In 2003, I was 13 years old and finishing up my 7th grade year of school and summer was almost here. As the bell rang for school to be let out, I remember just like any other day, the hallways filled with students as we ended the school day. I was busy talking and hanging out with my friends and didn’t think much of the fact that my Aunt was supposed to pick me up from school. The time was abnormally long for me to still be at school and so my friend, whose dad worked at the High School, said I could walk with him to the High School and they could give me a ride home. As we walked that way, I remember being a little confused. I didn’t know why no one had come to pick me up. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I tried not to think anything of it. As we neared the high school parking lot, my neighbor drove by and saw my friend and I walking, and pulled into the parking lot next to us. She said that I needed to get in the car and come with her because something had happened…immediately I became nervous and unsure of what was happening. It almost felt like we weren’t really driving as I became lost in my mind trying to figure out what happened.
As we got to my house, my Aunt and Uncle were outside the house waiting for me and I could tell they were upset. I got out of the car and they proceeded to tell me that my brother had been in an accident and was taken to the hospital. They said we my parents already went to the hospital and we were going to head there as well. I got in the car and took what seemed to be the longest car ride I have ever taken. I was scared, confused, crying, and running through the thoughts of what might have happened.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was told that my brother had been in a drowning accident at the lake and he was airlifted to the hospital. He wasn’t doing well and we needed to pray. The next several hours’ felt like days as the waiting room filled with people and my family was given a special room to be in as we waited for updates. I remember feeling no desire to pray but also feeling like there was nothing else to do. I felt like I didn’t know how to pray and had forgotten what that meant. But as we sat in this small conference style room, my family prayed and cried for hours. That night my brother passed away. He had taken too much water into his lungs and the only way they were keeping him alive was by a machine. I will forever remember going in after they had clarified him as dead, and as a 13 year old boy, grabbing the cold hand of my brother, who would never take me to school again. We wouldn’t get to make anymore memories or share anymore milestones in life…
5 months later, as I was sitting back in school, now as an 8th grade student, my mom came to the school to give me the news that my grandpa had died from a brain tumor. He had been struggling with the illness for a long period of time and it slowly, painfully chipped away at his life until finally he passed away. Still numb in my emotions, I tried to process yet another tragedy.
These types of moments are moments that you feel like you can never really prepare for. Whether it is a sudden death like with my brother, or a slow process like with my grandpa, a person is never prepared for these kinds of tragedies.
But here is what I have found to be true in my life…
The God of ALL comfort is willing to turn our grief into praise.
Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and this verse became a staple in my journey as I walked through the grieving process.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. -2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV
The words all comfort in this passage come from the ancient Greek word paraklesis. The idea behind this word for comfort in the New Testament is more than soothing sympathy. It has the idea of strengthening, helping, and making strong. The idea behind this word is communicated by the Latin word for comfort (fortis), which also means “brave.”
God instilled in us the ability to grieve and mourn, because God is also the source of all comfort and strength during those seasons of our life.
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. -Psalm 46:1 NLT
I watched an amazing thing happen when my brother was dying in the hospital that has changed my life forever…I sat and watched as the prayers of my family came into alignment with God’s will. It has forever left an imprint on my life and faith because I realized the power God has to comfort us in tough moments so that we can find his sovereign will through it all.
The first thing we have to understand is this…
- Grief is not wrong.
Grief is the natural response of humans to pain, suffering, and loss. In fact, throughout the Bible there are multiple occasions where grief occurs because of loss and pain. Job, Naomi, Hannah, David, and Peter all had moments like this. And more than that, Jesus himself experienced grief when Lazarus died. Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead, he still had a moment of grief with the others around him. I think too many people try to play it off as if grieving is wrong or that it indicates weakness. The reality is that most people will have significant moments of grief in their life. And these moments usher in unfamiliar emotions that can cause fear, helplessness, and isolation.
“The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.” -Molly Fumia
I had no choice about the situation I faced with my brother and my grandpa. I had no control to stop it from happening or to prevent myself from grieving. I had to grieve. I had to deal with it. Is that wrong? I don’t believe so. No. Grief is not wrong. It is the way God designed us to deal with loss and pain. The writer of Psalms talked about this.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. God knows our grief and sorrows. He knows the different pain and struggles we go through. – Psalm 56:8 NLT
And he sympathizes with us and will comfort us when we grieve.
