Most of us have either lost a loved one through death or sat with a friend who has done so. Perhaps we have heard of the stages often associated with grieving, which may include bargaining, denial, anger, depression and eventually, acceptance. Maybe we have gone through these stages ourselves or watched our friend go through them.
In every case, grief is about losing someone or something that mattered to us. When it is a person, others around us understand and empathize and it is often a fairly public event in our lives. Funerals and memorials are deeply meaningful rituals that offer us the opportunity to express our love and pay tribute to those we’ve lost.
However, other losses are less public or obvious. Couples who assume they will have a family grieve when they learn they are infertile. Singles who planned to get married someday find that no one has come along. People who have trained for careers and found success elusive lose promotions, or even jobs. Dreams come crashing down around us when disappointed expectations, illness, injury, abandonment, conflict, natural disasters or financial hardships come into our lives. These are important losses as well.
Recently my husband's candidacy for the ministry expired. We have been grieving this. No longer will he have the opportunity to serve a congregation, and the truth of this is spirit-crushing. Hope was always there for the past two years post-graduation, but the dream never came to fruition. There are times throughout the day (or night) when the pain strikes again and it becomes hard to control the emotions. Another loss we have to contend with is seeing friends move on with their callings. We have to say goodbye to more than just our own aspirations.
Sometimes those who are grieving are sent a subtle message that they should just “count your blessings” or “rejoice in the Lord always” when these things happen. Christians in particular may feel they are not allowed to really experience and grieve this kind of loss. But we need a Biblical perspective on loss. Scripture demonstrates and encourages honest and open expression of sadness; consider especially the Psalms, where pain is lamented and feelings are aired freely. (Psalm 38; Job) Honest questions are asked of God. “Where are you, God?” (Psalm 79) “Does this really need to happen?” (Matthew 26:36-39) “Is there no alternative?” The final word is that God remains faithful. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) We are invited to rejoice, not in our pain, but in the continuing presence of God at work in us. This is a matter of trust and faith.
We need to acknowledge losses in our own lives; we need to validate losses in the lives of others. We need to recognize them, grieve them, and then put them into perspective. God remains faithful. He is there to sustain us even in our darkest hours. We would never be able to shoulder the entire weight of our grief by ourselves.
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour,
who daily bears our burdens! (Psalm 68:19)