Journey to Hope – Grief

Based on a sermon from Sunday 6th March 2022

What is grief?

What many of us never fully get is that the tragedies over which we lament are of greater concern to God.  When we weep, God weeps with us.  God is a God who suffers with us in the midst of tragedy.

When we grumble, as the Israelites did in the wilderness, we are grumbling against God!  They had gone through a hard time, being at the beck and call of their Egyptian taskmasters.  And it always appears to be that the longer people are at the beck and call of others the harsher they are treated.  For the Israelites it led to them having to make bricks without the raw materials being provided for them, they had to find the straw and the mud and still make the same number of bricks!  Not an easy thing to do.  They were going through a time of tragedy.  Now in the wilderness they were going through a grieving process.

We’ve all gone through a time of tragedy – the pandemic.  Thankfully we appear to be coming out of it, but now we’re plunged into another one – Russia’s seemingly fruitless invasion of Ukraine – for what ends?  To show who is tougher in the playground?

The longer we go through tragedies the further God can seem to be from us, and so the less we live in the Hope of God.

We struggle to see that there is hope in the world.  However, in God all hope is not lost because the Bible clearly teaches that God is the God of hope.  The word hope in the Bible is from the Greek word “Elpis.”  It means “a desire of some good with an expectation of obtaining it.”  So in a Christian sense we can have a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation!

The truth is this; there is hope in the world.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  And Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It has been said that “The edge of disaster and the brink of a miracle are the same place.”  The last 300 years of history shows us that when cities and nations have been on the verge of collapsing morally, God has raised up people who would pray, and God brought spiritual revivals and spiritual awakenings, and brought people back to “a right standing with God.”

Lent and our Sunday series, Journey into Hope, and our Revival sessions are a time to pray to God and turn our hearts back to Him and turn away from our rebellion against God and His word, so that our children, our families and our nation might have God’s hope and be saved.

But God’s hope can be clouded by grief.  This is the first topic of our series Journey into Hope – grief.  If we are to live in God’s authentic Hope, we need to deal with loss and grief in a manner that is emotionally intelligent, i.e. with the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate our emotions.  But at the same time we need to have the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others.  If we struggle with this, then grief that is not processed well drains and undermines the heart’s capacity to lay hold of the power of God’s supernatural life giving and sustaining hope. 

We commonly only think of grief as being related to death, and in doing so miss the need to grieve over more commonplace losses.  If we don’t recognise grief then we cannot grieve well, and then we get stuck in a pattern of repeating the original loss around us, and so we make poor decision after poor decision.  Every one of us will have experienced grief but many of us have not been taught how to deal with it.

What do we grief over?

  • The death of a loved one, a friend, a colleague.
  • The loss of dreams or of a hope that failed to materialise.
  • Plans that fell apart
  • The loss of relationship/s – divorce, boyfriend/girlfriend, people moving on from our church
  • Betrayals
  • Financial loss and its consequences
  • The loss of a home, a job, a reputation….
  • Loss through your own failure
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of a part of yourself (such as loss of confidence, loss of vision, loss of trust)

The effects of a pandemic on our community of faith?

Covid will have affected us in many different ways as a community of faith:

  • loss of church members
  • loss of church finances
  • members dying
  • members moving
  • members falling away
  • loss of plans
  • loss of momentum
  • loss of time with each-other

5 Stages of Grief

There are five stages of grief…

  1. Denial: Avoidance, Confusion, Numbness, Blame, Fear
  2. Anger: Frustration, Anxiety,Irritation, Shame, Embarrassment,Blame
  3. Bargain: Desire to tell one’s story, Struggle to find meaning, Wanting to make deals
  4. Depression: Overwhelmed, Lack of Energy, Despair, Hopelessness, Over/under-eating
  5. Acceptance: Exploring new options, Willing to consider the future, Coming to a place of peace.

These stages of grief were first identified and named by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 in her book, ‘Death and Dying’.  This process of grieving has been recognised and acknowledged over the last 40/50 years, as well as developed by others.  Grief is a journey that needs to be walked through.  We aren’t meant to camp in it, nor avoid it.  The five stages of grief are a navigational aid to help us recognise and accept the emotions that we experience on the journey at different points.  It’s important to understand that these 5 stages are not necessarily linear.

