Our society generally doesn’t like talking about death. In many conversations, bringing it up seems like the boogeyman that shuts down conversations and causes eye contact to be averted.
But death is real. It will happen to you, to me, to all of our loved ones, and everyone who ever lives. (That is, unless the Lord takes us home first!)
While Christ has victory over death, we still face it as a consequence of our sin. And the sting of death is still felt on earth. Because of this, Christians must have a biblically shaped framework for grieving loss so they can process difficult emotions and deepen their hope in Christ.
In Packer on the Christian Life (see my review), Sam Storms shared a helpful excerpt from Packer’s book A Grief Sanctified: Passing through Grief to Peace and Joy on grieving the loss of a loved one. I agree with Sam Storm who said, “Every pastor, indeed every Christian, should take careful note of his advice in helping others cope and eventually overcome this sad experience.”
10 Tips for Grieving the Loss of a Loved One
- Starting from where you are, do what you can (it may not be much at first) to move toward the thanksgiving, submission, and patience.
- Do not let your grief loosen your grip on the goodness and grace of your loving Lord.
- Cry (for there is nothing biblical or Christian, or indeed human, about the stiff upper lip).
- Tell God your sadness (several of the psalms, though not written about bereavement, will supply words for the purpose).
- Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t. (That bit of wisdom is not original to me, nor was it distilled in a grief counseling context, but it is very apropos here.)
- Avoid well-wishers who think they can cheer you up, but thank God for any who are content to be with you and do things for you without talking at you.
- Talk to yourself . . . about the loved one you lost.
- Do not try to hurry your way out of the inner weakness you feel; grieving takes time.
- Look to God as thankfully, submissively, and patiently as you can (and he will understand if you have to tell him that you cannot really do this yet).
- Feel, acknowledge, and face, consciously and from your heart, all the feelings that you find in yourself at present, and the day will come when you find yourself able, consciously and from your heart, to live to God daily in thanksgiving, submission, and patient hope once again.
Did you notice any themes in this list? Packer repeatedly stresses thankfulness, submission, and patience because they are crucial in the grieving process: We must not forget to constantly thank our merciful God (1 Thessalonians 5:18), submit to His sovereign will, and patiently wait for consolation, healing, and ultimate redemption.
Grieving loss is hard in a fallen world, and there’s no way around it, no “easy” button or fast forward button to press. But for the Christian, there may be no greater opportunity to draw near to God and contemplate His goodness to us in Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection remove the sting of death for believers and fills us with living hope for our glorious future.
My hope is that as you grieve now or in the future, you would not waste your season of grief, but deepen your love for the Savior and understand what it means to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). And if you grieve (or will grieve) the loss of loved ones who were in Christ, my hope is that our lost world would take notice of those who grieve with gospel hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).