“Why did God make me this way? I’ve asked him to change me every day, but he never does. My life is hopeless — there’s no point to trying anymore.” My child curled up in a heap on the floor and sobbed.
I sat down next to him, empty of words and fighting my own feelings of despair and weariness. After nearly eleven years of watching his mental illness turn our sweet, smart, thoughtful child into someone who has no control over his words and actions, pain that I never knew a human heart could endure had filled every crevice of my life.
Words can’t express the grief we feel as parents as we helplessly watch our child suffer. It is one of many intense and debilitating griefs Christians experience. The grief arrives, wave upon wave, until you feel you can no longer remember what calm waters felt like. It comes and goes as it pleases, comes around the least expected corners, and changes you along the way. You cry to God, asking him to mend the brokenness. I know I’m not alone.
Faith in the Midst of Our Tears
Though the shock of pain or the adrenaline of the survival instinct may make us appear strong for a time, “the inward desolation that follows losing something or someone we loved” will eventually find its way to us (A Grief Sanctified, 9).
In the book of Job, we see a man who lost everything — his livestock, servants, and all ten of his children. In one fell swoop, his wealth, security, and family were stripped away. Yet, in response to unfathomable affliction, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20–21).
This is incredibly different than the way most of us respond to trials, Christians included. In Western culture, we’re often uncomfortable with grief, doing our best to avoid the reality that death and decay is evidence that this world is wasting away.
Instead, we strive to appear strong, think positive, and fill our lives with whatever will help mask the pain. Or we grieve, believing we can be excused from worshiping God as we do (we’ll start living for him again once we feel better or the grief has faded). Sadly, instead of allowing grief and loss to drive us to a greater hope, many of us avoid facing brokenness head-on by filling the deep ache with whatever will dull the pain — instead of with God. We rely on other things than our great Comforter or our eternal family.
Grief Is Not a Sign of Unbelief
One reason we see some afraid to grieve with fellow Christians is that they fear it communicates unbelief. But John Piper explains a different reality when he says,
The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial “Praise God anyhow” response to suffering. The magnificence of his worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. And let the rest of us weep with those who weep.
Grief and tears are not the signs of weak faith, but normal and healthy responses to the brokenness of this world. It’s natural to grieve the losses and pain we experience in this life. Denying ourselves the freedom to grieve not only harms us, but denies us the opportunity to experience the sweetness of Christ’s presence in the bitterness of our pain. Refusing to weep over loss keeps away those who would weep with us and him who promises to wipe away every stream upon our cheeks.
Unsettling Land of Grief
We live in the land between present pain and future glory. We live unsettled in our pain, but at peace in Christ’s presence. We trust him in our brokenness, waiting for the day of wholeness and redemption in the coming of Jesus.
And while we wait, we grieve in faith. While it is possible to dishonor God by allowing our grief to give way to unbelief and bitterness toward God (which is sin), we don’t have to respond that way. When we worship God in our grief and declare him worthy of our trust, even in our deepest sorrows — when we choose to rest in his goodness and sovereignty, even when our circumstances feel hopeless — we bring glory to his name. Having hope doesn’t mean we won’t grieve. Having hope means we grieve with the confidence that God “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
And this grief can last longer than expected. Job didn’t, and we don’t, walk through the pain of loss in a week or two, never to feel the absence or pain again. In fact, we typically don’t feel the full weight of our grief until the shock wears off, the meals stop coming, friends stop calling, and the world seems to move on while we are left with our pain, with the daily reminders of our loss. But it’s here, in the unsettling place of grief, that we begin to understand the depths of God’s love and goodness towards us.
It’s here that we come to know more deeply that Jesus, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), is not unfamiliar and distant in our pain. He has given us his Spirit, who “helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Not as They Should Be
When a fresh wave of grief comes, we can let the tears come, cry out to the Lord in our pain, and then remind ourselves of the hope of the gospel. We remind ourselves, like Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). Our grief acknowledges that things are not as they should be, while our hope in the gospel reminds us that our grief no longer tells the whole story.
Jesus paid the ransom for our sins, breaking the power of sin, death, and suffering. When he returns, he will redeem what has been lost, and restore what has been broken. If you are in Christ, your suffering is no longer pointless, but is producing something eternally precious for you (1 Peter 1:6–7).