Are you struggling to overcome grief? Are you at a loss on how to help a loved one who is a family member or friend navigate the extreme lows of losing a loved one? The longer I interact with it personally and counsel others regularly the more I realize how unique and personal each person’s journey of grief truly is. The key to navigating this tough, long journey is know what to say to our grief.
Here is a helpful excerpt taken from Grief: It’s Not About a Process; It’s About The Person by Paul Randolph:
People who grieve are not looking for an intricate explanation of this truth. They feel comforted simply by its mention. They need the person that Jesus is. Not Kübler-Ross’s theory. The decisive factor was not a description of a supposed process; it was the quality of relationships with God and others. Not even an elaborate theological rationale. But the precious presence of a Savior. How does this truth become real for a grieving person?
In working with grieving people, I’ve found that the answer comes in four ways:
1. Realize the Loving Presence of God
God is an ever present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1). Since He is not physically visible, how can we know this? It happens though faith, trusting that God is true to His word. He tells us that when we are hurting, when we are suffering, He is especially present. God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in time of trouble. (Ps. 46:1) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18; Jo. 1:9; Isaiah 43:2) Notice how all these words emphasize the presence of God again and again. The actual presence of God through His Holy Spirit makes this truth real. For example, Paul begins Romans 5:3 by writing something that sounds absurd: “We can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” How can we rejoice in our sufferings? Is Paul telling us we need to have some warped sense of masochism? Paul explains how this can be true: We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. (Rom. 5:3-5) God makes real His love in the midst of our suffering. His love is made real not by understanding arbitrary stages of grief, or even by an abstract knowledge that God is supposed to be present. It is made real by the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes what would otherwise sound like wishful thinking or absurdity. God is present in suffering. He is growing us through suffering. We can rejoice in suffering because His presence becomes a reality in our lives.
2. Know the Promises of God
God makes incredible promises to us, His children. A dozen truths merit discussion, but one is especially comforting: the sovereignty of God. When we say “God is sovereign,” we simply mean that He is in control. He has a purpose for everything that happens. Many parts of Scripture teach us His many purposes in suffering. His sovereignty provides meaning to the losses we grieve. If I lose a loved one apart from knowing the sovereignty of God, then that loved one’s death is a total loss. There is no purpose to life; there is no hope of life after death; there is nothing for me to do but grieve; there is only emptiness, or pain, or whatever I do to numb the pain. Knowing that God is sovereign changes everything. God has a plan and a purpose for everything that happens, even the tragedy and sorrow of death. Nothing surprises God or takes Him off guard. God’s sovereignty brings meaning to loss even when I can’t yet understand what God’s specific purpose behind the loss may be. Faith trusts God’s grace and benevolence—and eventually we understand. Scripture provides vivid examples of this. In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah grieves with and for his people at a time of incredible devastation and suffering. Israel has been invaded and Jerusalem destroyed. The land has been devastated; the cities have been plundered. Many of God’s people have been killed or taken into captivity. Only misery and suffering remain. Jeremiah expresses the depths of grief over what has taken place. I am the man who has seen affliction….He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. (Lam. 3:1, 5) Jeremiah’s woe reaches its lowest point in these words: I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lam 3:19) Then the prophet says something that sounds absurd, that stuns us, that radically shifts gears: Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. (Lam 3: 21) How could anyone have hope in the midst of such utter despair and grief? Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; I will wait for Him.” (Lam 3:22-24) Jeremiah is convinced that God’s love has not failed, that He is faithful to the end. How can he believe this when everything he sees denies this thought? His answer: God is sovereign. Listen to his words: Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lam. 3:37-38) The words of Jeremiah from Lamentations have a much richer significance for me. The only way to make sense of these past couple of years is one truth: God is sovereign. He has a purpose for everything that happens and He is in control.
3. Seek God in Prayer
God tells us that when we seek Him, we will find Him. “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 29:12-14) God is committed to His people. When you cry out for Him, He responds. What does God offer to us when we seek after Him? He offers Himself. You will find Me. I will be found by you. This has a very personal emphasis. This is what matters to the grieving person: God is present. He is sovereign. And we can access Him through prayer. You can tell God how you are hurting. You can tell Him about your emotions, your fears, and your questions. You can’t interact with a grieving process, but you can interact with a God who knows exactly what you are going through and wants to hear your unique perspective on it.
4. Seek Out God’s People
Finally, God helps us in our grieving through His people. When we are in the presence of God’s people, God uses them to express the reality of everything we have just considered. They manifest the loving presence of God through the Holy Spirit who resides in them. They remind us of the promises of God sensitively and lovingly spoken. They pray for us and with us, seeking God in the midst of our grief. We do not grieve alone. God’s people grieve with us. As His people live out the fruit of the spirit in their lives, He uses people to bring comfort, help, and hope to the one who grieves, not objective doctrine or abstract theory.