The Problem of Grief and a Surprisingly Simple Solution
Simple, but not easy. You’ve heard that before, right? When it comes to grief, that idiom has never been more true. I guess it’s because there aren’t many things more painful than grief. The good news is, if you are dealing with the problem of grief, you can do this . . . maybe not today.
But it will be here for you when you’re ready. ❤️
The simple thing about grief is . . .
. . . that God is always, always, always there for you and He won’t ever leave.
Over and over, in lots of places, that’s what the Bible says. Sometimes it helps me to stare at a promise like that until it sinks in.
And even though you might be mad at God when it comes to your current problem of grief, He’s there for you. If you’re mad at Him, I hope you’ll consider letting Him have it. By that I mean:
- Don’t be afraid to unload on God. Tell Him why you’re mad and sad and hurt and everything else you’re feeling.
- And when you’re ready, feel those emotions. I know that sounds crazy, but when I went to school to get my counseling degree, I learned that feeling your pain is how you heal.
And it’s not too much if you feel it with God.
So often, we hear that time that heals all wounds. I don’t think that’s true. I know a lot of people who have not healed over time. But feeling your pain will help you heal.
And none of what happened took God by surprise.
God knows you better than you know yourself. He knows the details of your pain. He loves you and He’s the only one who truly knows what you need.
In the middle of all of the unknowns, God wants be your Known.
Especially right now and I bet you could use some help. 🙂
How do I know?
Because I’m grieving today, too.
When I started to put this post together about the problem of grief and the surprisingly simple solution, I forgot that whatever I focus on with God, I experience. And I also forgot that October is a month of grief for me. It’s filled with anniversaries of loved ones who’ve passed.
Just last week, another friend died. So of course, I’m sad.
And as I mourn TJ,
I’m reminded of how I felt unconditionally loved by him.
In 2011, I spent lots of time in a small library on the Oregon Coast. I met Dave. He looked exactly like one of those statues of sea captains you see in gift stores in coastal towns. He often sat next to me at the computer.
We talked about faith. And because of his past, Dave was skeptical.
I think it’s because of my past that I’m not. I always wonder, How the heck did I do life without God?
One day, Dave asked me to pray for TJ. Sitting at the table in that small library, we held hands and I prayed, “God, will You please reveal Yourself to TJ? Show him Your love for him and anything else You might want him to see. Thank You!”
That prayer began our friendship.
TJ and I collected agates. We walked the dog and we drank lots of coffee at a local diner as we chatted with the waitress.
And we always talked about God.
Even though TJ prayed with me to invite Jesus into his heart, I never recognized his Christian faith like I do in so many of my other friends. It’s not that it wasn’t there, but he also wasn’t afraid to keep wondering about other religions or even the existence of aliens.
A friend said he and I bickered like an old married couple. She was right and this wasn’t the only topic we argued about.
TJ was more like Jesus than the other men in my life.
In the beginning, he wanted a dating relationship. I made it clear that I did not.
In fact, I was about ready to close the door on a friendship because I’d gone through that uncomfortable situation before and I didn’t want to do it again. I assumed TJ couldn’t–or wouldn’t–have a friendship without wanting more. But he surprised me.
When the situation reached a point where something had to be done about it, TJ drove over to talk to me and we settled the matter once and for all.
We’d be friends and he wouldn’t try to change my mind again. I appreciated that.
For a while, I’d answer the door without makeup, dressed in the least attractive combination of my clothing I could find, and my hair in disarray.
TJ would stand back and say, “Would you look at this ensemble?”
Even then, his absolute acceptance sparkled in his eyes.
And this sounds really weird.
But I’m grateful to have you to grieve with and also to have fresh grief as I finish writing this.
I always wonder how I can write to you about something I’m not experiencing. I mean I could, but I feel the difference of working on this post now that I’m face-to-face with the loss of living life without TJ.
And it brings me comfort to know that my friend would be glad to know his death might help someone else.
What brings you comfort right now?
It’s important to be aware of that
and to spend time doing it.
We need A LOT of self-care when we grieve.
It’s not only okay; it’s important. ❤️
And as I grieve the loss of my friend,
my grandfather’s sermon, The Problem of Grief, has been helping me. I hope it will help you, too.
In 1955, he shared it for the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.
