Jesus: Our Refuge In Grief And Loss
Tyler and his wife were looking forward to the birth of their first child. As someone who had grown up without a father in his own life, Tyler was excited about the opportunity to shower his own daughter with love.
But there were complications during the delivery. Tyler’s wife and daughter both lived, but his child suffered irreversible brain damage. She would never be able to speak, walk, or do other daily activities independently.
Instead of celebrating the birth of his daughter, Tyler now found himself in a sea of grief and loss. All of his energy went to comforting his wife and researching everything he could about caring for a disabled baby.
When he couldn’t sleep one night worrying about the future, he turned on the radio and heard a Gospel song playing. The lyrics talked about how God is our refuge. The words comforted Tyler and reminded him of the following Bible verses...
1“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3)
Tyler certainly felt as if the earth beneath him was giving way. The future that had seemed so bright and hopeful only weeks before now looked as if it would be filled only with hardship and misery.
Grief Comes in Many Forms
Grief is the emotional journey someone experiences after loss. It’s often messy and comes with highs and lows. You may feel like you’ve accepted your loss one day, only to wake up the following day overcome with anger over what happened. It’s important to understand that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
While most people associate grief with the loss of a loved one who has died, it’s not the only cause. Grief can come in many forms, and it affects every person differently.
Grief & Divorce
Going through a divorce may cause you to grieve for your once-happy marriage. You may think fondly of the early days of your relationship and wish you could relive them. You might experience bouts of anger toward your spouse. You may be in denial, thinking you still have time to reason with your soon-to-be former spouse.
Besides grieving for your marriage, some people also grieve for the changes in their family life. You may see your kids less often than usual, or you might be dealing with their messy emotions caused by the divorce.
Grief & Illness
If you were diagnosed with a serious illness, you’ll grieve for your loss of health. You may feel angry at the world or desperate to bargain with God.
Some people experiencing a serious illness go into denial and don’t want to follow a treatment plan. Grieving for your once healthy body is natural, and your pain is understandable.
If you’re watching a loved one facing a serious illness, you may grieve for them. Maybe your young son loves playing sports and dreams of making it to the National Football League.
Then you learn from his doctor that he has a muscle disease that will leave him wheelchair-bound in a few years. Even though you haven’t been diagnosed with the illness, you grieve for him. You grieve for his dreams, health, and what this will mean for his future.
Grief & Trauma
Grief can also affect you when you’ve been through a trauma, like having your home robbed or surviving a sexual assault. It’s normal to deal with grief after a traumatic experience.
You might grieve because you’ve lost your sense of safety or no longer feel the world is a ‘good’ place. You may blame yourself or question what you did to deserve this trauma. You may even feel anger toward God for not preventing this.
You Are Not Alone in Your Grief
Regardless of your grief and loss, it’s important that you permit yourself to grieve. Some people mistakenly believe that it’s wrong for Christians to grieve. They think that a Christian should endure every trial stoically.
But look at Isaiah’s description of Jesus…
3“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) NLT
Jesus Himself was known to experience “deepest grief.” He wasn’t a man of “happy times” and “easy burdens.”
He didn’t smile at the Cross or rejoice in the coming suffering. No, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wept. Like so many of us in the middle of grief and loss, He cried out and begged for His suffering to be removed.
It’s natural to experience grief following a loss. But unlike the world, those who know Christ have the hope and comfort that they’re not alone in the middle of their trial.
Understanding the Journey of Grief and loss
Grief and loss are extensive and complex. It’s messy and unpredictable. Understanding more about grief won’t necessarily make it easier to cope with your loss. But it can be comforting to know more about what to expect during this season of life.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was an expert that first documented the different stages of grief. According to her work, there are five “stages” or emotions of grief that most people experience. If you’re in the middle of grieving a loss, then you may recognize some of these stages already:
Stage #1: Denial
When something horrible happens, it’s natural to want to deny it. You don’t want to believe that you could wake up one day and a loved one could be gone. You don’t think that a serious illness could be the cause of your parent’s troubling symptoms.
You might say things like, “I can’t believe this is happening. This isn’t true. My loved one can’t be gone – I was just talking to her yesterday. My spouse can’t be filing for divorce – we were so happy over the holidays.”
Stage #2: Anger
As denial begins to fade and you’re left with your new reality, you may experience intense anger. You might be angry at your loved one for “leaving” you if they died. You might be angry at the doctor that diagnosed your loved one. You might be angry at yourself and wonder what you could have done differently.
You may even say things like, “How could Mom leave me? She knows I need her. Why did it take the doctors so long to diagnose her? I should have known her symptoms were serious.”
When the word of the Lord came to Hezekiah, and he knew he was to die, this was his response.
2Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:2-3)
His bitter tears were no doubt from anger and frustration. Like us, Hezekiah was powerless to change his situation.