How we learnt to grieve

Many of us have been taught and trained to minimise or ignore our significant life losses.  We somehow think that if we can do that we will not be ‘brought down’ by the loss.  Loss can feel so traumatic to our souls that the message from others, (from unprocessed grief that others often have) is that if you don’t skip over it, the loss itself will swallow you – that the emotions of grief will destroy you!

This can result in a lack of awareness of grief – we don’t even recognise it.  If it starts to emerge, we find ways of stopping it, burying it, reasoning ourselves out of it – kidding ourselves that “others have it much harder”, saying to ourselves “onwards and upwards”.

The opposite of this is like falling off the horse on the other side!  Our emotions become so huge that all else is eclipsed, including the grief of others, and life falls apart.

Maybe this is what you have done – the grief of the death of a pet during Covid became your main topic of conversation, even to those who had recently lost someone close to themselves.  The emotions can be so overwhelming that they become the focus, rather than the loss itself.

These reactions can see-saw from generation to generation, or indeed from situation to situation, as people try to put right past wrongs, but neither reaction is actually processing of grief, nor is it dealing with loss.

Processing through Grief

In order to walk through grief, we need to pay attention to it, accept it and express it – only then will we learn, receive and grow.  These are some pointers that can help us to process grief…

  • Processing grief is best done with a healthy mix of doing it alone, doing it with God, doing it with others.
  • Connecting to trusted people who are close to you in a vulnerable way is helpful.  The more we withdraw to sort it out ourselves, the longer it takes.  Trusting people when you are in pain and experiencing discomfort is extremely healing.
  • An important aspect is to value what you have lost.  So recognise what was good about that which has been lost.  If a person you love has died, this is often obvious.  You will remember all the good moments.  Flash backs and memories will invade your thinking.  This is your system helping you process.  Go with it.  Write things down, make picture books, find ways to mark and treasure what was precious.  This process is harder, but just as important, if it is a broken relationship, a divorce, a miscarriage, an abortion, a lost job, a failure in a venture, or the loss of health in some way.  This applies to issues brought about through Covid too.

It is important not to dismiss or devalue what you have lost.  Seek to find what was good, what you are actually grieving.  We don’t grieve things we don’t value.  We grieve the good and what could have been if…

  • Sometimes you need to forgive someone for the loss you are experiencing, including forgiving the person for dying – even if it was obviously not their fault.  You may need to forgive people who contributed to your loss, maybe even the church you belong to, the prime minister ….

When a friendship dies or a marriage breaks up, when betrayal seems to be the order of the day or you have lost a job, when people have misunderstood you or accused you – remember to forgive, because it enables you to move forward.

  • When we experience a form of failure we can feel deeply ashamed, as if it were our fault, as if we were not ‘enough’ and we want to hide withdraw and run away from the humiliation.  Don’t let shame define you.  Face your shame, acknowledge yourself condemnation and listen to the Father for His wisdom, truth and affirmation.  Shame is a human emotional expression when false identities get exposed.  God’s presence and His word are key in delivering us from shame-based identities and into true love-based identity.
  • By faith begin to learn to adapt to the new shape that is your world now.  Losses always teach us amazing things about God and ourselves if we can dare to let it.  In the noise of grief and pain we can often learn to hear God’s whisper.  We can lean on His word (His rod and His staff comfort us).  Don’t make an idol of the lost person/s or ministry or state of affairs (or event).  Look up and look forward and choose to believe that God will bring good out of bad, life out of death and joy out of mourning.

Living thoughts

Please consider the following questions…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

In a time on your own, name three losses that have been significant in your life over the last two years of pandemic.

As you think about Grief meditate on these passages from Scripture and ask God to speak to you about the meaning of these verses.  Is there a word or phrase that speaks in a fresh way?  If so, why?

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:13-14

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  Psalm 28:6-7

If this subject has brought things up for you please do get in touch if you would appreciate a listening ear, or someone to pray with. 

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you.  Grant us your light as we enter into Lent;

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love.  Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre