After many years of diverse career experience, I was excitedly counting down the days until my retirement. I eagerly anticipated being in control of my schedule and time while enjoying a slower pace of life. I envisioned more days devoted to serving in ministry at my church and deepening relationships...
It is hard to talk about loss. And it can be hard to listen when a person speaks about grief. But God has called His people to grieve together.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).
Lamentations gives us a picture of what it means for grieving people to speak and for others to listen. The entire book is a sustained outpouring of sorrow in which the painful details of all that has happened, and all that was lost, are poured out again and again.
If you read Lamentations from beginning to end, you will be struck by the repetition. Grief is like that. It is not linear. It circles back over the same ground. Every detail of what has happened is rehearsed.
A grieving person will often want to talk about the smallest detail of their loss. Imagine a priceless vase or ornament that is dropped on the floor and smashed to pieces. The woman who loved it kneels down and picks up the pieces one by one. She looks at each one in detail, turning it around, as if to remember where it once belonged. When you listen to a grieving person, you may feel that the detail they are telling you is small. But it is part of something supremely valued and dearly loved.
Be Quick to Listen!
Donald Howard writes on the importance of listening to those who grieve:
Let the bereaved speak. Statements such as ‘You must often think of the time when you did such and such together…’ are ways of initiating discussion.1
In reality, the opposite often happens. A widow is talking with friends and one of them remembers a funny story about her husband. But he holds back from telling it out of consideration for the widow. Had he told the story, the widow would probably have laughed; perhaps there would have been a tear in her eyes, but she would have thought it wonderful that her husband was still remembered.
Those who grieve wonder: Does anyone else remember? Does anyone else care? So, don’t be afraid to speak about someone who has died to a person who loves them. You can bring comfort to a grieving person by helping to keep the memory of their loved one alive.
Talk—Don’t Hold Back!
There are two sides to weeping with those who weep. First, there must be brothers and sisters in Christ who are ready to listen. And second, the one who grieves must be ready to allow some brothers or sisters into their sorrow.
That isn’t easy. Your first instinct in grief may be to put on a brave face and determine to do your weeping on your own. But that’s not what we find in Lamentations.
God calls your brothers and sisters to weep with you. So with whom will you share your tears? Who will you allow to share in your sorrow and loss?
Wise people choose carefully with whom they share their deepest thoughts. Some are better able to listen than others. Some have deeper compassion than others. And those who have walked the valley of sorrow will be able to relate to your loss in a deeper way than others who have yet to pass through it.
But it is never God’s purpose for any of His children to grieve alone. God has called your brothers and sisters in Christ to weep with you. So allow others into your grief, sorrow, and loss.
One writer tells the story of G. K. Chesterton, whose sister Beatrice died at the age of eight. Chesterton’s father responded by “turning Beatrice’s picture to the wall, getting rid of all her possessions, and forbidding anyone to mention her name.” 2
Thankfully, our culture today is much more in touch with the importance of speaking about pain and loss. But a grieving person can only speak about their pain and loss if other people are ready to listen. There are two sides to every story.
You Can Talk to Jesus About Your Loss
There are many wonderful statements in the Bible of why Jesus Christ came into the world. In one of them the Messiah says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to… bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all who mourn… that they may be called oaks of righteousness” (Isa. 61:1-3). Christ came into the world so that you may be able to stand and endure through your grief like an oak tree. He came so that you would not be destroyed by it.
Our Lord knows all about sorrow and He is well acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). In the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mat. 26:38 NIV). When your soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, remember that your Savior has been there. Jesus knows what it is to weep.
And Jesus is the Savior with whom you can talk. You can’t talk to your loved one who has died because there is a great gulf between this world and the next. But if your loved one was in Christ, he or she is with the Savior, and you can talk to the Savior about your loved one who is now in His house. You can tell the Lord how much you miss him. You can tell the Lord how much you love her. And you can do this knowing that he or she is very close to the One with whom you are speaking.
The Savior knows what it is to walk sorrow’s path. When you pass through the valley of sorrow and loss, you are in a place where Christ can be found. And any path on which you come closer to Jesus will be blessed, even if it is a path you would never have chosen to walk.
This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Tears and Talk,” from his series For All Who Grieve: Light and Hope in Lamentations.
1. Donald Howard, Christians Grieve Too (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1980), 25.
2. Peter Barnes, “The Loss of a Child,” Banner of Truth: Issue #292, January 1988, 17.