Thursday, March 30, 2006

Grieving

The experience of grief can be overwhelming. It comes in waves, sometimes stunning and frightening in its proportions. We discover in ourselves feelings we did not know were there or that we were capable of. One of them is the feeling of crippling lethargy. "I loathe the slightest effort... Even shaving." Thus C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed testifying to the way grief can debilitate and sap the energy from us. A numbness can set in punctuated with periods of tears . The loss gets worse and not better. The reality of it all: the forlorn hope that it had all been a dream vanishes before the reality of the empty chair at the table, the constant reminder of friends who mean well, but their presence and words merely confirm what you want to be untrue.

Everyone, sooner or later, goes through this experience and the closer we are to the one we lose, the greater the pain will be. Paul anticipated the help Christians need when he wrote to the Thessalonians not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). It is not an admonition not to grieve. It is that we should not grieve without the Christian gospel informing and shaping it.

What lessons are Christians to learn in such times? Three especially:

1. Ask for a habit of a thankful spirit--thankfulness for a life that touched us in so many ways and from which we still draw comfort and encouragement. It is a mistake to blot out every memory of those we have loved, removing pictures and refusing to talk about them. That is a pathway to despair. Give God thanks for every sweet memory, every kind word.

2. Pray for resignation to do his will, the peace that passes all understanding as we bow to his sovereignty and yield to his purposes. Deep down, no matter how hard it is to do, we know this is the only way, the only sure way to relief and healing.

3. Pray for stickability (what the Bible variously calls patience or endurance or perseverance). Surviving the grief process is a long distance race requiring fresh (daily! hourly!) supplies of strength and stamina. Our Father knows what it is to lose a Son. He is able to help us in ways we cannot even imagine.

Christians Grieve Too by Donald Howard (Banner of Truth, 1980) is a small, twenty paged booklet packed full of helpful and practical advice for Christians experiencing grief. J. I. Packer's A Grief Sanctified: Passing through Grief to Peace and Joy is a semi-biographical description of Richard Baxter's memoirs in the loss of his wife. It is chock-full of pastoral wisdom and down-to-earth realism when it comes to the experience of losing a loved one.

2 comments:

slmayes said...

Thank you for your biblical and insightful thoughts on grief. In July of last year, our nine year old son died from an extended battle with a brain tumor. He had suffered through over six years of blindness, chemotherapy, at least two strokes and the debilitation they caused. We had been grieving the loss of many things before his death, but the reality of his death was extremely difficult to bear.

We are thankful for the grace of a loving, sovereign God, for friends who have been ministers of His grace to us, and for the hope that comes in knowing we will see our son again. There is also great comfort in knowing that his blindness and suffering are now past in the presence of Him whose splendor exceeds the brightness of the sun.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is good to be able to have the gospel inform and shape our grief.

A good helpful post.