The Protestant Hour aired the words near the end of World War II, and again after the assassination of President Kennedy. Because people requested reprints, they continued to share it until eventually, this sermon drew the largest mail response of any in the history of that program.
John A. Redhead, a Presbyterian minister, wrote many books, but this was also his most-requested piece.
I think it’s because
the topic of grief is universal,
and his words stand the test of time.
That’s why I wanted to share parts of it with you.
The sermon begins with the words of Jesus.
“In the world,
you do have tribulation
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world”
(John 16:33, KJV).
Related Post: Need God? Maybe You Don’t Think So, But Look How Good He Is!
The first word Jesus has for us is to learn to accept grief as one of the facts of life.
There was a false way of looking at things which would have us believe that life is all sweetness and light, and then any trouble which intrudes upon our happiness is not real and has no place in the scheme of things.
But our Lord could not be hoodwinked by any such juggling of the truth.
He looked the facts in the face and He saw that in the kind of world in which we live, trouble is bound to come. He said it as plainly as words can make it, “in the world you have tribulation”–period.
There is no way you can shuffle the cards and deal it out. It is there, and it is there to stay; and the part of wisdom is:
- to see it
- and to accept it
- and to make up your mind calmly that grief is bound to come.
I went to visit a friend whom I had known in college.
In the meantime, he had married and established his home where he had two children.
He told me that several years before, he and his wife had lost a child, just two years old. At first he was bitter and said over and over to himself, “Why did it have to happen to me and not someone else?”
Later, he realized that there was no good reason why he should expect to be exempt, then said to himself, “Why shouldn’t it happen to me?“
He found not only the deep peace which comes with acceptance, but the strength of the presence of God which his bitterness had formally cancelled.
In dealing with the problem of grief,
the first step is to learn to accept
that it is something that is bound to come.
The Second Step Lies
in seeking to understand the nature of the experience.
Our doctor friends can help us by pointing out reactions which are all together normal and so make us willing to be patient with the slow healing process of time.
I remember once having a conference with a wife who had lost her husband. She told me she had accepted the loss, but that her problem lay in having no interest in life.
Later on, I discovered that disinterestedness in life is altogether normal and to be expected.
It made me wish I had come to know that fact at the time, for it would’ve helped her. As one expert puts it, “We should anticipate these stages in our emotional convalescence:
- unbearable pain
- poignant grief
- empty days
- resistance to consolation
- disinterestedness in life
gradually giving away under the healing sunlight
of love, friendship and social challenge
to the new weaving of a pattern of action
in the acceptance of the irresistible challenge of life.”
There is another characteristic of grief so common as to be mentioned by the doctors.
Namely, that it is often accompanied by intense feelings of guilt.
The sorrowing person blames himself for
- not giving the deceased proper care during a period of illness,
- for failure in some obligation,
- or for being responsible in some way for the cause of death.
If you have ever been with a person at such a time, seen the look of agony on his face, and heard him say, “If only I had done this or that, it might not have happened,” you would know how real is the anguish.
The reminder that:
you were never consciously negligent
and you always did the best you knew,
plus the remembrance that a sense of guilt
is often a problem of grief might help to lessen the load.
Oftentimes I have found another form of the sense of guilt.
We are so wedded to the Old Testament idea that adversity is necessarily a sign of sin that we suppose our sorrow is God’s punishment for some evil of ours.
At that point it is well to remind yourself of this fact, that while all sin brings suffering, all suffering is not necessarily due to sin.
The proof of that truth lies in the picture of Christ. He was sinless, but He was not without suffering.
You will divide your grief in half
if you can succeed in separating from it any sense of guilt.
There was another thing that doctors tell us.
Namely, that it is important that grief be allowed to express itself.
It is an emotion, and if it is bottled up and not allowed to come out, it will cause a nervous restiveness and do physical damage.
Rabbi Leibman put it like this, “When we face the loss of a dear one, we should allow our hearts full leeway in the expression of their pain . . . after all, we were given tear ducts to use for just such hours of darkness.”
An Antidote for the Problem of Grief
“In the world,“ said Jesus, “ye have tribulation.”
In light of that fact, we would first of all accept, and then try to understand the nature of the experience.
Our Lord does not stop there, however; He goes on to say this other thing:
“But be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.“
Having made allowance for the minus that is in life, He suggests that there is a plus; and He would have us accentuate the positive.
When the first shock of grief has passed, it is right to begin to think about the plus.
