HAVE YOU EVER GRIEVED —- Moving Forward In 2013

Posted: January 1, 2013 in Daily Life, Daily Living, death, Family, grief, life, loss, love, moving on, Uncategorized


As we turn the page from 2012 to 2013 we all I believe want to “move forward” as we like to say.  We do that in at least three ways…. Forgiving others, ourselves, and even God (not that He needs to be forgiven); by confronting who and what needs to be faced and confronted; and lastly (but not least), by grieving that which has been lost to us if only for a season….

Lets talk about that one for to be stuck in it means a cycle of pain, but to be lost in it because we don’t understand is frightening and holds us back.  The following is an exerpt from the soon to be published Stand Near Without Falling In.  The incidents are real, but the names have been altered…

Isaiah 53:3a

“He (Jesus the Messiah) was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”

Dear Matthew,

Have you ever really grieved personally? Of course you have. In the years I’ve known you I have seen you experience great loss and feel great pain. But let me ask you to examine the depths of grief you’ve lived with. Young or old, married or single, every one of us experiences grief due to various forms of loss and disappointment. Combined with forgiveness, grieving is the way we move from loss toward renewed life. We’ll each experience a gauntlet of emotions associated with the loss of a person, relationship, or something we care deeply about. Even if our way of life is suddenly changed we’ll experience grief. But the grief associated with the death of someone we love is different from all its other forms. That pain is deeper, its valley darker, going beyond description and that which we thought we could endure.C.S. Lewis described this grief like an overwhelming fear. Grief is real. Grief is painful.

It is also necessary.

I ask again. Have you ever really grieved personally? Are you a person who has experienced sorrows, and are you acquainted with grief? Jesus was. Jesus was intimately acquainted with grief, so much so that He was viewed as a man of sorrows. The word translated as “acquainted with” comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to know by personal experience’.

Are you acquainted with grief? May I introduce you?

Who am I? I am the journey that no one wants to take, for I am the journey that seems

to have no end. I am the heavy weight that comes upon you like a smashing blow, leaving you numb, shocked, and dazed I may creep slowly into your soul as you wait by a hospital bed, or I may come through an unexpected call in the middle of the night. When I enter your world confusion will reign. Your body will not sleep, and your mind will not rest. Your emotions will surprise and disappoint you, and rise up when you least expect them to. I will cause you to question your state of mind.

 I am the cloud that makes you feel isolated and detached from those around you. I am the villain that robs your fullness and leaves you empty and hollow inside. As days go by and weeks pass on, my pain takes different forms for now you are alone. You long to hear fromothers, to have someone at your side but your friends have moved on without you, as if you aren’t there. The times you need them most, are the times you see them least. I am with you longer than they expected, and I am stronger than they thought. I am the presence that gives you an appearance of normalcy, when you know inside you’ll never be normal again; for when I come, I bring change that cannot be undone.

 You will feel my presence at night when the bed is single or untouched. You will feel myemptiness in the morning when the chair is filled with only a memory. You will know I am with you in the afternoon when the car isn’t heard, the door doesn’t open, and the phone no longer rings.  

I am the companion of the one now single, trying to raise her children alone. I am the source of the uncertainty and confusion that causes you to strike out at those you love. I am in the tears of the father walking in the cemetery, then standing quietly and alone. I am the silent, knife-like terror, then sadness that comes upon you a hundred times a day when you start to speak to someone who is no longer there. I am the emptiness that comes when you eat alone after sharing meals with another for many years. I am the feeling that you have when her presence is still felt, but only in your mind. I am the unmatched sorrow of a womb now empty that once held life. 

I will teach you to go to bed without giving or receiving that special kiss goodnight. I will be with you when you wish that things were different; when you know they are not and never will be again. I am the whole cluster of changes, fears, and uncertainties that strike at you as you rebuild your changing life. In time, my presence will fade like a night shadow at the dawn. And, like a shadow, you may sometimes see me but not for very long. Your life will become whole again though never quite the same. I am the journey that no one wants to take, for I am the journey that seems to have no end. Who am I? I am Grief. I long to make your acquaintance.

God teaches us that grief is both a painful and necessary part of losing someone we love. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Although I have been in ministry for nearly three decades, one particular year brought me face to face with the depths of grief as never before. During that season God allowed me tofeel what it was like to become a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief in ways I’d never have imagined.

That year, even before the month of March was over, I’d conducted three funerals, each involving a young adult who left behind a spouse and multiple children. In April, there was another devastating loss. After five years of heartache, disappointment, and medical intervention one young couple in our church finally conceived a child only to lose her well into the pregnancy. A few months later they would lose a son in the same way. Sometimes God works in unexpected ways to help us learn Christ.

It was a Sunday afternoon in early January when my wife took a call from a friend. She was obviously distressed after being summoned to a neighbor’s house where the paramedics were working to revive Jason, one of the most energetic and well liked men in our church. At 37,

this man seemed to have a full life ahead of him. He had been in church that morning greeting everyone as usual. Fearing heart problems, his wife, Rita, had taken him to the ER with chest pains only a week or so ago. There Jason was examined and after extensive testing, released to go home. And now, without warning, he was fighting for his life.

