“I discovered I’m an early griever”, a friend said to me over lunch.
“I get irritated, sad and stressed, sometimes without realizing why, months before a change is coming. The anticipation of the change and its associated losses sends me into frustration and sadness well before the actual event takes place.”
“My body and heart react, almost subconsciously, to the pending upheaval. And grief is hard, especially when it doesn’t appear connected to your circumstances.”
Change means loss
And change means loss. No matter if we experience its effects ‘early’, ‘on time’ or after the fact, it hurts.
Relationships forged over the year or years may be ending. Friends and mentors may be “moving on” to new challenges and opportunities.
We might be changing programs, graduating, moving out of residence, or going home for the summer.
We might find ourselves dealing with two realities—the joy of accomplishments and new adventures, and the loss of friends, routines, and relationships.
Many of us experience other losses: friends who decide not to walk in faith anymore, our own sense of failure, broken relationships, or the death of people close to us.
Change comes and it can cause us to lean away from the pain. We might disengage to protect ourselves or even withdraw altogether because the hurt is too sharp.
What is grief? And how do we deal with it?
Intellectually, most of us know something about grief, but we don’t actually know how to mourn.
We don’t like pain: we feel uncomfortable and vulnerable when we are sad or hurt or confused and we have a hard time trusting that God is good. I have recently been asked how someone could “still be a Christian” when their child died of an unexpected illness or their husband left them despite the whole church praying for miracles.
While some of these losses seem more extreme than others, pain is pain. Seemingly smaller losses can add up to be a huge pile of loss over time.
3 things that help me grieve well
So how do we grieve or mourn in the power of the Holy Spirit? Some things that help me are:
Knowing Jesus grieved and mourned.
I am always stunned when I read the story of Lazarus.
Jesus, who knew Lazarus was ill, delayed His arrival knowing Lazarus would die. The thing is, Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and restore him to his sisters but he did not just get on with solving the problem. First, He joined in mourning.
The Bible says that “Jesus wept” at his tomb. And He wept in such a way that the people around Him said, “Wow, He really loved Him.” It was real and raw.
Why did Jesus weep? He was full of faith: He knew that God had and would always hear Him, yet He wept.
Knowing that Jesus mourned publicly.
It seems profound that Jesus, God, would mourn and that He would mourn publicly. For many of us, myself included, mourning and grieving mean retreat and isolation.
We hide our pain because it makes us feel vulnerable. It’s ironic: we all want to be seen and heard and loved, but having someone else see and hear us in pain can be almost too much to bear. It takes courage to grieve honestly.
Grief that is unacknowledged or denied just lasts longer.
Grief that isn’t shared intensifies because loneliness is added to the weight of it.
Grief that is not shared can lead to feeling ashamed, disconnected, and alone.
It takes courage to grieve honestly. It takes courage to feel loss, hurt, anger, confusion—Jesus modeled this for us. As we walk with Him, we can weep—loud enough for others to know our hearts ache.
Knowing that grieving can turn into something beautiful.
Mourning shakes us out of the familiar and forces us to re-examine everything we thought we knew and understood. Suffering causes us to endure. It leads us to be compassionate and kind, empathetic and far less judgmental—to mature. We grow up as we work through sadness and grief.
We are like Jacob wrestling with God: we learn acceptance when we realize we have no control.
We develop humility when we realize we have questions without answers.
We learn peace when we accept, like Job, that God does not owe us any answers.
And we are comforted when we accept that no matter how red our noses are when we cry, no matter how ugly our thoughts are when we are angry at the loss we have felt, no matter how ashamed we feel of our weakness, we are loved and accepted just as we are.
Grieving and loss are painful but powerful.
How do we grieve in the power of the Holy Spirit?
Accept that the pain is natural, no matter how small the loss may be.
Take it one day, one moment, at a time, without withdrawing or disengaging
Learn to share vulnerably, transparently and honestly with Him and others He has put into our lives.
Believe that God is good, that life will get better, that there is purpose even if we never come to know what it is.