Stage #3: Bargaining
When faced with loss, it’s common to try to bargain. You may want your loved one to see a different doctor for a second, third, or fourth opinion. You may promise God that you’ll be a better person if your loved one is spared or sent back to you.
In the event of a breakup or divorce, you may try to convince your significant other to give it one more try or ask that you remain friends. You might pledge to change your ways or suggest counseling in order to stay together.
Stage #4: Depression
During and after loss, you may experience bouts of depression. You might replay all of the unkind things you said to your loved one. You may think of all the times you could have been nicer to your friend or family member.
You might go to call your loved one on the phone or text message them only to realize you can’t. You might feel relief, especially if a loved one was suffering before they died or your marriage was on the rocks for years before your divorce.
This particular stage is especially challenging for some people of faith as you may have been taught that Christians don’t experience depression. But Jesus certainly did in the Garden of Gethsemane.
37“He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Matthew 26:37-38
When it comes to depression, don’t try to shove it down. Repressing those emotions can prolong your grief and make it harder for you to rebuild your life.
Instead, follow the example of Jesus. Get together with close friends and share your pain. Ask them to pray with and for you.
Stage #5: Acceptance
Reaching acceptance isn’t an easy feat. It’s not something you can force. Instead, it’s a process of acknowledging what was and coming to terms with your new reality. This can be the most challenging part of grieving.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you’ll never cry over a loved one’s death or your trauma again.
There will still be hard days.
You’re still going to experience difficult emotions.
But wrapped in these emotions will be good things, too. You’ll be able to look back on your memories from life before with fondness. You’ll begin to enjoy little pleasures in life again. You’ll start making plans and creating goals.
Your Journey is Unique
When talking about the five stages, remember that everyone experiences grief differently. You may not go through every stage or go through the stages in a different order. This is perfectly normal. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions and accept grace when you need it.
Practice Self-Care When You’re Grieving
During times of grief and loss, caring for yourself may not be high on your priority list. You may feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do, and adding one more task may not seem possible.
But if anything, you need extra care when you’re grieving. It’s not selfish or wrong to take time out for self-care. It’s important that you nurture your mind, body, and spirit. Here are a few simple ways you can do that…
Eat a Nutritious Meal
Sometimes, people that are grieving have difficulty finding joy in anything. You may not like your favorite meals and snacks right now. They may taste weird to you, or you may find you just can’t enjoy them. This is common, so don’t be alarmed if it happens to you. As you work through your grief, your normal appetite will eventually return.
Do a Creative Activity
Being creative can help you release intense emotions. You might like to try adult coloring, knitting, or jewelry making. Don’t get discouraged if you try one activity and find you don’t enjoy it. You may have to try several activities before discovering the best one for you.
Sit back and let someone else care for you. Take a spa day, get a massage or a pedicure. Hire a cleaning service to scrub your home from top to bottom. Get a shampoo and haircut at your local beauty salon. Go out to your favorite restaurant and order dinner for yourself.
Talk It Out
Grief can cause you to question your entire belief system. Maybe you felt you received a sign from God that your loved one would be healed, but now, they’re gone. Perhaps you thought marriage was supposed to be for life, but now you’re in the middle of a divorce. Maybe you thought you’d never be a victim of a violent crime if you did the right things.
Don’t struggle with your doubts and fears alone. Reach out to a trusted friend or a pastor to share your feelings. The other person may not have any answers that can comfort you. But having space to voice your doubts is essential for your healing.
Listen to Your Body
When you’re grieving, your regular routine is disrupted. You may not be sleeping as much or sleeping more than usual. You may be eating more or less than you typically do. You might be working more or finding yourself working fewer hours.
You must honor your body during this time. If you need to nap in the middle of the day, don’t feel guilty. If you need to turn off your smartphone and watch movies all day, do it.
Taking time to care for yourself might feel selfish to you, but upon learning that John the Baptist—his beloved cousin—had died, Jesus just wanted to be alone.
13“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13)
In the middle of your grief and loss, don’t forget to take time away when you need it. Be kind to yourself and look after your mind and body as if you were caring for a hurting friend.
How to Offer Compassionate and Practical Help to a Grieving Friend
Your friend is grieving, and you want to help. Maybe your friend has lost a loved one, has been diagnosed with a serious illness, or is going through a divorce. But you don’t know how to help, and you worry you’ll worsen their pain. That’s a common concern for many Christians. Here are a few ideas of what you can do to help…
Start by Listening
Your grieving friend may share the same stories and memories with you repeatedly. They may talk about their loss frequently. This is part of the grieving process. You can help by listening to your friend. When your friend is done speaking, acknowledge and validate their pain.
If your friend is mourning the loss of a loved one, you could say, “I’m sad Dean died, too. He was a kind man.” If your friend was the victim of a violent crime, you might say. “You did everything right. Surviving is hard, and I’m glad you’re here.”