The first thing to remember is that whatever we lose,
we can be grateful for what we already have had.
I heard the late Dr. Albert W. Beaven of Rochester say . . .
. . . that his seven-year-old little girl died and he and Mrs. Beaven seemed altogether unable to overcome their grief.
There were so many things around the house which reminded them of her, of course, her room, her play things, the vacant chair at the table; and whenever they saw these things they were reminded of their loss.
Their grief was leading them further and further into gloom and he realized that something would have to be done to preserve their health.
Somehow he got hold of our truth and said to his wife,
“Instead of thinking of what we have lost,
let’s begin to think about what we have possessed.
We had seven years of joy from this little girl’s life,
and nothing that has happened can take that away from us.”
From then on, things that reminded them of their little one were made to speak of what they had possessed instead of what they had lost.
And on that ladder, they climbed out of grief into gladness.
For the Christian, this makes all the difference in the world.
If you have lost one whom you love, he is not lost.
If this is really God’s world, then we are under his care whether we live or whether we die; and as much as we miss those we love, we can rejoice that they have found their true home in the love of God.
A man named Walter Lowen lost his wife. He wrote something of his experience in Reader’s Digest.
“Let me tell you,” he says,
“what the doctor who attended my wife
did for me as I stood dazed
and lost at the foot of her bed;
knowing not only that the 37 years we had together were over,
but feeling also that all meaning had gone from life forever.
He took my arm and held it for a minute. And then he said in a matter-of-fact voice: ‘You’ll see her again.’ “
That was all; but that was all I needed to hear.
As our Lord put it:
“I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and receive you to myself,
that where I am, you may be also.”
When a sharp pain struck the heart of Peter Marshall and he was being carried out into the night on a stretcher, he looked up into the face of his wife Catherine and said, “See you in the morning, Darling.”
It is the Christian’s faith
that though the night be dark and long,
the morning will surely come,
and with the morning a blessed reunion.
The belief in immortality is sound.
And we have a right to strengthen ourselves in its assurance; and yet, it is unnatural and un-Christian and unhealthy to fold our hands and sit still and spend our time gazing into heaven.
When our Lord stood with his men on the Mount of Olives and was taken up out of their sight, they went back to their job of carrying on for Him.
They did their best
to do what He would have done
had He remained with them.
They were constantly loyal to the One they had lost and sought to continue His life vicariously in their own work. As they did so, they were saved from the dangers of self-pity and they found the genuine satisfaction of helping to make life better for other people.
And here is something I think, for the rest of us, we can become, as Rabbi Liebman puts it, “Ambassadors of our departed, their messengers and their spokesman, carrying out the mission for which they lived and strove, and which they bequeathed to us.”
Here is the problem of grief as seen in the light of our Christian faith.
- You can accept it as one of the facts of life and do your best to understand it.
- You can remind yourself of what you have possessed, instead of thinking only of what you have lost.
- You can rest in the Christian’s assurance of life after death and look forward to the morning of reunion.
- And then you can go back to your task as an ambassador of the departed.
There is hardly anyone as far along as middle life, who does not have one he loves in the unseen. It may be a wife or a husband, or a mother or a father, or even a child.
In the sacred silence of this moment, you recall all the loveliness of that life and you know the things he would be doing were he here today. There then is the final answer to your problem.
You can substitute for him.
You can step into his shoes and take his place and carry on for him.
And as you do, the darkness will become light and the night will brighten into morning, and you can say with our Lord, “I have overcome the world.”
Are you struggling with the problem of grief?
Grief is never done, is it? It comes in layers and often when we least expect it.
Grieving isn’t something ANYONE wants to do. And maybe the real problem of grief is that we are going to deal with it whether we want to or not, so how do we find relief?
And one way I’m going to accentuate the positive is that I am going to celebrate the gift of my friendship. I’m not going to think of this season as “a problem of grief.” No, I’m grateful for having had TJ in my life for as long as I did. And I miss him. So instead of thinking of his passing as a problem of grief, I’m going to accept his transition.
I’ll remember him often with a smile even in my sadness.
And since time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, I spend time with God who is my surprisingly simple–but hardly ever easy–solution for everything. He’s always there and heals my heart and I ask Him to do that for you, too. ❤️
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Another Resource: GriefShare
(My grandfather’s words are in blue and mine are in black.)