Expressing Grief

Expressing Grief

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

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Grief is the process that helps you release your pain and losses to God. In your grief, you come to terms with your past and you find freedom to live in the reality of the present. On the other side of grief, you’ll find hope for the future. So if you harden your heart and refuse to grieve, you’re likely to get stuck both emotionally and spiritually.

The prophet Jeremiah shared his grief and tears with God. Jeremiah lived with God’s people and pleaded with them to return to God. But his pleas fell on deaf ears, and his heart was broken. So in his grief, the prophet penned the words of the Old Testament book, Lamentations. When you read it, you’ll find that Jeremiah didn’t mince his words or hide his pain. He weeps openly and fully, releasing his emotions to God. It’s a great example for us when we grieve our own losses.

Lamentations doesn’t provide pat answers for the suffering you’ll experience. If you’ll read it, you’ll discover that it’s all right to be real, to be angry, to be disappointed with life, and to be concerned about what tomorrow holds for you. God accepted Jeremiah being angry, tired, and discouraged, and he will accept you as well. Just as God honored the tears of Jeremiah, He’ll honor yours if you share your pain and sorrow with Him. It’s likely to be the first step to bring healing for the present and hope for the future.

 Grief  is itself a medicine. – William Cowper

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. – C.S. Lewis

 

God's Protection

Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.
MICAH 7:8 HCSB

Have you ever faced challenges that seemed too big to handle? Have you ever faced big problems that, despite your best efforts, simply could not be solved? If so, you know how uncomfortable it is to feel helpless in the face of difficult circumstances. Thankfully, even when there’s nowhere else to turn, you can turn your thoughts and prayers to God, and He will respond.

God’s hand uplifts those who turn their hearts and prayers to Him. Count yourself among that number. When you do, you can live courageously and joyfully, knowing that “this too will pass”—but that God’s love for you will not. And you can draw strength from the knowledge that you are a marvelous creation, loved, protected, and uplifted by the ever-present hand of God.

Whatever hallway you’re in—no matter how long, how dark, or how scary—God is right there with you.   ~Bill Hybels

God helps those who help themselves, but there are times when we are quite incapable of helping ourselves. That’s when God stoops down and gathers us in His arms like a mother lifts a sick child, and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.   ~Ruth Bell Graham

Life is literally filled with God-appointed storms. These squalls surge across everyone’s horizon. We all need them.   ~Charles Swindoll

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.   ~Peter Marshall

TODAY’S PRAYER
Lord, sometimes life is difficult. Sometimes, I am worried, weary, or heartbroken. And sometimes, I encounter powerful temptations to disobey Your commandments. But, when I lift my eyes to You, Father, You strengthen me. When I am weak, You lift me up. Today, I will turn to You for strength, for hope, for direction, and for deliverance. Amen

Continuing in the Father's Strength

Excerpted from the book More Jesus, Less Religion by Steve Arterburn

After many years of service to Christ, Cliff’s wife developed a quickly spreading cancer. Many people joined Cliff in fervent prayer for his wife, but she failed rapidly and soon died. Through it all, however, Cliff did not break his determined gaze on Christ. Instead of allowing the tragedy to shake his faith, he allowed his deep experience of pain and suffering—and even depression and confusion—to push him even deeper into the arms of the living God.

This grieving servant of God knew only two things to hold on to, and he held on to both with all his might. The first was his unshakable conviction that God was a good God. And while he didn’t understand this particular circumstance or why his wife had to suffer and die, he did know that God was good and that there had to be a reason he would come to understand one day. Second, he knew beyond all doubt that God loved him. In spite of everything. No matter what. Through it all.

Cliff clung to those twin truths, refusing to take his eyes off the Lord even when he was wracked with grief. When you’re in severe pain or distress, life becomes pretty simple. You’re in survival mode, and you have neither the heart nor the strength to spread around your emotional energy. Instrument certified pilots know what this is all about. When visibility drops to nil and storms rage around them, it is second nature for them to focus on the ‘artificial horizon’ gauge on their instrument panel. No matter what their senses might tell them or what weird phenomena they see through the windscreen, they know that gauge will give them their true position and keep them flying level. They may feel as though they are in a steep dive–’or even flying upside down. Yet their eyes must lock onto that gauge, and they must respond accordingly. When it comes to survival, it doesn’t really matter what they feel like; what matters is what their instruments say.

