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The darkness of grief

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Grief is something I can count on as sure as I can count on the darkness setting in a little after dinner each night. As a counselor, grief is attached to many of the circumstances that bring people into my office. Whether it’s the grief of an unexpected loss, the sorrow of a broken marriage, or the sadness of a desire unfulfilled.

Counseling often looks like shining light into the darkness of someone’s life. Helping them see Jesus more clearly, tracing the outlines of his face when the dark shadows of sin and suffering and death have left it unrecognizable.

How do we reconcile the deep darkness of this life with the promised kindness of God? It comes in the forms of doubting questions, anguished faces, and angry accusations. One of my favorite places to turn in the midst of grief is to the psalms. Known for their themes of lament, the psalms provide a space that is relatable to the vulnerability of those who are suffering. Consider Psalm 77 --

I cry aloud to God,

   aloud to God, and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;

   in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;

   my soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan;

   when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

You hold my eyelids open;

   I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

I consider the days of old,

   the years long ago.

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;

   let me meditate in my heart.”

   Then my spirit made a diligent search:

“Will the Lord spurn forever,

   and never again be favorable?

Has his steadfast love forever ceased?

   Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious?

   Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,

   to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;

   yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

I will ponder all your work,

   and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Your way, O God, is holy.

   What god is great like our God?

You are the God who works wonders;

   you have made known your might among the peoples.

You with your arm redeemed your people,

   the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

When the waters saw you, O God,

   when the waters saw you, they were afraid;

   indeed, the deep trembled.

The clouds poured out water;

   the skies gave forth thunder;

   your arrows flashed on every side.

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;

   your lightnings lighted up the world;

   the earth trembled and shook.

Your way was through the sea,

   your path through the great waters;

   yet your footprints were unseen.

You led your people like a flock

   by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Christians aren’t immune from dark days. But could it be that one reason we don’t share our grief more openly is because we don’t want to become the lesson for someone else? We do a good job of turning everything into an instructive moment.

Listen to what Diane Langberg has to say about that:

“The mourner tells you what they feel and think. You do not teach. You listen; you bear witness; you read her and you reassure because you understand the nature of grief.

Grief often profoundly impacts someone’s faith. Loss and grief raise questions about God and his goodness and trustworthiness for many people. The Bible recognizes grief as something common to humans and frankly speaks about it in ways that might surprise many in the church. Lamentations expresses deep pain, questions God, and speaks of feelings of abandonment and great sorrow. Such responses to loss, when expressed, are often greeted with criticism or correction from others.”

Church culture sometimes tells us that our grief should look a certain way, or that we need to move on and “trust God.” The scriptures tell a different story. Prolonged periods of sorrow, loss and darkness are woven throughout. In Jeremiah we read, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel weeping for her children she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” (31:15).

Giving yourself permission to grieve has become a cliche phrase. We Christians are quick to criticize the idea as self-indulgent. And yet, Jesus grieved in the garden. This perfect, sinless person who knew exactly what was coming, and who fully trusted in God’s goodness and kindness, still grieved.

Grief makes us uncomfortable. But our avoidance of it robs us of greater intimacy with and dependence upon Christ. It also deprives the body of agreeing together in our grief. Jesus welcomed grief, and allowed its presence to draw people closer together. When Lazarus had died, Jesus was moved to compassion for those who were sorrowful. Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as a, “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

Ultimately, our grief represents our humanness. Facing the darkness reminds us who we are and who God is. We acknowledge that things are not as they ought to be. We become more us when we allow ourselves to experience the darkness, just as Christ let the darkness flood over him on the cross. God understands our grief. He assures us that pain and sorrow are an appropriate response to the brokenness of this world we live in, and he promises to be with us in our grief.

“The Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” -- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4