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Coping With Grief: Ten Things You Can Do – (Matthew 5:4)
By Dr. David L. Goetsch
I am no stranger to grief. In third grade, I lost my family when my parents divorced. I remained with my mother, but my two brothers went with my father. Overnight, my once cohesive family splintered into disparate pieces. Then, my older brother was killed in an automobile accident while visiting me during my senior year in high school. My father went next when I was 21 years old. My mother’s death followed and shortly thereafter my younger brother died.
Over the years there have been others; family members and friends whose lives were cut short. Recently, my mother-in-law passed away at 94 after a long and happy life. I thank God my wife and I were able to care for her in our home during her declining years. These losses, individually and cumulatively, were very sad but what is even sadder is that my experience is not unique. Most of us have lost loved ones and people close to us. There are times when life hurts, when just getting through the day can be a challenge. Grief is part of life in a fallen world.
Grief is deeply felt anguish, sadness, or heartache that results from misfortune, loss, or tragedy. The tragic events or unwelcome circumstances that cause you grief can be life-changing because they force you to make a choice: Do I run from God in anger, bitterness, and doubt or run to God in faith? This is a choice with lifelong implications; one of the most important you will ever make. When forced to make this critical choice, you can ask God to lift you up during your time of need or you can turn your back on God. With the first option, you will receive comfort and a chance to grow in faith. With the second you miss out on God’s sustaining grace and risk losing your faith. Deciding which of these options to take can be difficult when you are overwhelmed by grief. However, which route you take is a choice nonetheless, and the choice is yours.
I have counseled people who, in their grief, became angry at God and turned their backs on him. Sad to say they allowed bitterness and doubt to separate them from their best source of help at the precise time it was needed most. As a result, they are cast adrift on a sea of confusion and resentment without a lifeboat. On the other hand, I have also counseled Christians who in their brokenness ran to Christ. In Him, they found strength, comfort, and the will to go on. Few things are more encouraging than Christians whose hearts are once again filled with hope because they clung to Christ in their darkest days when all seemed lost.
God understands that life sometimes hurts and that his children are going to suffer. Consequently, when we are mired in grief, he wants us to place our burdens at his feet and trust him to bring us through the darkness. If we do this, God will provide hope, healing, and restoration. He will also use our suffering to strengthen our faith, just as fire strengthens steel. This, in turn, makes us better able to cope with the future periods of grief that come with living in a fallen world.
Running to God when mired in sorrow is important because our grief is one of Satan’s favorite tools for undermining our faith. Like the predator he is, Satan creeps up on you in your weakest, most vulnerable moments. Recall the message in 1 Peter 5:8. This verse warns that we should be watchful because the devil is prowling around looking for vulnerable prey. Just as lions and wolves like to attack prey that has been weakened by injury, Satan likes to attack people who have been weakened by grief.
We are most vulnerable to Satan’s nefarious schemes when life knocks us down, filling our hearts with hopelessness and despair. Satan chooses these moments to pull us away from God and into his evil clutches. When this happens, the hope, healing, and restoration that can come only from Christ are replaced by anger, bitterness, and resentment. When life hurts, God offers you hope and healing, but Satan offers only hopelessness and despair. I recommend hope and healing.
When weighed down by grief, just coping on a daily basis can seem like a monumental challenge. Worse yet, just coping—simply getting by—is not enough. God wants to guide you through the darkness and grow your faith in the process. He wants you to do more than just regain your emotional equilibrium. He wants you to emerge from your grief stronger and closer to him than you were before the tragedy that turned your life upside down.
When counseling Christians who are mired in grief, I recommend ten things they can do to not just cope but grow in faith even in the midst of their struggles. The ten strategies I recommend are as follows:
– Refuse to blame God for your suffering
– Understand that recovery is not linear; there will be ups and downs
– Look for God’s purpose in your suffering
– Use adversity to bring you closer to God
– Don’t try to cope with your suffering alone. Ask for help from God, pastors, counselors, and fellow believers
– Know there will be times when it will seem that your faith is faltering
– Help someone else who is suffering
– Use adversity to develop Godly character
– Take the long view; your grief and sorrow won’t last forever
– Share your experience and how you grew in faith with others who are hurting
It is easy to write these ten strategies down in a list, but not so easy to apply them, especially when you are overwhelmed by grief. Seek God’s help in applying these strategies. Only with his help will you be able to enjoy the benefits these strategies offer.
Scripture in Action: An Example
Tomoko had been mired in grief for more than a year when she finally sought help from a Christian counselor. Her husband had taken their twin daughters to a school play while Tomoko stayed home nursing a cold. When later that night she learned that her entire family had been killed, Tomoko’s life fell apart. A disgruntled student walked into the auditorium in the middle of the play and started shooting. Ten people were killed and thirteen others wounded. Tomoko’s husband and twin daughters were the first victims.