Many travel through this world basing every decision on how they feel and what they experience. They do not study God’s Word or spend time with Jesus; they have no real knowledge of this Guide who begs us follow him, no matter how we feel and regardless of our circumstances. If we stay focused on him, if it becomes second nature to look to him and not to ourselves, we will not get lost in the dark. Jesus will be that instrument that keeps us headed toward the horizon. Our faith in him can keep us from alternating our direction based on momentary discomfort–and it can prevent needless tragedy.

So it was with Cliff. Although his emotions sometimes raged and other times fell dead flat, although his thoughts were at times confused and he felt his equilibrium slipping, he focused on the ‘Jesus gauge.’ He knew that no matter how his circumstances changed, his Lord would neither change nor fail. As the Lord told Israel, ‘I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendents of Jacob, are not destroyed’ (Malachi 3:6).

As a consequence of such focus, Cliff enjoyed a daily supply–an artesian well–of God’s love through those days of sorrow and distress. He was not only comforted himself, but he became a surprising source of comfort to others.

Our faith, when focused on the true God, will not be shaken by adversity or unexpected turbulence. As long as we, like Cliff, hold tight to our faith in God’s goodness and love, we can come through pain and struggle with a deeper and richer relationship with Jesus, rather than a faith strained beyond its limits because we failed to focus on the true God.

For more help please see More Jesus, Less Religion.

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The World's Biggest Loser

Steve Arterburn

At first thought, it may puzzle you, startle you, or even offend you to think of Jesus Christ as the world’s biggest loser. It should. But those reactions don’t make the claim untrue. They only help us grasp just how counter-intuitive, how grand, and how scandalous the gospel really is. Here’s some food for thought, which I hope you’ll take some time to meditate on:

Being conceived by the Holy Spirit—that is, virgin born—was certainly an occasion for scandal. So much so, in fact, that Mary’s husband-to-be, Joseph, nearly terminated their engagement. Our Lord came into this world—his world—under the meanest of circumstances. His parents were insignificant people from an insignificant town. The world had no room for his coming. He was born in a barn, placed in a feeding trough for animals, and welcomed by lowly shepherds.

Jesus’ upbringing was not one of privilege or social prominence. When he began his public ministry, he sought and attracted the so-called dregs of society: the poor, the sickly, the uneducated, tax collectors, prostitutes, widows, and fisherman. His family and friends were perplexed by him. Many others were outraged by him. On the night of his arrest, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends, and abandoned and denied by the rest of them. He was beaten and mocked by the Romans, and stood bloodied before his own Jewish people, only to hear them cry for his death. And then, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, a hill reserved for dumping garbage and executing criminals, Jesus was stripped nearly naked and nailed to a cross. In pain of body and distress of soul, he hung as a spectacle and an object of ridicule, as one who was abandoned by God and despised by humans.

Since that time, Jesus Christ has not attracted many of the world’s perceived winners—those who are rich, powerful, and well-positioned. In fact, it has been the case from the beginning that the church has been composed of mostly those whom the world has not esteemed. Even now, as the peoples of the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing unprecedented advances in their standards of living, they are cooling to the bedraggled Jew from Nazareth while those who suffer—those in Africa, South America, and  Asia—are presently flocking to the Kingdom.

In his amazing mercy and meekness, Jesus Christ has entered into the darkest, ugliest, and most broken places of human existence, and reflected a picture of the human predicament that is quite staggering. But it’s a predicament that we all share. Therefore, he continues to call all those who feel the burden of life East of Eden, those weighed with grief, fear, confusion, regret, loneliness, and addiction. To such as these, Christ is, and will always be, matchlessly beautiful. To the rest, however, Jesus will remain One of little account or consequence; that is, the world’s biggest loser.

Would you like to know Jesus Christ? Please see our New Life Every Day Devotionals and New Life Bibles.

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At The Cross

Steve Arterburn

As you travel the long, difficult road that God’s calling you to walk, you must bear a cross.  That cross represents the burdens you bear as a follower of Christ.  But the way of the cross always leads to resurrection and a new life.

As God leads you to do his will you may wish there were some other way.  You may feel fear, a lack of confidence, deep anguish, and a host of other emotions that threaten to stop you in your tracks.  Regardless of your feelings, you mustn’t let them cause you to turn away from the path God sets before you.

Jesus understands your fears and your struggle to persevere.  He had similar emotions.  The night he was arrested, he cried out, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death’ (Matthew 26:38).  He wondered if there was some other way and prayed three times for the suffering to be taken away, if possible.  But he always ended his prayer, ‘Yet I want your will, not mine’ (Matthew 26:39).  Jesus found the grace to accept God’s plan.

