Good Grief

April 28, 2020

Dr. Henry Cloud, Christian psychologist and author, says, “One of the most important processes in life is grief. When bad things happen in life, we have to work through them. Working through bad things is a little like digesting food. In life, we basically digest experience; we walk through it, take it in, use what is useful and eliminate the waste. When someone dies or when there is another kind of loss or injury in life, we have to be able to work through that experience and move on, leaving our hearts available for new experiences and relationships. We get rid of the hurt and pain by grieving and then keep the learning experiences that come with it.”

What are the kinds of things we can learn? Well, generally we can learn about the faithfulness of God. We can learn about the significance of community and how the support of others brings us through. We learn that we are resilient, and if we work at it, we can get through bad things and grow in hope for the next time.

In my opinion, grief is the toughest thing we have to deal with. Suffering just happens to us; we can’t prevent it. But we have to choose to grieve. When we choose it and do it well, it heals everything else. Our souls and spirits are designed to grieve. Good grief leads us to accept the reality of what is, come to terms with it, and then take our next wise steps. Grief helps us get finished with the bad stuff in life and allow our hearts to be open to new, good days. If we couldn’t learn good grief, we would be condemned to our own “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same experiences over and over again without moving forward to a new place.

How can we grieve well? If you are really stuck, I recommend that you find someone who has done it well and talk with them or a counselor or read a good book on grief and loss—and then actually do what they say. If you are struggling and want to move forward, here are thoughts that can help you. Thank you to Dr. Cloud and a few gathered thoughts from others that have helped me over my own losses:

1. Good grief can only be accomplished in the context of relationship. We have to have people, support. We need others to hold us as we go through the process. Sometimes we say about someone, “Why can’t she just let it go?” “Why can’t he go on?” Listen, it’s like a trapeze artist. No matter how capable the trapeze artist is, he can’t let go of one trapeze unless there is another to grab onto for support. If people do not have a support system to attach to, they cannot grieve a good relationship that is lost or a bad one that they need to let go of. People also need feedback, input, and the observations of trusted others to recognize the distortions and emotions they are experiencing. We need people for their love, support, and comfort. We have to “let them in.” This is very hard and challenging for us men but very necessary. It can be humbling but it is very helpful.

2. Structure helps us with this. A good support group for your loss (death, divorce, miscarriage, any kind of recovery or small group, etc.) is very valuable. It gives you a very specific time and place to work on your grief and pain. Crying alone is very difficult. Dr. Cloud says, “Someone should be looking at you when you cry, sharing your tears. You need to know you are seen and heard.” Apart from doing this we choose to be stuck in our pain and grief, which will cause us to be emotionally unhealthy. 

3. Learn to lament with God. Lamenting is learning to feel. When you are in deep grief, it is like your soul has a migraine. Don’t numb yourself. Let yourself feel, and let others feel what they feel too. Don’t lash out. When we are hurting, it’s easy to become very selfish and forget others are hurting too. But when we lament to God He helps us give up revenge and work through anger. He helps us develop compassion for others.

4. Grow your relationship with your heavenly Father. When we are uncertain of what God is doing, we can get very closed up and depressed. The word grief is derived from a word that means “heavy burden.” We all work through things differently, but God “gets” all of us. Talk aloud to Him, even if it seems strange, and say what you think. Spend some quiet time, letting Him bring thoughts to your mind. Some will be new steps you can consider and new thoughts to think.

5. Learn new skills. Go at your own pace, but put new things into place to in a healthy manner adjust to a new normal. New routine, new habits. You will have ups and downs, good days and bad days. But it is crucial to accept and get help.

6. Grieve hopefully. Think about your future here and forever. Your situation, no matter how painful, is temporary. One day God will make all things new.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts usin all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

It is important that we grieve well and completely because then we can be tools in God’s hands to be a comfort and help for those around us.

Back to the start, grief often comes in unexpected waves that can be overwhelming if we don’t have adequate support. We may feel afraid of being overtaken by our grief in public or with people we don’t feel safe with, especially if we already tend to judge ourselves negatively for being emotional or needy. God’s promise is a lifeline: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2). Remember this and move ahead with courage. You are not alone.

When we love and trust God to be with us in all situations, He works for good even those things that are bad, painful, or evil. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We can count on that being true.