WRITTEN BY Christine Overholt
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” (Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptist Leroy, 1789).
Seems like an appropriate sentiment in this month dedicated to the grueling process of 1040 preparation as we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matthew 22:21). I would like to note that I am not one to engage in weightier topics and prefer conversations peppered with movie quotes and a bit of sarcasm (because it really does take skill). However, I can’t escape the truth of Ecclesiastes 3 that reminds me there is a time for everything. So while I prefer laughter, I shall focus on the weeping for the moment. Allow me this last frivolity as I title this writing “Good Grief” with a nod to my love of Snoopy and Charlie Brown.
Grief. It dwells within a community of words we want to avoid experiencing and discussing. Words like anguish, bereavement, despair, heartache and sorrow. Grief cannot be escaped any more than death can be avoided. You’ve read what Benjamin Franklin had to say.
Read these words from the Apostle Paul:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned,” (Romans 5:12 ESV).
Death spread to all mankind. ALL. It’s a very inclusive statement. None are exempt. If none are exempt from death, none are exempt from grief. Yet, when a death does occur, we often find we don’t know how to respond to something we have been told is certain. Of course, the circumstances surrounding the passing will be a factor. There are many factors. There are also many questions. How should I feel? What should I do? What is the right way to process? How do I move forward? Because navigating the waters of death and grief can be difficult, Wallen is now offering the Grief Share ministry.
In their words, “Grief Share is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.”
This simple statement says so much. It addresses the one grieving and the one coming alongside, and I intend to speak into both circumstances, sharing what I have learned through this ministry and my own experience. But before I do, I want you to understand that grief is good.
If you look up a medical definition of the word grief, you will often find it described as a “natural response to loss”. Your grief is good because it demonstrates the importance of the relationship. It is a natural response to the loss of someone for which you cared deeply. It’s how you were created to respond.
Grief is the conduit for honoring, processing and moving. I like the word conduit. If you mesh together the various definitions Merriam-Webster gives for the word, you will find a channel through which something is conveyed; a pipe or tube that protects; a means of transmitting or distributing. Grief is the channel used to move from the death of a loved one to life beyond that moment. It is a form of protection which will assist in healing and the ability to move forward. It must be entered into in order to distribute or deliver you. In other words, without going through the process, you won’t experience deliverance. You will be stuck (whether you acknowledge it or not).
Let me share a few things I have learned about grief. I work with a team of pastors and Expository Preaching 101 seems to include ways to make teaching memorable. Therefore, let me create an acronym of the word grief for you:
I have already spent some time trying to convince you that grief is good. It has a purpose. Sometimes we are led to think we shouldn’t grieve, especially if the one who died was a Christ follower. I Thessalonians 4 does not say, “don’t grieve.” It states you have a reason to grieve differently—with hope! We can inadvertently do harm to ourselves or others by denying the process. We can inadvertently do harm to ourselves or others by trying to bypass or rush the process as well. Please understand that when I say “good” I am not implying “pleasant” or “pain free”. There will be pain. It won’t be easy. But it is necessary and it is good, because engaging in the process will bring healing.
Often, I hear the question of when things “will get back to normal” or “be like they used to be”? The answer is they will never be like they used to be. As you work through the grief process, you will find a new normal. Just as we receive new mercies every morning (Lamentation 3:22-23), you wake up to a new normal each morning. In reality, we all do. We can’t count on things being the way they were yesterday. It’s just that death takes the guessing out of the equation with the finality that things will be different. There may be people you no longer run into, holidays that are expressed differently, and tasks that used to be done by someone else that are now your responsibility. Please remember redefining doesn’t equal bad. We are redefined in Christ when we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
No two people are exactly alike. No two people grieve exactly alike. No two experiences are exactly alike. Often, the one grieving feels a responsibility to grieve the “right way” for those watching. Those coming alongside often impose their own experience or ideas on the one grieving. The important thing to realize is that grief can be expressed in multiple ways. I remember learning the various stages of grief early in my education. It seemed like a systematic, logically ordered process everyone would experience…similarly. It’s not! It’s often messy, random and chaotic with many “stages” being experienced at once. You may desire that I list those stages next. I choose to refrain from entering into such a conversation so you don’t end up creating a mental check list to determine when you are “done.” That is exactly what I am trying to avoid. Grief is a process, not a check list. You don’t finish. But the time spent in grief does diminish over time. The way you grieve will most likely change over time, but you don’t “get over it.” Don’t believe me? Ask someone who had a child die 30 years ago. I’m pretty sure he or she isn’t going to respond with “yeah, I’m over that.” However, there is coming a time when heaven and earth will pass away and a new heaven and a new earth will be established, where the dwelling place of God is with man, and death and mourning shall not exist (Revelation 21:4). Until that time we will encounter death and therefore grieve…uniquely.
I have also spent a little time discussing the fact that grief is a natural process. It is a basic response to death and loss of someone you loved. In Matthew 14, it describes Jesus withdrawing to a place by himself when he heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. If you read of Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus, you don’t hear him scolding them for grieving their loss. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). It is debated why he wept so I won’t engage in that conversation, but I do want to draw your attention to the undeniable fact that he didn’t tell them to cease. Grieving is not only allowable, it is natural.
I have already referred to 1 Thessalonians 4, which states the grief process is different when grieving the death of those who are in Christ. It does not state that Christ followers should not grieve—because only the world grieves—rather, the process is different. Death has a way of forcing one to examine life beyond this world and what lies ahead. Death is an invitation to answer the question of whether there is a God and if there is, how could He let this happen? While I won’t seek to answer such questions in this limited writing, I do want you to contemplate the fact that death brings you to the throne of God. You can choose to bow in worship or turn away in disgust. Death presents a testing of faith. Let me be quick to mention, I don’t intend to imply it is wrong to question God or engage him in the grieving process. Session 6 of Grief Share is devoted to lament and the process of being honest with God. Crying out to God is an expression of faith. It is essential for healing that you come to God regularly through prayer, study of His Word and the encouragement He provides expressed through his followers. The proving of faith is never more real than at the moment of death.
There is more to be said, but the acronym is complete and my word count is growing! If you have made it all the way through this writing, thanks for allowing me to share what I have been learning about grief. If you are coming alongside someone who has experienced loss, I hope this writing has made you examine the way in which you do so. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, I hope that you have been encouraged by seeing that grief is a good process that will begin your journey of healing.
Christine is the director of women’s ministries at Wallen Baptist Church