You may be overwhelmed as you consider the cross you’ll have to bear on the way to a new life.  But during such times of struggle, you can go to Jesus for encouragement and express your deepest emotions.  As you cry out for help, you can be confident that you will be given the strength you need to do God’s will rather than your own.

Making Way For Joy

Steve Arterburn

Most men tend to stuff.  Often, we trade our grief or sorrow for anger.  But in order to release the past into God’s hands, you must fully encounter your grief, and you must be willing to forgive yourself and others for the pain that’s occurred.  

This isn’t easy. But we can learn from some people who went before us.  Many of the Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon had forgotten the laws of God.  During the exile, they hadn’t been taught his laws, so, naturally, they hadn’t practiced them.  After rebuilding the city wall and the Temple, the priests gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law.  The people were overwhelmed with grief and began sobbing because their lives in no way measured up.  But the priests said to them:

‘Today is a sacred day before the Lord your God’Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared.  This is a sacred day before our Lord.  Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:9-10).

The process of releasing the past requires grief and forgiveness.  Then you are given the ‘joy of the Lord’ as your strength.  This joy comes from recognizing, even celebrating, God’s ability to set you free from the past, and in doing so, a new way of life.

A Family Blessing

Steve Arterburn

When Jesus began His public ministry at about thirty years of age, He left the security of home for the uncertainties of life on the road. But during His travels, there was one place he loved to visit: that little house in the village of Bethany where His friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. The three were siblings, and we learn how close Jesus was to them when Lazarus died.


The sisters sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus was sick; but by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead, and they were mourning his death. Martha and Mary rushed out to meet Jesus and expressed their frustration that He hadn’t come earlier.


The Bible tells us that when Jesus saw how sad the sisters and other mourners were, that ‘He was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled.’ He was indignant because He, Jesus, who created life, was dealing with death—a stark contradiction of everything that He is and stands for. Jesus was saddened by Mary and Martha’s grief, and by Lazarus’ suffering. Jesus wept openly for His friend, prompting onlookers to say, ‘See how much he loved him.’


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In Times of Grief

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Philemon 7

From the book Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff

When someone you know is grieving, you want to express your love and concern. But, how do you know what to say? Sometimes there just aren’t words. But it’s important that you spend time with your friend or family member. What’s as important as anything is just showing up.

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurt out things that don’t really make sense. That’s o.k. too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything to say, just say, ‘I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.’

Or even just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.

Sharing in someone’s grief is no time to worry about your own discomfort and uncertainty about what to show. Believe that God will give you the words, the touch, the hug that will comfort. And you’ll be glad you shared in the moment and gave strength to a hurting soul.

‘Tears shed for self are tears of weakness, but tears shed for others are a sign of strength.’ - Billy Graham (1918-)

The Limit of Words

Steve Arterburn

This is what the Lord says: If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words. Jeremiah 15:19a

Have you ever been at a loss for words? Needed to pray in a tough situation and couldn’t find the words? Can words explain the depth of your love for your spouse, parent, child or sibling? Or can they begin to describe the intensity of grief at the loss of one of these same people?

No, words sometime fall short. Consider Job, arguably the most profound story of human suffering ever told. This righteous man loses material possessions, servants, children, health, and ultimately, the support of friends.

Initially, suffering silences him. But Job grows agitated and seeks answers to his growing anguish. God answers Job, yet not at all in the manner Job expected. God doesn’t explain himself nor does he explain to Job why he’s in this situation. In fact, he counters Job’s ‘why’ questions with ‘who’ answers. God shows up, and Job’s questions suddenly seem out of order. In humility and awe, Job says, ‘I will put my hand over my mouth in silence. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.’ (Job 40: 4-5).

What problem has been weighing heavily upon you? I suggest you write it down, put your pen away, close your eyes, bow your head, and be still in God’s presence. Let God know you trust him regardless of your limited perspective. Like Job, our ‘why’ questions often mask deeper questions—questions that require ‘who’ answers. Why is never the right question to ask God. God is God, and he’s enough for us. Let his presence give you peace that transcends your ability to articulate it with words.

‘I find that doing the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans.’ – George MacDonald (1824-1905)

Faith and Its Counterfeits

Excerpted from the book More Jesus, Less Religion by Stephen Arterburn

Unhealthy faith is actually a misunderstanding of biblical faith; and wherever misunderstandings exist, mythologies inevitably creep up around them. Of course, there are several mythologies out and about. But I think that three mythologies in particular are extremely common at the present time.

The first myth is the expectation that faith creates problem-free life. This myth has produced more agnostics and atheists than any other counterfeit faith because it’s founded on the assumption that believing in Christ causes all problems—present and future—to vanish. And when this doesn’t prove true, they reject Christianity.