When Rita got off the phone my wife related that Jason had been taken to the hospital with an apparent heart attack and was non-responsive. As a cardiac nurse, she knew it didn’t look good. From the onset, my own emotional response went beyond the norm. As a seasoned pastor I’d been through countless emergency situations and deaths, but I could not believe this was happening. As I drove to the hospital, I cried out to God, praying that He would spare Jason’s life. Surely God wouldn’t take this man with five children. I called a friend to begin intercession and cried as I spoke.

But before the evening was over Jason was gone, his precious wife and children engulfed in a grief and life change beyond description. Somewhere along the line I began to realize that my own involvement and personal grief was like none I’d ever experienced either in my life or ministry. Never before had I known such excruciating pain. God was up to something unique and special. Later I shared with my wife that I believed God was actually allowing me to feel the same pain and grief that Rita was feeling. I knew it could be nothing less than a gift from God.

As I tried to do all I’ve written about in these letters, I found nothing sufficient. Words would not come. Texts didn’t feel right. Nothing I had done or used over the past twenty years was in any way adequate for this occasion. But God was faithful, responding to my cries. The message He gave me came directly from His heart to mine. It is number ten in the sample sermons, but it is different than all others.

In the weeks and months to come, I would learn much from Rita as we met to work through her grief, and losses, and the new issues in her life. Even in the midst of her deep pain, she was and is a woman of great courage and faith. One reality she taught me was that grief is not linear, but instead progressive and cyclical. We do not simply move forward or through it until we’re finally past it, but spiral up or down, coming back around again and again to our loss.  The issue becomes not whether we’re grieving but whether or not we are spiraling up or down.

Grief is always unhurriedly progressive.

When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” He referred to mourning as a painful process. It may be painfully slow, but it is progressive.

Haddon Robinson’s little booklet, Grief Comfort for those Who Grieve and Those Who Want to Help, examines the three progressive stages of grief.

First there is the Crisis Phase.

This is when the initial reality of death hits like a sledge hammer into your chest. It may feel like fear, but it’s far more. King David experienced this when hearing of the death of his son, Absalom:

2 Samuel 18:33 “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!”

The word ‘shaken’ means to tremble, quiver, shake; or to be deeply disturbed. When you learn of a death your emotions run wild. You experience all the shock, numbness, and denial that King David did.

“No! It can’t be, can’t be true. She was just here. This can’t be happening to us.” You may cry as never before, while denying it could be true. Your body may react with anxiety, nausea, pain in your chest, and you may have difficulty breathing. Food will be distasteful. Your emotions will alternately run wild and freeze up. It happens. It happens to Christians. We are not exempt from the sorrow of this world:

What do you do? The best and most honest answer is that you survive. God gives the grace you need and you get by one minute at a time, one hour, one day, one night. You do what you have to in practical ways. Just like a person with cancer, you have good days and bad days.One day at a time…

Second, there is the Crucible Phase

This is a refining phase and is often harder than the first stage because it lasts much longer. Months and months, sometimes more. You are disorganized and unsettled in a sense of controlled chaos. You’ve reentered your routines, but nothing feels the same. You go through the motions, but it is a motion without meaning. The emotions of guilt, anger, doubt, despair, resentment, regret and bitterness will disappoint and spring up you when you least expect them.

At times you may question your sanity. Inside you will feel empty and hollow. On the outside you are isolated and detached from those around you. As days go by and weeks pass you’ll long to hear from others, but your friends will have moved on with their lives, while yours stands still.

In this phase your life takes on the appearance of normalcy, despite the fact you know that you’ll never be normal again. This is why your friends, especially those who’ve never experienced personal loss, will have no idea of your pain. Often they will wrongly put you on a time table, telling you to get on with life, but ‘Life’ feels like an act.

Job expressed what this is like:

What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life. Job 3:23-26 [The Message]

Third, there comes the Construction Phase

In this phase you begin to rebuild your life with new patterns for living that are not emotionally tied to the past. The past and person are not forgotten, but you are free to move on and live out God’s purpose for your life. Though you will always return to your loss and its associated pain, in this phase you are spiraling more up than down.

A portion of a letter from Rita:

Dear Bob,

“… I want to thank you, so much, for being there for me. … You helped me discover that no matter what, I will never be alone. God has walked me through my grief so far and I know He will not abandon me. He will be there to see me through my grief and anything else He has for us in the future. I also discovered the incredible strength of Christ. He has given me the strength to carry on. I know now I can do all things through Him. I will never understand why He took Jason so soon, and I will always live with the pain, but I know He didn’t do it to destroy me. My prayer is that this loss is not wasted. And I pray that I become everything He intended me to be. Thank you, Bob for loving me with only the love Christ can give…”


Rita is living in stage three. Her pain is ever present, but so is the power and grace of God. Every day she battles to continue spiraling up, while at the same time missing the one she loved so much.

As God allows us, to become acquainted with grief, He teaches us many invaluable lessons while at the same time empowering us to become more like Christ. It is a heavy gift, but through it we learn to love people like Jesus loves them. The more we experience grief, the better we can empathize and connect with those who hurt so deeply.

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried. Isaiah 53:3-4

Heaven waits, as sweet reward for all who grieve. In my final correspondence along these lines I’ll deal with heaven and what we believe about it. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

In His Grace,


Let us all humbly come before our God and let Him take our hand and walk us forward on the path of life… the life and plans He has for us…. plans for a hope and a future…

11 “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.”  Jeremiah 29:11 — God

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