Thursday, January 7, 2010

Learning to Grieve

Grieving is hard work. If you are not prepared for this work most likely it will be even worse than you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve ever served a grieving family and heard them say, “This is much easier than we thought it was going to be.” I am convinced that if you are going to grieve well, and you should grieve, you must be as prepared as you can be.

When grief comes you will not be able to function in it with exact and meticulous detail because every situation will be different in severity, depth and intensity. However, I believe the Bible clearly lays out a foundation for us to stand on in our times of grief. One place we can learn this pattern is Psalm 102.

A Pattern for Suffering
In Psalm 102 we see David grieve deeply. We’re not exactly sure why, but whatever he is going through is intense. Along with several normal characteristics of grief it would appear that we seem him lose his appetite, suffer from sleeplessness, and even face depression. Yet, in this passage we see him deal with his grief well and God helps us learn how to deal with our own grief as we observe David.

A pattern seems to emerge that helps David move through the grief process in verses 13-22. We’re not sure how long it takes for him to move through this pattern, but it does seem to be consistent both times. The pattern seems to go something like this:
1. David cries out to God declaring His sovereignty and eternal control of life.
2. God hears David and has pity on him.
3. David remembers God’s promises to him and His people.
4. David looks forward to how God will use the current grief to bring good in the future.
Though we don’t actually see these elements lived out in this psalm, in other places we have the opportunity to see God working these things out. Know that God was faithful in keeping the promises He made to David and God did use David’s times of grief to bring about good.

Learning to Grieve Well
How can you apply this pattern? Well, every time I go to the funeral home I am reminded of how feeble I am. My life, just like every life on this planet, will end in death. God is the only one that has the power to conquer death. The redeemed of Christ only receive eternal life with God when it is given to them by Christ. Death should humble us. It should make us realize that God is everlasting and sovereign, and we are not. Not only should we realize it, but it should drive us to worship God as the Supreme Creator of all things. Facing grief should drive us to remember God’s control and to worship Him for it. In addition, focusing on God’s strength should help align true perspective. Often our problems and hurts fall out of perspective. They become bigger than us and even bigger than God. That is a distorted perspective and one that is never true. Death should remind us that we are small and God is big. When viewed correctly, this truth should bring comfort and rest.

The other steps of this pattern strengthen this perspective. By remembering God’s promises we remember His goodness and His holiness. We remember that He has promised His people that He will love them, be near at the time of death and deliver them through death. We find such promises from Jesus in John 14, from God Himself in Psalm 116:15 and in other places such as 1 Thessalonians 4. At the same time we hear of the separation from God that comes when the unrepentant person dies. Jesus’ teaching of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 reinforces this idea and passages like Hebrews 9:27 remind us that just as death is appointed, judgment is as well. In grief we should focus on the promises of God.

Find Joy In a Time of Grief

The believer should find comfort and joy in these promises as they have witnessed God’s faithful work not only in Scripture, but in their own lives as well. It is from God’s faithful work in the past that we also have hope that He will repeat that work in the future. Though the believer cannot be sure how God will use their pain for good, they believe He will. This brings hope. It fuels perseverance and endurance during grief. Psalm 102 teaches us that this hope should even lead to joy as the believer knows God will not waste their pain, but will use it for good in their life and the lives of others.

Grieving is hard work. But hope can be found in it. Grieving will be different for everyone and it can be unpredictable in its effects on a person. However, we can use the basic pattern here and by applying to it our broken hearts find hope in God. What will your perspective be when it is your time to grieve?

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