“Help. My heart is broken.”
This is one of the most common refrains in my counseling ministry. There are many causes: love unrequited, jobs lost, dreams quashed, spouses and children taken. No matter its roots, the pain is unbearably similar for its sufferers. And the question that hangs over it all is this: “Now what?”
Grief is an act as well as a feeling. When hearts are broken, cheeks should be wet. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. There is something about weeping that is incredibly scary. It’s a vulnerable act that floods our thoughts and feelings, leaving us fatigued. Little wonder then that people avoid it like the plague, or feel that they need to make an excuse for it.
But Scripture itself does not take such a negative view on mourning. God does not tell his children to “dry it up!” Rather, God stores our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). In an ancient, arid land where bottles were not a dime a dozen, only precious things were kept in bottles. Even more, God himself weeps and makes no apology for it (Luke 19:41–44; John 11:35). When God finds his heart hurting, his cheeks are not dry, and you should not be ashamed if yours aren’t either.
It’s not enough to merely give our emotions vent; they need to be shepherded (Psalm 120:1; 130:1). Christians are not merely those who weep, but those who weep well. It is not true that our stress, sadness, anger, and negative emotions just need an emotional outlet to release the pressure. This “hydraulic” view of the affections often does more harm than good — before we know it, we can barely put our emotional kettle on the burner before the whistle begins to wail for relief.
Instead, the key is to marry an emotional outlet with hope. This does not mean that we always, at every single moment, need to sustain a conscious feeling of hope alongside our grief — God makes room in Scripture for passages like Psalm 88 and Job 3. He does not ask the believer to take a Pollyanna view of the believing life. But Paul reminds the Thessalonians that their grief is different from a mere emotional outpour (1 Thessalonians 4:13). It is grounded in the truth of the gospel which is the spring of hope and life itself (Romans 15:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17). Gospel hope is the foundation of healthy grief. We may not always see it or focus on it, but it is there, and it will rise again (Psalm 51:12).
Go to Prayer
Grief needs prayer. It is the communion of our souls with their Maker and Sustainer. The Psalter is not just a collection of ditties for believers but a living example of the prayers of the faithful. Praying isn’t about changing God’s mind but submitting the most earnest desires of our hearts to him, and trusting his stewardship with them, even when those desires are aborted.
Christ calls out through prayer in his most desperate hour (Matthew 26:36–39). And Paul tells us that even when we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, mending our prayers on the way up (Romans 8:26). There is something about prayer, about giving unto our Lord those thoughts and feelings which are most intimate, that makes our hearts more pliable to the comfort that only the gospel brings.
God loves to hear the raw, unscripted prayers of his children’s hearts (Psalm 62:8). But prayer is more than just an emotional dump. Our prayers are prayers to a God who has revealed himself and provided for us in his word. In grief, our prayers and our souls will benefit by feeding on God’s word.
Meditating on Scripture forces our hearts to move beyond ourselves and think on the grand scope of God’s redemptive work for his people (Colossians 1:13–14). It gives hope where otherwise there may be none (John 14:27; Romans 8:31–39; Hebrews 13:6; James 1:2). It puts our grief in perspective, reminding us that our heartache is but a tiny glimpse of the pain experienced by God at the cross (Matthew 27:46) — a suffering that he entered into willingly (John 10:18), despising the cost of shame for the joy of redeeming a people (Hebrews 12:2).
Go to Rest
Grief is exhausting. Physically and emotionally, we find ourselves worn out. A persistent and terrible fog seems to descend on our minds and bodies making it hard even to breathe at times like these. Those in grief need rest. More than just physical rest (though often no less), we need spiritual rest. It is in these moments that the words of our Lord seem sweeter than honey:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Resting in Jesus often means intentionally disengaging from the busyness of the world. Choosing to focus what little emotional energy we have on Kingdom purposes helps provide a peace that mere logic cannot explain (Philippians 4:4–9).
Go to Friends
Grief isn’t private. It’s often difficult and humiliating to let someone in on the depths of our pain, but God loves his people too much to let your suffering begin and end with you. Keeping your grief hidden robs the church of our ability to have the unbelievable joy of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
All people at all times do not need to be clued into the depth of the darkness in which you find yourself, but allowing others to walk beside you in your time of distress is a way of serving them, while also allowing them to serve you. It’s a reminder that the life of a pilgrim in this fallen world is far from rose-colored and, someday, when the current trial is behind you, the church will get the benefit of witnessing God’s tangible faithfulness to you.
All too often, Satan uses our grief to indulge our desire to isolate, not only personally but corporately. Gathering for worship just feels like a chore too difficult to manage. When we grieve, it may be difficult to sing, pray, or concentrate in worship. It may feel as if the Lord’s Supper is a hollow activity. But worship is the ventilator of our spirits — keeping us alive when all else seems to fail. Bit by bit, even when we don’t appreciate it, worship is consoling our grief and nurturing our souls back to health.
Weep and Draw Near
In a world where sin infects and impacts all things, it is impossible for believers to make it through without hearts that break. But we have a God who is not silent at such times. He knows, because he has walked in our shoes (Hebrews 4:15). He has felt the terrible pangs of a broken heart. And at such times, he does not tell us to shut up and go away, but rather to weep, draw near to him, and rejoice in him.