Lessons from Grief
As some in our church family and in our larger community have walked through a season of grief these past few weeks, and undoubtedly several others over the past several months and longer, I’ve found myself at times wondering what the pain of grief teaches us.
Our merciful God promises us that he will work all things together for our good, even grief. In times of grief he often grows us in our understanding of his nearness and his goodness, of his mercy and his love. He strengthens us in our hope of heaven and the free grace of Christ.
But there are other lessons as well, certainly more than could be said in a short blog post, and certainly different lessons for all of us in our own unique experiences.
I’d love to hear the lessons you’ve learned sometime and receive encouragement from hearing how God has used times of grief to shape you. As for me, here are three lessons from grief that have stood out recently.
GRIEF REMINDS US THAT WE WERE MADE FOR LIFE WITH OTHERS
Grief points us back to God’s design in the garden. “It’s not good for man to be alone,” God said; therefore, when we are alone because we lost someone we love, we grieve.
Grief wouldn’t exist if we were meant for life alone. If relationships didn’t matter, if family didn’t matter, if friendships didn’t matter, then grief wouldn’t exist. But friendships do matter. Family does matter. Relationships are important. And when those things are lost, we grieve. We hurt because relationships matter.
Grief shows us that we were made for others. It reminds us that walking with others—that’s the stuff of life. Because that’s true, that means that grief shouldn’t send us into a cocoon, seeking to insulate ourselves from others to avoid loss and hurt; grief should send us to others, to the relationships that matter.
Grief reminds us that we should highly value relationships and therefore that we should put a premium on investing in those relationships. It reminds us that we were made to be with others. Yes, life with others can bring great pain, but that pain tells us that life is sweetest when we’re living it with others who we know and love.
GRIEF REVEALS TO US THAT THINGS AREN’T AS THEY SHOULD BE
We long for the time when we’ll be, as the old hymn says, “happy all the day,” but that day is not today. That time is not now. We long for that day, but we don’t possess it. Grief reveals to us that we were made for something more than what we experience in this life.
Grief is a desire for things to be made right. It’s a recognition that things are broken and a deep longing that somehow, someway, someone would fix them.
C.S. Lewis’s famous quote from Mere Christianity points us in the right direction here:
“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Grief is a desire for things to be made right, that is, a desire for which this world can give no satisfaction. Nothing in this life can fix what has been broken or right the wrongs that have been done.
Grief is a longing for those things to be fixed, those wrongs to be righted. It shows us, things aren’t as they should be. And that’s a good thing.
Grief then points us to That Day. Grief corrects us from setting our hope in this day, and instead calls us to set our hope in That Day, the Day when God will right the wrongs, fix what has been broken, and make all things new.
GRIEF DECLARES TO US THAT LIFE IS FLEETING
Finally, and very helpfully to us, grief gives us the critical lesson that we all need again and again and again: this life is a vapor.
Grief is a painful, sobering reminder that life is shorter than we think, and therefore my life, too, is shorter than I think. No one enjoys this reminder, but there is wisdom here. The psalmist prayed: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). There is wisdom in remembering that life is fleeting. It teaches us to value what’s important and to avoid putting stock in what’s not. The wise man evaluates this and stores up treasure in heaven.
But this reminder also points us to the only hope for eternal life, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not removed from grief in this life. Scripture calls him the “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief.” The One who wept with Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus would soon face his own death. But his death wasn’t just any death, it was the death by which we gain life.
Isaiah wrote of him:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4–6
Because of sin, life in a fallen world is fleeting, but through the death of Christ for our sins, our transgressions, our iniquities, there is peace, healing, and life eternal.
Grief is our experience and our teacher in a fallen world, but grief won’t have the last word. Because of Christ there is a day coming when there will be no more “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:5). May grief like we’ve known these past few weeks ultimately serve to point us to keep our eyes fixed on that day.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.