In the church, Christians have a community to support them as they mourn and grieve. The Bible calls Christians to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). When the body of Christ weeps for one another, the stage is set for genuine Christian encouragement. True Christian encouragement is not an energetic pep talk or a recitation of trite and cliche phrases. Meaningful encouragement comes from those who walk with us in our sorrow and remind us of the gospel hope we have in Christ. In fact, when brothers and sisters in Christ comfort those who are suffering and mourning they act as agents of God (2 Corinthians 7: 6-7).
Grief often seems like the Hydra of Greek mythology. According to legend, this nine-headed serpentine monster could not be killed because each time one head was cut off, two more would grow back. Like the numerous heads of the Hydra, grief can strike from many angles at almost any moment. Once we feel that we have come to terms and made peace with an aspect of our grief it is not unusual for something else to trigger those overwhelming feelings once again. The Hydra’s heads keep growing back.
Despite the regenerating heads of the Hydra, Hercules found a way to defeat the monster. He would cut off a head and his nephew would quickly cauterize the wound before two new ones could grow. It can be tempting to approach our grief the same way Hercules faced the Hydra. Rather than experience the pain of grief over again we cauterize the wounds in our hearts. We might do this by filling our lives with distractions to avoid facing our hurt, we might numb ourselves through nonstop activity, food, drink, drugs, sex, or we might rationalize our experience and push away our emotions. There are myriad ways we can try to cauterize the wounds of grief. These methods all seem to work well in the short term, but they have the effect of turning us into a shell of a human – safe from the travails of grief, yes, but also closed off to feelings like joy and love.
How can Christians face grief? How can we fight this monster without searing our wounded hearts? This list is by no means exhaustive, but I would suggest a few approaches. We can work through our grief by reflecting on God’s promises, spending meaningful and intentional time with brothers and sisters in Christ, and in some cases by seeking professional help.
Reflect on God’s Promises
God’s promises should lead Christians to grieve differently than other people. God’s promises don’t remove grief or magically make it disappear, but they change the way we go through the process of grieving. After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis observed that “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley, where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” (A Grief Observed, 60) Grieving is a long, sometimes predictable and sometimes unexpected, journey. It is a difficult journey. Given the choice, it is not one we would choose to take. It is comforting to know that we are not alone in our grief, God is with us even when it seems he is not. One way to work through our grief is to meditate on God’s word and to respond prayerfully to his promises.