February 25, 1997
Blank faced, Dorothy asked, “What if a person never grieves?” When pressed, she explained that when her husband died two decades ago, she went into shock. She cannot remember the funeral or the events months after it. Since then, she has not visited her husband’s grave side or experienced grief.
Death and loss are realities for everyone. Grief is the normal response. Some describe it as a process that begins with shock followed by various stages of emotional release. A grieving person sometimes experiences depression, panic, anger and guilt. Healing involves time and effort. Emotions and pain need to be faced, named, felt and talked about. All these help the grieving person to break ties with the past and begin reinvesting their emotions in new areas.
If a person refuses to grieve because they are not willing or able to face their pain and emotions, the internal stress usually comes out in other ways. For instance, repressed grief can cause physical and psychological difficulties. I wondered if that had anything to do with Dorothy’s many ailments over the past twenty years.
The Bible relates stories of grief that can help us with this difficulty. King David lost a newborn son. Before the baby died, he pleaded with God for the child, fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. When the child died, his servants were so concerned about his reaction that they were afraid to tell him.
Finally, he noticed them whispering and asked if the baby had died. Then he got up, “washed, put on lotions, changed his clothes and went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.”
This seemed odd behavior to his servants, especially in light of how he had been acting. They asked him about the change and he replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought the Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Some interpret this statement as reference to the grave, but others believe that David knew the child had gone to be with God and he would someday join him in heaven.
The most familiar New Testament passage about grieving is often quoted at funerals. It comes from 1 Thessalonians 4: “We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”
Notice that Christians do not need to grieve as others do. The difference is the hope that Christ gives. Because He conquered death, we who believe have assurance of eternal life. That means that our grieving is different. It is mixed with a deeper hope that holds us up and helps us through the grieving process. This undercurrent is impossible to understand much less describe other than to say hope and inner peace are evidences that the Holy Spirit is in a person’s life.
Besides the Spirit, God also gives all people various means to deal with the pain of loss. Emotional shock is one. However, God intends that when shock is over and emotions rise, we experience those emotions. Repressing or denying them is unhealthy and can even cause depression. Exploding in anger may seem like a release but we are far better to face our pain and feel it, calling it by name. Telling others and God what is happening to us opens our hearts for comfort. Comfort can come to us through people or directly to our spirits from God Himself.
God loves us and wants to help. With shock as a buffer, tears as a release, hope for eternity as an anchor and the Lord Himself as our consolation, we can survive loss and become stronger people even through deep loss and its painful aftermath of grief.