“Your grief is your own.” These words, spoken by a dear friend this past fall could not have come at a more perfect time. In less than a month’s time, I was hit with a series of losses that knocked me flat. My younger brother took his own life. My dog died. My doctor’s office called with concerning lab results. What is a Christian supposed to do at times like this? Where is the instruction manual? I wasn’t sure what suffering for the glory of God was supposed to look like, but I knew I didn’t have much choice but to walk the path set before me.
I’m not an expert in grief. I know there are others who have suffered great losses and are even now facing circumstances that would threaten to undo any of us. At the same time, as one who has traveled through a season of loss, may I share a few things I learned? It is my prayer that the Lord can use my tears for the good of his Kingdom.
In today’s hyper-connected online world, we have the capacity to share news quickly. While places like Facebook can be hotbeds of anger and ugly discourse, I encountered something entirely different when my brother Jody died. Every single post—“I’m sorry for your loss” or “Your family is in my prayers”— was a reminder of a friendship, a relationship, a connection with someone who cared what I was going through. If you are ever in a place where you wonder if it makes a difference whether you say anything or not, please hear me. It does. It matters. It comforts. Those words helped to heal my aching heart.
Suffering in Public
Grief has a way of rearing its unexpected head in the most unlikely of places. I so wanted to worship and be with my local body of Christ, yet I couldn’t hold it together through even one hymn without breaking out the Kleenex. In the early days, the tears would come—and I would let them—at the most inconvenient times and places. This phase didn’t last forever, but I learned to yield to God’s good timing and trust that this was all part of the grieving process.
There was a part of me that sometimes didn’t want the rest of the world to know what I was going through. “How’s it going?” (Did they really want to know? Probably not. Should I say anything? Would I just make them more uncomfortable?) These were new waters for me to swim in and I felt like I didn’t have a life preserver to hold me up. In spite of my uncertainty, I learned a valuable lesson. Being vulnerable and honest, allowing people a glimpse, led to encouragement and deepening of relationships far beyond what I would have expected. For me, allowing others to grieve with me and offer encouragement was the right thing to do.
Suffering with Friends
In three very different ways, three friends were “Jesus with skin on” during this time.
First there was Barbaranne, a wise friend. She ministered to me with gospel truth and gospel words. She reminded me that “pain isn’t alleviated, necessarily, by words of comfort and hugs and the love of others. But does it need to be? Only Jesus will wipe our tears away forever, but in the meantime he gives us one another to share the burdens of grief. I have no words to remove your pain, but I will gladly walk alongside you in your grief and mourn with you.” And she did.
Next there was Jan, an understanding friend. She is also an older sister who knew how it felt to lose a younger brother in tragic circumstances. She sent me texts, almost every day, with Scripture and promises and prayers. She reminded me, in the midst of my “big sister busy-ness” that it was ok to stop and take stock of how I was feeling. She understands grief and gently encouraged me.
Finally there was Diane, a present friend. When I didn’t know what I needed, she did. “What do you need?” “Nothing, I’m fine.” In many ways I was fine. Praise God who gave me the strength to do the unthinkable, to accomplish what needed to be done, to be there for those who needed me. “Rock of Ages” and “A Mighty Fortress” are two hymns with richer meaning for me now. The Lord was my rock and fortress. But at my brother’s memorial, as we bowed and prayed, as the pastor spoke words of reassurance and hope, I wasn’t sure I was fine. And at the “amen” when I opened my eyes to see Diane and her husband standing there behind me, I knew the meaning of true friendship. They drove 2 hours to stand with us because “I couldn’t not be there for you.” Their love for us was a very present love.
Suffering as a Believer
Maybe you are wondering “Where are all the Bible verses? Where is the study with three points, each beginning with the same letter of course, on how to suffer well? Where is the action-list to follow?” I will leave the studies to those more gifted than I, but here is the one truth I can share with certainty: Spend time in God’s word. I had no idea when I committed in January of 2019 to read through my Bible that year how much I would need that habit, that routine, that morning by morning meeting with Jesus. What do Jeremiah, Obadiah, and Ezekiel have to do with grief? I can’t tell you specifically, but I know that each morning, God’s mercies were just what I needed for that day. Some days felt mechanical and some days I just checked the list. But over time, my love for and hunger for God’s word has continued to grow. It is the habits that we incorporate into our daily life that form us and hold us together when life is not so predictable.
This morning, my reading took me to the Psalm 9. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O most high.” (Yes, I am thankful for everything, even the hard events of this past fall. Praise God for his goodness!)
“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Yes, He is!) “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (I’m grateful for the body of Christ, local and beyond, because we all know what it is like to trust our faithful God.)
Grief and suffering may be unpredictable, but they are also unavoidable. Your grief may look different from someone else’s, you will have your own timetable, and you will have your own path. As my friend wisely counseled, “Your grief is your own.” She was right of course, however I would like to add one extra phrase. While our grief is our own, we do not grieve alone. As we give one another the freedom to be in pain and to hurt, let us not forget to walk beside one another along the way.
About the Author:
Renee is passionate about teaching. She loves nothing more than to gather around God’s word with the women of Christ Church in Katy, Texas. She has taught high-school writing and literature and now mentors Classical Christian teachers through the CiRCE Institute. Serving on the advisory board of Covenant College is another joy. Since she has 5 children and 7 grandchildren around the country, Renee’s suitcase is always ready for the next trip. Closer to home you can find her baking, weightlifting, or trying one of Houston’s new restaurants.