At first, Tomoko was too shocked to take in the bad news. Then, once the shock wore off, she went into denial. It could not be true. Surely her husband and daughters would come home safe and sound any minute now. When, day after day, that didn’t happen, she eventually had to accept that the worst news she had ever received was indeed true. This is when she became angry. She lashed out at anyone who tried to comfort her; especially friends whose children were still alive. But most of all she turned her anger on God. Tomoko asked God over and over, “If you really are a loving and caring God, how could you let this happen?”
Tomoko felt alone in her grief. She had alienated the friends who tried to help her and turned her back on God. She soon sunk into a state of depression. Tomoko shut out the world and stopped functioning. Her only therapy was drowning her sorrow in alcohol and drugs. Tomoko’s self-destructive coping methods continued for a year until the insurance money ran out and she found it necessary to seek employment to support herself. But when it became obvious she was in no condition to drive much less seek employment, Tomoko knew she had to do something.
This is when she sought help from a Christian counselor. During their first session, it was obvious to the counselor that Tomoko was angry at God, that she blamed him for her loss. The counselor, Daniel, wanted to show her the ten-step plan for growing in Christ during times of adversity, but Tomoko wasn’t ready, at least not yet. Before she could get on the road to recovery, Tomoko would have to stop blaming God and, instead, look to him for comfort and restoration. Consequently, Daniel decided to focus on her anger at God.
“Tomoko, God did not reach down from heaven and decree that your husband and daughters be murdered. He wouldn’t do that. The tragedy that took your family from you happened because we live in a fallen world, and in a fallen world bad things can happen to good people. Being a Christian does not exempt you from tragedy, misfortune, grief, or sorrow. When trouble rains down, it falls on sinners and Saints alike. But your faith gives you a way to cope with the bad things that happen in a fallen world. It also gives you hope for a future in spite of the bad things. Your life will never be restored until you stop blaming God for the loss of your family and ask Him to help you.”
Daniel could tell Tomoko was resisting his message, but he continued in spite of her skepticism. “Tomoko, Revelation 21:4 tells us that God will take away our tears, mourning, pain, and grief. He has done this already for your husband and daughters, and He will do it for you too, even in this life if you ask Him. Psalm 147:3 assures us that God will heal those who are brokenhearted, as you are now. If you seek his help, God will replace your anger, bitterness, and grief with pleasant memories of the family you love and miss so much, a family that awaits a happy reunion with you in Heaven.
“There may never be a day when you don’t miss your family Tomoko, but God can erase the memories of that tragic night and replace them with better memories of the life you had with your family before then. Tomoko, I know you remember the message in Matthew 5:4 where we read ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ You may never get over having lost your husband and daughters. I’m not sure you should even want to. But you can find sufficient comfort and restoration in Christ to move past this tragedy and begin living again. This is why John14:1 says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Life in a fallen world is going to be difficult and even harsh at times, and our Christianity does not shield us from adversity. But it does offer us hope and restoration during our darkest hours.
“Tomoko, since the day you received the sad news about your family you have been angry at God. You have turned away from the only real source of help you have for dealing with such a tragic loss. It is never too late to turn back to him. Christ knows you are suffering. He will accept you, embrace you, comfort you, and eventually restore you. Stop running away from him and run to Him. The Lord awaits your return with open arms.”
It took several more sessions before Tomoko was ready to put aside her anger and seek the love and comfort of the Lord, but she eventually got there. When she did, Daniel shared the ten-step plan for growing in Christ with Tomoko. She undertook each step in the plan with determination and enthusiasm. After several months, Daniel was able to help her put step ten into practice. Tomoko became his go-to person when he needed to refer grieving clients to someone who had been through what they were now experiencing. Because she truly understood what they were going through, Tomoko could relate to suffering brothers and sisters on a personal level. This made her an invaluable source of wise counsel during their darkest hours. There was even a hidden benefit in helping others who were grieving. Tomoko soon learned that helping others helped her as much as it helped them.
Lessons From Scripture For Your Daily Walk
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord while also learning to cope with grief, learn from Tomoko’s experience and the advice she received from Daniel. There are important lessons in Tomoko’s story. The first lesson is that God is not the author of your grief. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. Rather, God is the only true source of comfort you have when grief darkens your life. This is the message in Revelation 21:4 and Psalm 147:3. God will heal the brokenhearted. He will take away their tears, mourning, and pain. This is why it is important to run to God during times of emotional pain rather than away from Him.
Christ cares so much for His children who are suffering that not only does He provide comfort, he provides assurance that you are blessed in your grief and sorrow (Matthew 5:4). Because of this, you can face life in a fallen world and cope with even the darkest hours you face. Christ tells us in John 14:1 we should not let our hearts be troubled. All we have to do is believe in him. If you will place the circumstances that are causing your pain at the feet of Christ and trust in him, you will find not just the comfort you seek, but restoration too.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com