And those who don’t reject Christianity, yet still want to maintain this myth—well, they either deny hardships exist or conclude that their adversities persist because they’re not believing hard enough.

But did faith exempt the apostle James from being martyred by Herod? Did it shield the missionary Jim Elliot from the Auca Indians in Ecuador? Did it protect little Cassie Bernall when she said, ‘Yes, I believe’ to her murderers at Columbine High?

Absolutely not! Faith provides perspective, perseverance, and purpose through the tough times, but doesn’t invariably protect anyone from life’s hard realities.

Those who’ve walked with Christ through the centuries were always beset by pain, poverty, tragedy, illness, beatings, and other hardships. But those adversities built their faith. They didn’t destroy it. Their trials drew them closer to God because their faith was healthy and real before the difficulties started. May this be true for you too.

The second common myth I’d like to explore doesn’t deny hardship. Instead, it forbids natural and healthy responses to hardship. It’s what I call the myth of ‘instant peace,’ expressed in statements like: ‘If I’m truly faithful, I won’t experience grief, anger, discouragement, or confusion in the face of tragedy or loss. Instead, I’ll keep my chin up, my eyes dry, and my lips smiling.’

This myth leads to unresolved emotions and a complete divorce from reality. I’ve heard of people losing children, spouses, fortunes, and dreams speak of ‘wonderful peace’ mere moments after the tragedy. That’s the result of shock, not peace! Shock is a natural reaction designed to protect us by temporarily cushioning the reality and depth of our pain. Those who profess instant peace will suffer greater pain in the future because they refuse to acknowledge their original losses. But those with healthy faith express their emotions and are challenged to be stronger, to trust more, and, in the end, to find real peace.

Some of you might be thinking, ‘But doesn’t Scripture tell us to be thankful in everything?’ Yes! But Scripture doesn’t deny human emotions by demanding instantaneous gratitude. That’s the result of time and honest processing. Those who claim instant peace aren’t showing gratitude to God; they’re denying that God made them physical, spiritual, and emotional beings. Healthy faith will produce peace that transcends your understanding. It won’t be instant peace, but it will be real peace.

The third myth I’d like to discuss is what I call ‘Pollyannaism.’ In this warped version of reality believers tell themselves and each other, ‘Everything that happens to us is good.’

But should we be grateful for crisis and tragedy? Is it a measure of a person’s faith to greet bad news with grins and trite rationalizations? I don’t think so. I think this depicts unreal people manufacturing unreal responses. Those who embrace the ‘Pollyanna’ myth must habitually deny how they really feel, and consequently, forego the possibility of dealing redemptively with the pain and grief that’s an inevitable part of life for fallen people in a fallen world.

Ultimately, this type of toxic thinking plants seeds of doubt about whether God is really good. It suggests to us that God might just be cruel—a grim joker who inflicts pain and expects His followers to be happy about it.

Scripture nowhere insists that we call every event that occurs in this fallen world ‘good.’ What it does promise, however, is that God will take even the bad events of life and work them together for the good of His children. And that’s quite a different thing.

‘Pollyannaism’ may produce quick and superficial relief, but it ultimately blocks reality and forbids spiritual maturity. However, healthy faith believes God is lovingly—and without contradiction—for His people; it recognizes evil and tragedy for what they are, and then looks through tear-filled eyes for our Father’s redemptive response.

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,‘ wrote David in Psalm 23, ‘I will fear no evil, for you are with me.’ That’s the expression and expectation of healthy faith—that God’s presence will go with us, and that there exists some very dark and deadly shadowlands in this fallen world. Healthy faith gets us through these dark valleys; unhealthy faith pretends those valleys don’t really exist.

David also penned these words in Psalm 40:

For troubles without number surround me;

my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.

They are more than the hairs of my head,

and my heart fails within me.

That’s also an expression of healthy faith. David acknowledged the real condition of his heart before his all-knowing God. It’s not pretty, but it’s true and it’s real.

Healthy faith causes us to face squarely who we are, what we are, and where we are. It causes us to acknowledge reality, and confess that:

  • We’re vulnerable, not invulnerable.
  • We’re flesh and blood, not steel and stone.
  • We’re people, not angels.
  • We’re God’s sons and daughters, not God Himself.

We have to embrace the fact that we’re people who must live by grace through faith—that we need grace, encouragement, wisdom, and mutual accountability every moment of every day to keep our hearts from being hardened and deceived. That’s the way it is. That’s reality. And we must either deny our vulnerability or deal with it.

Also See:
More Jesus, Less Religion