Friday, September 20, 2013

Grieving in a Way That Honors God

I'd planned to write a post on Christians and dying well, but the days got away from me. I planned poorly; I didn't account for the thinking, thinking, and thinking some more required before the writing begins. And here I am, at 10 PM the night before my post goes live with only thoughts—and not enough of those. So I'm doing the only thing I can do, posting a quote from a book I'm reading, the book that started me thinking about dying well in the first place.

A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope includes the Puritan Richard Baxter's tribute to his wife written shortly after her her death, and J. I. Packer's commentary on it. (Will you rescind my membership in the Dead Guys Reading Club if I tell you I like Packer's parts more than Baxter's?)

Here are Packer's notes on grieving well. (The words are all his; I'm the one who formatted it as an ordered list.)
Grief—the experiential, emotional fruit of the bereavement event—is . . . a state of desolation and isolation, of alternating apathy and agony, of inner emptiness and exhaustion. How may such a condition be sanctified—that is, managed, lived with, and lived through in a way that honors God? No Puritan to my knowledge addresses the question in this form, but the Puritan answer would be this: 
  1. Starting from where you are, do what you can (it may not be much at first) to move toward . . . thanksgiving, submission, and patience. . . .
  2. Do not let your grief loosen your grip on the goodness and grace of your loving Lord.
  3. Cry (for there is nothing biblical of Christian, or indeed human, about the stiff upper lip).
  4. Tell God your sadness (several of the psalms, though not written about bereavement, will supply words for the purpose).
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. Talk to yourself (or, like Richard [Baxter], write) about the loved one you lost.
  8. Do not try to hurry your way out of the inner weakness you feel: grieving takes time.
  9. 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).
  10. 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 . . . .
Grieving properly leads back to thinking properly, living properly, and praising properly. God sees to that! "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matt. 5:4). 
If I were going to add one thing, it would be this: Cling to hope. What separates Christian grief from non-Christian grief (or what sanctifies grief) is the certainty of eternal blessings to come. Focus your mind, as much as you can, on the thought that one day you will "ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff).


  1. Thank you, just what I needed today...for a Christain colleague suffering under several losses in a short period; feeling very alone and thinking that it would be nice if one could communicate with the dead, yet knowing that that isn't God's answer. And for a neighbour undergoing painful treatment for lung cancer. From an outsider's point of view, mine, to be reminded what a wise and helpful response is. Hope this book is translated into Dutch - to share with the colleague.

  2. Wonderfully poignant post.

    I would also suggest that this same type of grief can be felt for more than the loss of a loved one.

    The loss that my family experienced began when my husband lost his job of 10 years in May, completely out of the blue and without any warning. We have both experienced these stages of grief and are currently striving to glorify HIM in our circumstances and not be bogged down with the "stuff" of life as we search for a new place of ministry.

  3. A timely encouragement, Rebecca. Thank you so very much.

  4. Thank you so much Rebecca - this is incredibly valuable.

  5. Thank you. Wonderful and much needed post,

  6. Thank you. I've implemented these over the past month. My precious daddy went home to be with Jesus on August 18. He lived with us and I cared for him over 11 years. He was my daddy, best friend, mentor, confidante, prayer partner, book discussion buddy. Over the past week I've noticed I feel more lifted-up, not to say I don't still get teary-eyed, but I feel I'm better.
    Thank you.

    1. So sorry for your loss, Annette. I'm praying you find God's peace in your grief.

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