Recently at church, during a sermon on God’s call to believers to ‘Rejoice Always’ (1 Thess. 5:16), we were encouraged to reflect on what Jesus has freed us from. Grief is always at the top of my list.
I became a Christian while experiencing an intense period of loss and grieving. While I grew up going to church, I didn’t truly understand the Gospel, and the reconciled relationship God offers His children, possible only through trusting in Jesus death and resurrection. During my time at University, the Christian faith was never far from my mind. I had a desire to know more about God, but I was quite fearful of what others would think of me, which left me in a lonely and doubting place. It was during this time that I found myself in an extended time of loss and grieving. In the short space of three months, I experienced the loss of two cousins, both in young adulthood, and my grandmother.
At the time, about eight years ago now, I described how I felt as my heart being broken three times over. While still in shock over the unexpected death of my cousin, my grandmother died, and I found myself struggling to come to terms with such a loss. When my other cousin died only a few months later following a tragic accident, it felt like the final blow. I felt overwhelmed – with so much loss, with feelings of regret that I didn’t have a chance to really get to know my cousins, and with questions of how God could allow such young lives to be taken.
This time of grief impacted my life in a big way – I cried, a lot. I lost my excitement for University – it became something I just had to get through. I questioned my life values and beliefs. But God met me in this big mess I found myself in.
A particular interaction with God stands out to me from that time. I was sitting in a church pew at my cousins funeral when I felt the Holy Spirit embrace me, almost like a hug, turning my feelings of sadness into feelings of peace. This is an interaction with God that I treasure. He made Himself known to me in a special and real way while I was really hurting. He comforted me in my sadness. The very real comfort I experienced from God that day is described in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
The experience of grief is deeply personal and unique to the individual*. While I’ve shared some of my experience, I can’t begin to imagine the grief of my cousins and wider family, the loss of a brother, the loss of a son… The loss of a loved one is something we can’t truly prepare ourselves for in advance. A close friend of mine recently lost her grandmother. Though she thought she had been through the grieving process, she was surprised to find herself in a fresh wave of grief a few months later.
While grief isn’t something we can prepare for, I know now that I can call upon and find comfort in my God who is acquainted with grief. John 11: 28-37 describes how Jesus wept with the family and friends of Lazarus, who he would later raise to life again. Isaiah 53:3-4 describes how Jesus experienced the human grief and sorrow of rejection and being despised. Not only that, but when Jesus died on the cross He took on every grief and sin that will characterise our lives – past, present and future:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
God understands grief. There is nothing I feel or can feel that he doesn’t understand. This is clear from the Spirit-breathed words of Scripture. The divinely inspired Word of God describes some very relatable descriptions of grief. For example, in Psalm 31:9, David calls out to God in grief: Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For me, the presence of verses like these in Scripture is a reminder that God foreknew all that would happen in our lives. He knew from the beginning what type of emotions, challenges and struggles we would face. The reality that God knows me and understands all that I go through in life brings me such comfort and peace.
Grief, loss and sadness are part of this life. But through Jesus, these things don’t overwhelm me. That is what I mean when I say that Jesus has freed me from grief. It is not that I will not experience grief or loss again – the reality is that I will. But my Saviour will comfort, strengthen and carry me though those times, reminding me of His future promise that one day there will be no more grief:
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away
*While grief is unique to the individual, there are parts of the grieving process that are commonly experienced. ‘On Grief and Grieving’ by David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is a really helpful book of you would like to read more about this.