Mourning invites us to move into a deeper life

by Steve Prokopchak

It seems that no matter how severe a loss or grief we experience, many people expect we should “get over it” within three months or less. We grow impatient of those who take longer than that in grieving the loss of a loved one or any kind of loss, really. We want people to “move on” as we crave for life to return to a comfortable “normal.” But is normality really the goal in grief and loss?

In the book Authentic Faith, Gary Thomas wrote, “Mourning invites us to a deeper life.” In fact, he goes so far as to say that mourning will not be completed until we reach heaven. “Mourning is the handmaiden of repentance and repentance is the doorway to humility.” Do you agree with that? Truly, we may not know the joy of celebration without also knowing the loss felt in grief and times of abnormality.

Each of us were created for a Genesis chapter one and chapter two world, but we find ourselves living in a Genesis chapter three world—a fallen one. Living outside the Garden of Eden, where there had been a perfect life, perfect job, perfect relationships, and perfect walk with God, has fostered pain and suffering. We now live in a sin-filled, disease-filled, death-filled, and grief-filled world.

In good times, we tend to think we are in control of life. We control our families, our money, our jobs, and our lives. But when crisis or tragedy hits, we quickly realize we are not in control of everything. That feels so uncomfortable and abnormal. When we cannot make sense of situations, we look for something or someone to blame. Ultimately, we may blame God, based on the reasoning that “He is God so He could have prevented this.”

The Three Hebrews

In Daniel chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were facing certain death by a fiery furnace at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Full of faith, they told their accuser, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” And then they added this statement, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of god you have set up.”

These three men were not unfamiliar with pain and suffering. They had faith for deliverance, but they were also prepared for a different outcome. They knew they would win either way. Those words, “But even if he does not” resonate deeply when we are longing for a certain outcome and then actually receive a different one.

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the strength to endure what was ahead. Isaiah 53 forthrightly explains He would suffer rejection, sorrow, affliction, being smitten, crushed, punished, and severely wounded. He was silent in that affliction and took it all for you and me. He endured the suffering of the cross to accomplish our healing, our salvation, and our resurrection life.

Most of us have been stricken by tragedy or grief at some point or another. For some, the pain has been far greater. Psalm 34:19 says, “The good man does not escape all troubles, he has them too.” My very first funeral as an ordained pastor was for an 8-year-old girl who was hit by a truck on a busy street. I have conducted funerals for the premature death of a pastor’s wife and for several friends who have committed suicide. These bring a very harsh reality home to our emotional selves. We are not built to handle such great loss. God did not create us with the intent that we would live in a fallen world where we repeatedly experience horrific tragedy and loss.

I do not believe it is the will of God to initiate anything that will harm, injure, cause disease, cause loss, or bring premature death to us. The inordinate, unimaginable, unconditional, and relentless love of God will not initiate anything contrary to love, respect, and acceptance of His creation. With that settled, we have another question to answer. Can God use these tragedies in our lives? Yes, He can. While He does not author these situations, He does use them to create strength, stamina, and personal growth within us.

So, What Is Really Going on with Grief, Loss, and Tragedy?

During seasons of grief, loss, and tragedy, we will discover the real us. Abnormal pressure will help us to discover what is deeply hidden within our souls and spirits. If there is fear, it will surface. If there is anger, it will surface. If there is faith, it will surface as well. Think about what has been exposed in you during difficult times. It is said that while we love the normal, comfortable times, the greatest level of personal growth occurs during the difficult times.

In 1994, scientists created an experiment called Biosphere 2. An artificial environment the size of two football fields was created in Arizona. Within this biosphere there was a mini-environment including a desert, rain forest and even an ocean. Almost all weather conditions could be simulated, with one exception—naturally occurring wind. Who cares about wind and why do I mention this? In the experiment, it was found that without the stress of the wind, tree trunks grew weak and bent over, unable to sustain their own weight. Wind, it was discovered, was a natural stressor that actually strengthens trees and their root systems. I believe the winds of life do the same for us. They cause us to go deep and grow strong.

Scriptural Solutions

In Acts 27:15-29, Paul found himself facing shipwreck. This was undoubtedly a stress-filled situation, but there are lessons we can learn from this tragedy.

  1. Sometimes during difficult seasons of life, drifting is our initial reaction. Don’t drift away from God. If you’re going to drift, drift toward Him. If we only follow our feelings, we’ll drift in an uncertain path wherever the winds will take us. We, in our grief, must keep God’s truth, His compass, close. It will keep us moving in the right direction.
  2. Don’t discard the truth or throw overboard what you have learned in times of life when there was no crisis or tragedy. It is now when they are most applicable and need to be put to good use. Acts 27:18.
  3. Do not despair. Trust that God is in control. Do not bow to ongoing depression, ongoing anger or blame. Of course, tragedy will bring sadness or anger; we suffer pain-filled thoughts and feelings. But we should choose to not stay in anger, but work through these feelings until we reach a place of peace. Acts 27:20.
  4. Fear will increase your desire to jump ship. Do not, but instead drop the anchor of hope. Recognize your feelings and commit your heart and your flesh to God anew. Acts 27:29.
  5. Stand still, hold tight, trust God and do not make major life decisions during crisis. Some couples divorce due to the pain of grief or the mistake of misplaced blame. Know that God can be trusted; refuse to be shaken. Acts 27:25.
  6. Know whose you are and who you belong to. Know that you have guardian angels who also stand with you; you need not fear. Acts 27:23.

Further Steps of Healing

  1. Remain honest with your thoughts and feelings, but maintain humility and high moral character. Do not do make stupid decisions in your pain, shock, or denial.
  2. Meet with your pastor or your spiritual overseer for counsel if needed. It is amazing what these persons can share and help you with. Leave no stone unturned when discussing your present reality.
  3. Share your story as fully as you can. Don’t hide it and retreat to an inward battle. Stay open and find those friends who will listen without offering a lot of input and judgement.
  4. Remain accountable with your process of healing. Do not get stuck in any one area. Keep moving forward. If you find yourself going backward in any way, reach out for help. This is not a time to be a hero or a loner.
  5. Watch for signs of extended sadness or depression. Remember, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Soon after, resurrection, life, and hope appeared.

As we move from shock, to denial, to anger, to bargaining, to sadness, to acceptance—we must keep moving in order to reach reinvestment. What is the reinvesting stage? Grief can be very inward and individual. Reinvestment is when we realize the need to reach out to others in our grief and begin to move on in a healthy, life-giving manner.

In closing, let’s revisit Adam. While we live in a Genesis chapter three world, it is important to point out we are not left there. In I Corinthians 15 we are told in Adam all die, but in Christ all are made alive. We are assured of the resurrection of the dead. From every grief, every sorrow and every loss there is a promised resurrection.

In verses 45-48 of I Corinthians 15, it is revealed we now have a Second Adam, “a life-giving spirit.” A new Adam, Jesus, came from heaven to defeat death, hell and the grave and all the suffering and loss that goes with it.

We may be in a temporary unfamiliar valley. Psalm 23:4 reminds us there is a valley and a shadow in grief and in death, but we need not fear because God is with us, especially to comfort those who mourn. May we truly learn to trust God even in the times of grief. He is able to bring us through.