As individuals we differ from each other in a hundred different ways. We do not all believe alike, theologically. We do not all hold the same values or have the same friends. Not all of us are moved by the work of a great artist or vocalist. Not all of us are privileged to know the satisfaction of creating something with our hands. And not of all of us know what it is to be handicapped or oppressed or hungry or hopeless. But there is one place where we are all alike. Everyone of us will somewhere, sometime know the experience of grief.
What is grief? Grief is defined as the emotional response to loss, and there are numerous forms of grief — divorce, unemployment, moving, hospitalization, physical disability, young people leaving home, failure, retirement, tragic events, imprisonment and the list is endless. But in this writing, we are dealing with the ultimate grief. It’s a sober subject of course and yet there is a verse from Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam” which reads, “Never morning were to evening, but some heart did break.”
Before proceeding further, let me say that I am aware that each person’s grief is unique to that person and that recovery is anything but a smooth process.
Do you know how long the average person grieves? We are told that the process lasts about two years, sometimes it lasts longer, sometimes it may be a little shorter — but two years is the average. This means that it lasts much longer that most of us realize, and that it is full of peaks and valleys. So in looking for some light upon our darkness I want to begin with some familiar words of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation but be of good cheer (courage), I have overcome the world (John 16:33). How could Jesus say that? The answer is found in the preceding verse, “Yet,” said Jesus, “I am not alone because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). Here is the secret of the majestic poise and peace of Jesus. Jesus’ hope was always set on God. With that truth in mind, we can take these practical steps to enhance our own healing in the grieving process.
First, we can remember that God heals through time! God often uses time to heal our sorrows.
Second, we can keep our spiritual disciplines! When I first received the heavy news that my father had died, for several days I didn’t feel like spending quiet time. But I kept to my daily discipline of quiet time anyway, and from it I received an added source of strength.
Third, we can stay in fellowship with others! So much of our healing comes through the gate of fellowship with family, friends, church and others. We need to keep our fellowships up-to-date.
Fourth, we can take some definite course of action! When King David was caught in his grief over the loss of his child, he took a bath, cleaned up and went to the Temple. He took action.
Fifth, we can move forward! In essence, grief is sort of like riding a bicycle. The only way to keep our balance is to go forward. If we stand still, we’ll fall over.
Finally, we can trust God! When Job was encountered by God in the whirlwind, he came to realize what was of ultimate importance. No, he could not understand the mystery of why things happen, but he could sense God’s presence through all of his experience. So Job got not what he asked for, but what he needed the most — the companionship of God.
Perhaps John Greenleaf Whittier really did express it best in his poem when he wrote:
“I know not what the future holds
of marvel or surprise;
assured alone that life and death,
His mercy underlies.”