Because grieving over death is the form of grieving most people address, we may assume it’s the only cause for grief. But life offers many reasons for grieving.
Understand the Causes of Grief
Grieving is highly individual. What may be a cause for grief for some people might be taken in stride by others—or at least they face their trial with a minimum of stress. Some losses are unpredictable, and others are predictable.
Understanding the varied kinds of loss that can cause grief will help Christians come alongside to love, support, and counsel those who grieve. It might even help Christians better understand their own grieving.
Grieving Is Really about Loss
Grieving losses is hard, whether losses are big or small. There are the typical “bigger” losses like loss of a spouse, a close relative, or a dear friend. Other big losses are financial loss with the ensuing loss of stability, loss of a close personal relationship (such as the breakup of an engagement), loss of a marriage through divorce, or loss of health through disease.
Big losses might also include loss of a long-time dream, loss of a job that shuts down a career, or loss of vibrant Christian ministry. Something few talk about—but a loss that’s a source of deep grieving for many—is the loss of a person’s innocence or sense of well-being because of abuse or neglect.
“Lesser” losses might include moving—leaving a home and moving to a new home—or a simple job change. Some might consider loss of a much-beloved pet a “lesser” loss, but others might see it as a “bigger” loss. Graduating from school is also considered a lesser loss, as well as natural loss of physical ability that doesn’t involve loss of health.
What Does the Bible Say about Grief and Loss?
The Bible recognizes the grief that comes from loss. An entire book is given to the grief of loss: the Book of Job. Poor Job—a man God called “blameless” and “upright”—suffered the loss of many things. This should be a reminder that even God’s most choice servants can suffer loss and experience grief.
In his story, Job’s livestock were stolen, his servants (except for one) were killed, and his children also died (Job 1:1-22). Then he was afflicted physically with terrible skin sores (2:1-13). Job deeply grieved these losses. He said “sighing” became his daily food (3:24), and he had no rest, only turmoil and bitterness of soul (3:26; 10:1). But he never turned his back on God. As he placed his trust in God, his grief ultimately became a testimony of praise (19:2-27).
David mourned the loss of a son following a sinful choice (2 Samuel 12:15-23). He also mourned his son Absalom’s rebellion and death (2 Samuel 15:6, 30; 18:5, 33). Whatever the loss, God is near His brokenhearted children when they cry for help (Psalm 34:17-20). He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5); and His Son, Jesus, understands our struggle. He is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3—and yet He says, “Blessed are those who morn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Is it Okay to Grieve “Predictable Losses?”
Although some losses are unexpected and hit hard, other losses are more predictable. We may have more time to consider how we will deal with them, but they can still cause pain and grief.
In many cases, these losses might also be considered transitions, such as we see with the “lesser” losses like leaving or losing a home, changing positions at a job, or graduating from school. Another predictable transition is retirement. While many look forward to retirement, others see it as an end to a beautiful career, and they wonder what they’ll do next. They may even wonder if there’s any hope for a fulfilling life in the future—so in their unsettled state, they grieve loss.
Grieving predictable loss in advance can help ease the pain. Or for some, it might create even more stress. Transitions can leave us in a place of ambiguity, or they can enable us to think creatively and consider new ways of living and moving forward. In times like these, it helps to lean hard on the One who knows the future (Proverbs 3:5-6).
What Are Normal Grief Reactions?
According to psychologists and Christian counselors, there are many normal reactions to loss that can cause grief, and many reactions are learned in childhood. Some feel numb or ambivalent, while others feel sad and depressed. Many who experience loss feel lonely, or they purposely isolate themselves in an attempt to escape. They may experience general listlessness or lethargy.
With a loss of control of thoughts or feelings, there may be an inability to reach out and communicate to others. There may be difficulty with concentration or forgetfulness. People experiencing loss may “clam up” with anxiety, fear, or feelings of frustration and being misunderstood; or they may become irritable and vent their anger.
Healthy patterns may change—perhaps they can’t sleep at night, or maybe they can’t eat. Sometimes they participate in harmful activities or initiate excessive habits like too much television or various addictive behaviors.
One of the more difficult responses to overcome when there is loss is a feeling of guilt or remorse for choices made. Again, we see this in King David, when his guilt over his sin with Bathsheba and her husband’s murder came back to haunt him after his baby with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:13-18a).
Grief Is a Necessary Process for Healing
Imagine the pain that might come after a lost job. Or a cancer diagnosis. Or a marriage breakup. Sometimes the grief from such losses might cause people to feel like they’re going in dizzying circles. The truth is, the Lord desires to help the grieving progress upward toward healing. And it is a process.
Thankfully, believers do not need to grieve like people in the world grieve. Christians are meant to grieve with hope, accepting God’s purposes (Romans 8:28) and anticipating heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21:4).
It’s important to remember that while life circumstances change—sometimes quickly and radically—God never changes. In our deepest moments of loss, He is our surest refuge (Psalm 91:1-4). When depressed over losses, we can look up to Him for help and hope (Psalm 121:1-8); we can allow Him to be the One who lifts our head (Psalm 3:3).
Healing takes time, and the grieving move at their own pace, but God offers answers to many questions in His Word. And when the exact “answer” a person is looking for doesn’t seem clear, Christ-followers can still trust His heart, because He is sovereign, He is good and He is loving.
The scriptures also offer models for good grieving, such as the Lament Psalms.
Ideas for Creating Helpful Rituals
Sometimes it’s helpful to recognize grief within a cultural context. Some cultures have developed rituals and customs for the grieving process that are supportive and enable people to process and express their grief over loss. Rituals surrounding death might deal with how people care for the dying or handle a body after death. Customs about any loss might dictate where grief is loud and pubic, or quiet and private.
These days, Christians are beginning to create spiritual rituals that help with the grieving process. For example, a woman might give friends of her dead spouse packets of seeds to plant in his memory to represent his new life in heaven. A co-worker might create a “giving tree” with tied-on checks or cash to help employees who’ve been laid off at work.
Just as there are “triggers” for grief from loss, Christians can create help for the grieving with new triggers that will encourage healthy responses. For example, for someone who has suffered the loss of a long-time dream, a colorful journal to record new dreams and potential adventures might be helpful.
For those who struggle with a newly-diagnosed disease, a photo book packed with pictures of people who love them and are praying for them might be welcome.
How to Practice Healthy Self-Care
Those suffering from loss need to practice good self-care as much as possible. They might listen to music, read helpful books or take up journaling. If they find it helpful, they might engage in social activities.
Good nutrition, adequate sleep, and regular exercise can encourage those who have experienced loss. Proper rest and relaxation are also helpful in relieving the stress associated with grief. What sufferers shouldn’t do is take abusing substances which can be hurtful and delay the healing process.
Part of good self-care is being patient with oneself and allowing time to feel the grief. Feeling grief is essential before it can be processed.
Be Supportive to the Grieving
Christians can come alongside those who grieve various losses in many ways. They can listen, ask about feelings and the losses—not minimizing the grief; and let them feel the grief, no matter how painful, because grief is a God-given outlet.
Believers might share their own feelings and be ready to share about their own losses. The greatest encouragement is simply being available whenever possible—just sitting with those who grieve can be a blessing.
The grieving are not always looking for people to share answers. They’re often just looking for loving support. However, don’t hesitate to suggest professional care if the grieving become overly-depressed, erratic, or even suicidal. Don’t be afraid to love them by providing the intervention they may desperately need.
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