Grief. Many of us experience this dreaded and often very intense emotion more times than we hope to in our lives. It can set in after unforeseen changes arise; transition, death, loss, break-up, divorce or any other life-altering event. How do you handle it?
Many people think the clock to getting past grief starts at the time tragedy. However, I disagree. Typically the people who tend to believe this timeline of healing push away their feelings of grief and mourning. They may even be encouraged by other Christians to “pray them away” or have their faith challenged because of their feelings.
I would like to propose a different response when it comes to grief. Pretend for a moment that you have just gone through something life-altering and are left with immense feelings of grief. I want you to imagine grief as a person who is standing outside of the door of your heart. You think you can ignore him, but he isn’t going anywhere. You think to yourself, ‘He’s been standing out there awhile, surely he will go away soon.’ But he doesn’t. He just stands there with a presence that cannot be ignored. You spend months avoiding him and believe that sitting with grief will only make things worse. All the while, you’re barely holding it together. After months of trying to “keep your faith strong” and “praying away the pain,” you begin to question if you will ever begin to move forward toward finding your “new normal.” This is the story of many people who are encouraged to not engage with grief.
This why I believe that the clock to moving past grief doesn’t start when tragedy hits, it starts when we invite grief in. We sit with it. We wrestle with it. We truly feel it.
This completely counters what we have been taught as believers! We have been told time and time again that the negative emotions that we experience are terrible for us and we should not take ourselves to a place where those emotions are welcomed. We have removed a part of us that is essential to being human and created in the image of God…feeling.
When we actually allow ourselves to feel grief, something beautifully painful happens. We break. Our grip loosens and any facade of being in control fades away. Everything that we have tried to hold together, suddenly comes crashing down as we engage with the horrors of tragedy.
Now let me make this very clear, I am not advocating that you live in a state of grief. However, I am advocating that you not ignore grief and that you allow yourself to feel grief without feeling condemnation.
Once we allow ourselves to engage with grief, we can begin to embark on the journey of navigating life while experiencing grief.
Here are 5 tips that I hope will serve you well on this journey:
1.) Don’t stop talking to God.
This may seem like an obvious thing for someone to suggest, but this is often something that people stop doing fairly quickly when they experience tragedy. Keep the conversation going with God, no matter the tone of the dialogue! You may be angry, confused, hopeless, or any number of other emotions. God can handle your words. Even better, he welcomes them! (Personally, I find journaling my thoughts as if I’m writing a letter to God helps me a ton!)
2.) Spend sufficient and adequate time to grieve.
There is no set in stone time for how long it will take to move through grief. You cannot compare your season of grief to someone else’s. Even two people grieving the same thing, will experience and process grief differently.
I am a firm believer in James 1:2-3
“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” There is no telling what else God is wanting to produce in your life outside of the joy and perseverance that James mentions. It might take months or it could take years. What I do know for sure is that you will not be abandoned by God during your darkest hours.
3.) You must be intentional and set aside time to grieve.
Many people who experience loss don’t get the luxury of taking time off from work and life to process what they have experienced. For this reason, I believe that we need to set aside time to grieve. The busyness of life can be a welcomed daytime distraction from the pain, but when you lay in your bed at night and grief is knocking at the door, what are you going to do? Carving out time to grieve (daily, weekly, or monthly) can help you to be sure that you are giving yourself the time to talk to God about what you are feeling, seek direction from Him, and take other necessary steps in your journey of healing.
4.) Don’t live in isolation.
As tempting as it may be to live in isolation, you must fight to stay in community with others. We need a community of supportive people as we go through these transitions and losses because grief should not to be done alone but with a community. I think people often struggle with insecurity when it comes to inviting people into their grief, not because they are embarrassed, but because they don’t want to become a burden. If that is an insecurity that you wrestle with, I would like to offer a solution — Have multiple people in your life that you can “unload your emotions onto.” When you have a community of people that are helping you carry your burden of grief, no one person has to be crushed by your full load. We aren’t meant to walk through difficult circumstances alone, lean on your community of faith!
5.) Celebrate getting through the storm.
Having successfully navigated through the treacherous waters and shed your tears, you need to employ your community and have a celebration that says you have come out on the other side! You can thank your community of faith and God for walking with you through the difficult season of grief. I would also encourage you to write down a letter of thanks to God. Express some of the most difficult times during the storm and how He and others were there with you. This will serve as a great reminder when the tides of life rise again.
My hope for you is that the next time you encounter an unforeseen change, transition, death, loss, break-up, divorce or any other life-altering event that you will lean into the grief and allow yourself to feel. When we do this, I believe we posture ourselves to encounter Jesus right in the middle of our pain and that’s when true healing can begin.