like those “who have no hope.” It’s right to grieve. It would be both unnatural and unhealthy to bottle that up and hide it.
4: Grieve, but grieve well
My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” | Psalm 42:3
Grief can make you feel like you’re drowning with all of types of thoughts and feelings. When grief becomes overwhelming, we will grab on to anything and everything to “get over it.”
They could be drugs, relationships, goals, etc. But most of us probably get well-meaning people providing quick spiritual sounding things that are kind of true but are so general that their application to your struggle is wrong.
We want comfort so badly
that it has become a God.
“Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. If you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.” |C.S. Lewis
Do not grab hold of cheap and quick fixes as you face grief.
Grab onto something
that is eternally true.
Grab onto friends who will
listen well and understand.
Grab onto friends who will not give cheap spiritual cliches, but who will point you to your hope in a way that is specific to your grief. Grab onto friends who are willing to listen and point for the long run.
Therefore you too have grief now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you |John 16:22