Offer Practical Help
It’s tempting to say to a grieving friend, “Call me if you need anything.” But when someone is grieving, they’re usually overwhelmed and may not know what they need right now. That’s why it can be helpful to offer specific help.
Always phrase your help as a question. You want your friend to be able to decline your offer if she doesn’t need the help or if she just wants to be alone.
You could say, “I know you aren’t sleeping well these days. Would it be OK if I picked up the kids and took them to school every morning this week?” Or you might say, “You’ve got a lot on your plate right now. Is it OK if I clean the house and do laundry?”
It can take up to two years for a grieving friend to recover. In the meantime, look for recurring tasks that you can (with her permission) take over. Good examples include making sure the oil in her car gets changed regularly or taking care of her lawn as the seasons change. Your friend will know that you love and care for her by showing up repeatedly.
Reach Out for Anniversaries and Special Events
For grieving people, anniversaries and special events like birthdays can be difficult. Reach out to your friend on these special dates.
You might say something like, “I know it’s Dean’s birthday today. How are you feeling?” Or to a friend with a serious illness, you might say, “I know you were diagnosed this time last year. How are you doing?”
The holidays can also make grief and loss resurface. A friend that lost a loved one fifteen years ago may still grieve as deeply as if she’d lost her loved one fifteen minutes ago.
Let your friend know you’re thinking of her during the holidays and offer to do an activity together. For example, you might say, “I know you and Dean loved Christmas. Would you like some help decorating your tree this year?” or “I’m baking Christmas cookies tomorrow, and I’d love it if you could drop by so we could do it together.”
Don’t pressure your friend to accept your offers. She may want to grieve privately. Respect it and let her know you still love and support her if that's her decision.
Grief affects everyone differently. The best gift you can give your friend during this time is to offer compassion and a listening ear.
Life After Loss: Healing Your Heart
Grief is our response to loss. Your loss may have been caused by the death of a loved one, a divorce or major breakup, a violent crime, or the diagnosis of a serious illness. It’s a natural journey that helps us understand our loss and accept our new reality.
Healing from grief can be challenging. It’s not a clear-cut process with a definite beginning and end date. It’s a lot like trying to navigate a mountain road without GPS. However, there are things you can do to begin the healing process through this difficult time…
Feel Your Emotions
At first, the news of a loss can cause you to feel shocked or in denial. Some people become numb for the first few days and are disconnected from what’s happening around them.
But eventually, you’ll begin feeling again. You may be sad that you lost a loved one or feel relief that you survived a violent crime. You may want to go back in time and bargain with the doctor who gave you a diagnosis. These intense emotions are normal and shouldn’t be suppressed.
It’s healthy to acknowledge your emotions and express them. Scream, shout or cry when you feel the need to. If you want to get physical, get a punching bag or go to a gym with one. Take your frustration and anger out on the bag.
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept for his friend and his friend’s family. He grieved, and he didn’t try to hide his pain or pretend it wasn’t there. Even knowing how the story ended, the human part of Jesus still ached.
You don’t have to grieve alone. When you’re feeling sad, reach out to a trusted friend. Go out for coffee, see a movie together, or go to the beach and simply sit in silence with your friend.
Connecting with supportive people is important to your healing. When you feel connected, you’re less likely to become isolated in your pain. If you’d like to meet with others who are also grieving, ask a counselor or spiritual leader about support groups in your area.
Create New Routines
Routines can give you a feeling of control and safety. But when you’ve recently lost a loved one or are going through a divorce, your regular routines may not be possible anymore. That’s where creating new routines can be helpful.
Maybe you’ve decided that every Thursday night will be family night or that you’ll go to brunch with a friend on Tuesdays. These routines can give you something to look forward to and a sense that life is returning to normal.
It’s important to understand that there’s no quick fix or escape from grief and loss. The only way to get to the other side is to go through the darkness. But you don’t have to do that alone. Reach out to caring, concerned members of your community and let them comfort you through this difficult time.
You Can Come to God
One of the most challenging aspects of grief and loss is that it can profoundly alter our relationship with God. Before your crisis or trauma, you may have said that you trust God completely.
But now, things look different. You may wonder if He’s trustworthy. You may doubt His goodness. You may even feel utterly abandoned by Him.
You don’t have to hide these emotions, and even if you tried, God would still know. He knows everything you feel. He understands every part of your story. You don’t have to hide from Him.
David penned these words about sharing our most profound grief and biggest heartaches with God…
8“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8)
No matter how you feel or what you say, you can take comfort in this: it doesn’t come as a surprise to God. But He doesn’t leave you alone in your grief and loss. Like any good parent, He grieves with and for you. He is holding onto you and gently bandaging your wounds, even now.
Grace and peace,
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