What Is That Confusing Experience? Grief.
A close friend of mine, who pastors in a large southern city, is grieving. One of his associate pastors died suddenly after only a week and a half battle with the coronavirus.
The grief of that entire church is compounded because they aren’t even able to gather and grieve at a funeral. Grief is obvious and expected when we lose someone we love. While the pandemic has people struggling with the loss of life, people are also struggling with a number of less obvious losses that also hurt deeply and create confusion. The pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss of income and retirement, loss of physical community, loss of routine, loss of financial stability, loss of a sense of safety, loss of trust, loss of ceremonies and rituals like graduation, weddings and funerals, loss of sports, plays, recitals, loss of perceived freedoms, and more.
When losses touch us, we tend to rank them as either being real, legit, deep or mild and “not that big of a deal”.
When losses touch us, we tend to rank them as either being real, legit, deep or mild and “not that big of a deal”. When we start to rank them however, we end up validating some losses and minimizing others. As a result, many feel deep pain over losses that others think aren’t that big of a deal. When we were grieving after a miscarriage, quite a few well-meaning people in our church at the time said, “Well at least you have another child.” They wanted to help, but ranking our grief into the “it could be worse” category didn’t provide the comfort they intended. Loss and grief hurt whatever the cause. How do we begin to practice hope and find comfort while grieving during this pandemic?
Spend time with the one familiar with grief.
Isaiah reminds us that spiritual maturity doesn’t mean grief won’t be experienced. Through Isaiah’s pen, the Spirit wanted us to know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3). Jesus knew grief well. We are told he not only experienced his own grief, but he also carried the griefs of his people (Is 53:4). On the cross, he lost the close intimacy he had with his Father and he lost his life. When he was in custody, he lost the support of one his closest friends, Peter, who denied he knew Jesus at all. He lost the help of his small group when they preferred to sleep rather than to stay up praying for him all night in the garden. He lost his honor in his own home town. He lost the justice he deserved when Pilot chose to release a known criminal, and gave him the death penalty despite his known innocence. Jesus knows grief. Our hearts are helped and healed when we spend time with someone who has experienced the same thing we are going through.
Jesus gets grief.
Spend time with him by reading about his life in the Scriptures. If you don’t know where to start, begin with Luke and take special note of the number of losses Jesus endured. As you read, let Jesus’ experiences guide your prayers.
Name and talk about your grief.
Once again, Scripture shows us the way to be honest about the hurt and the loss we experience. In Psalm 13, David admits honestly that he feels forgotten by God and his heart is immersed in sorrow all day long. David goes on again in Psalm 38 to acknowledge to God – and to us – that he feels weak and shattered and that he is groaning because of the agony and war taking place in his heart. In another psalm, David describes how his eyes are “wasted from grief; my soul and my body also” (Ps 31:9). At Jesus’ lowest and most painful moment in life, when he is grieving the loss of intimacy with his Father, he uses the words of Psalm 22 to talk about his grief. The Spirit encourages you and me, through these examples, to name and talk about our grief. If you lost your job, acknowledge it, describe honestly how it hurts, and tell someone else about it. Follow the example of David and feel free to cry until your eyes are “wasted from grief.” Whatever your loss, name it and discuss it with someone using honest emotion.
Push against impulse.
Grief leaves us more vulnerable to temptations that we would usually resist. The evil one is always scanning the field for wounded people to attack. As you grieve, pray that the Spirit would strengthen you to push against the following impulses:
Uncertainty. When loss and grief hit, we can become uncertain about the goodness, faithfulness and wisdom of God. “After 3 months of unemployment, I just started this great new job. Now I’m furloughed and don’t know if the business will reopen. I thought I could rely on his promise to care for me?” Pray for strength to push against the uncertainty that will swell in your heart because of the apparent gap between God’s promises and the details of your situation.
Anger. It is right to become angry at the unexpected losses that are hitting so many people as a result of the pandemic. But watch out because anger at loss can subtly morph into anger at God. When we don’t understand all the difficulties facing us and there really aren’t any honest answers, our hearts are prone to accuse God of wrong and mistreatment.
Resentment. Loss and grief often leave us feeling like we are hurting and suffering in ways that others aren’t. In turn, we begin to resent the lives that other people have. Our hearts start to say things like, “They have it easier than we do. Look at all that we have to deal with right now. Why do they get to have that and I don’t?” It’s difficult to faithfully grieve when you resent the gifts God has given others and resent God for not giving them to you.
Self-Pity. In the midst of personal pain, our hearts want to nudge God out of the way so that we can take center-stage. The impulse is to make life all about us. “Nobody else’s loss is as bad as mine”, we start telling ourselves. During grief, we accept levels of self-obsession that we wouldn’t have previously.
God tells us to expect grief as long as we live in a world that is broken by sin and its effects. But the grief that we show will stand out because it will also be hopeful. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, he said, “[T]hat you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13). One way to practice hope in the middle of grief is to celebrate eternity.
The losses brought on by the coronavirus are not the end of our story.
Our hearts long for something more, because there is something more. Jesus assures us that this is only a leg of the journey. It is not our destination. In Jesus, we are headed to the place where every tear is wiped away, where grief evaporates like dew in the morning sun, where all that was lost is restored and where all diseases are eradicated permanently. Practice mindful hope by looking ahead to the day when your faith is exchanged for sight! Take some time to read over Revelation 21, paraphrase it using your own words, and then talk to your Father about it through prayer. As we follow Jesus through the pandemic, let’s help each other faithfully grieve and practice hope.