The second thing to understand is this…
- Grief is different for each person.
Grief is not only associated with death, but grief can be connected to many things including severe illness, job loss, divorce, and other related misfortunes. Everyone works through the stresses of these situations differently. Some are instantly devastated; others feel numb and disconnected. Some withdraw socially, while others reach out to people around them. Certain people will internalize everything, while others will vocalize everything.
There is no linear pattern or formula to follow when it comes to the idea of grief.
Here are 5 different types of grief personalities that show how people deal with loss and pain…
- Nomads are characterized by a range of emotions, including denial, anger, and confusion about what to do with their lives. Nomads have not yet resolved their grief. They don’t often understand how their loss has affected their lives.
- Memorialists are committed to preserving the memory of their loved ones by creating concrete memorials and rituals to honor them. These range from buildings, art, gardens, poems, and songs to foundations in their loved one’s name.
- Normalizers place primary emphasis on their family, friends, and community. They are committed to creating or re-creating them because of their sense of having lost family, friends, and community, as well as the lifestyle that accompanies them, when their loved one died.
- Activists create meaning from their loss by contributing to the quality of life of others through activities or careers that give them a purpose in life. Their main focus is on education and on helping other people who are dealing with the issues that caused their loved one’s death, such as violence, a terminal or sudden illness, or social problems.
- Seekers look outward to the universe and ask existential questions about their relationship to others and the world. They tend to adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives and provide a sense of belonging that they either never had or lost when their loved one died.
Is this the exhaustive list of grieving? No. But it is important for us to understand that people grieve in different ways and that is okay. Can there be unhealthy grieving? Absolutely. Grief can turn into depression, unhealthy stress, sickness, and other things if a person is not careful. There is a clear difference between the way godly people grieve and the way the world grieves. But that doesn’t mean every person grieves the same. Just because someone doesn’t deal with a tragedy the way you deal with a tragedy doesn’t mean they are wrong in their grief. It simply indicates a need to exercise grace and love to them in a moment when they are broken.
The third thing to understand is this…
- Comfort is more than feeling happy.
Happiness will come and go in our lives. One minute you can feel happy and the next you can feel sad…and the next you can feel mad. The reality is happiness is not the end goal of life. It is merely a feeling like any other.
When we acknowledge that God exists for more than just our happiness, we are able to trust him in our seasons of grief.
Happiness is external. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events aligning with your expectations so that you can feel pleasure. There is a reason why James didn’t say consider it happiness when you face trials…that doesn’t make sense because happiness is contingent upon the external circumstances to be good. Instead he uses the word joy…consider it pure joy.
Listen to the definition that Rick Warren’s wife gave about Joy:
“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” –Kay Warren
The comfort that God can give is about strength and fortifying a person’s life. If we limit God’s comfort to just our happiness, we will never experience the true joy He can give us.
Express your grief to God until it turns into praise. To stop short of this will only cause resentment towards Him.
The final thing to understand is this…
- Comfort should transfer to others.
Now the tricky part is learning how to do this with each person, since not everyone grieves the same way. For Christians, sometimes the problem with comforting others is that we want to over-spiritualize everything. Or we want to give advice all the time. And not every situation and circumstance calls for advice and guidance. Sometimes it’s listening, sometimes; it’s taking a meal to a person; sometimes it’s taking them to do something fun to get their mind off it for a bit. This is why relationships cannot be surface level. You always need to be learning about the people around you. Remember, comfort is more than just feeling happy. Sometimes comfort is hard. In certain situations and with certain people, it will be hard to know how to comfort others. Not only should you be praying for the person who is going through a season of grief, but also you should be praying for yourself that God would help you to know how to comfort them.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. -Galatians 6:2 NIV
We need to get involved in other people’s lives and allow God to comfort them through us. Because in order for comfort to transfer to others, you have to get close enough to them for it to happen. Relationships are messy…the longer you know a person and the closer you get to them, the more problems you seem to have. God designed us to do life with people and we have to realize the danger of walking through our circumstances alone.
The most encouraging thing we can hold onto during seasons of grief is that God is with us and wants to comfort us.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. -Psalm 23:4 NIV