Chapter 3—To Grieve or Not to Grieve

As a counselor I have run into many clients who have deep grief but nowhere to go with it. Instead of being fully alive to all that God and their life may have to offer, they walk about in a type of limbo. Many people are told to shut up or to cover their losses and grief in some artificial way. One of the worst is when you believe that because you “trust God” you shouldn’t be sad, upset, hurting, etc.

Whatever your losses may be, my hope is that that this book can be a help to you in facing losses which come into every life and with this understanding you can help yourself or a loved one make the passage through grief into coming fully alive.

Grief is the pathway for recovery from any loss. Some cultures know better than others how to help each member confront their losses and grief in a way that allows the mourner to go on successfully with the rest of life. Besides grieving death, older cultures provide outlets for other losses as well.

In some, young men are ritualistically dragged from beside their wailing mothers into the initiation of life as men. At the traditional Italian wedding, there is the “last dance” for the bride with her father and for the groom with his mother. I have seen many tears at these events during those dances. These powerful and important rituals give us permission to recognize and grieve loss.

In our culture of disintegrating home and family life, there is less and less structure for any such rituals. Without them or something to take their place, there is little opportunity to grieve the changes and losses of life. If you neglect to allow the process of grief to run its course, you will have to use a certain amount of energy and focus on managing unresolved losses. This detracts from what you have available for present day effectiveness.

Both the Old and New Testaments give examples of people grieving. Sitting in sackcloth and ashes was a way to express deep grieving[1]. Joseph grieved over the rupture in his relationship with his brothers as well as their rejection.[2] Hannah grieved over her bareness.[3] Samuel grieved over the removal of God’s blessing from King Saul.[4] At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept, not because of his death but because of the loss of those mourning[5]. He also grieved over Jerusalem.[6] James exhorted the people of God to grieve over their sin.[7]

We may minimize the effects of loss on our lives. Or we may mistake endless talking about losses as being real grief. Our culture leans toward medicating pain and celebrating victimization—neither of these allows people to move through the stages of grief. Instead, they stay stuck.

There may be a problem for us in understanding the grieving process the way the New Testament church or the people of the Old Testament understood it. The grieving process was a regular part of their lives. Being “emotional” was considered normal when one encountered life losses. If there was a drought or if a marriage failed, the expected response was to be sad and to express grief. For biblical people this was a no-brainer. It was not necessary to explain grief to them: it was already an acceptable, “normal” way of handling loss that was allowed in their culture. And the whole point of grief was to find a way out of sorrow and to move on to fully live again.

Some glorify stoicism in our culture. People greatly admired Jackie Kennedy for not openly grieving the death of her husband. Is it noble and dignified to hide our grief? Sometimes it is necessary. Macho guy movies portray characters that typically push aside sadness or vulnerability after a loss. Recently, though, some of the special ops type TV shows have begun to address the Post Traumatic Syndrome of such people and create an awareness of the need to grieve.

The choice to just be “in pain” seems crazy to most people. We choose other options:

  • We medicate.
  • We stay busy.
  • We shove it down.
  • We try to forget.
  • We blame every strong reaction as being about present day life and refuse to look at any deeper roots.
  • Or we shift to the other extreme of making our lives all about losses and victimization with no movement toward resolution.

Unfortunately, emotions associated with our losses can’t be forgotten. It may be possible to forbid ourselves from expressing feelings related to our losses, but they return to haunt us as new relational dramas, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, depression, illness, and unwarranted outbursts of irrational anger or anxiety. We trade tears for a deceiving web of symptoms. It is easy to see how this extra unaddressed emotional baggage creates difficulty for anyone to be fully, successfully alive!

One of the main tasks of Satan and his army of demons is to keep people from being healed from their losses. He is delighted by all the ways people distract themselves from root issues and what their hearts need for real happiness and fulfillment. The father of lies is an expert in encouraging denial. This especially makes sense when you consider that the end of the grieving process results in resolution of losses and forgiveness—and ending up in deeper connection with God.

Dealing with unresolved losses opens our hearts to healthier, more effective ways of doing whatever else we do. Some Christians fear that allowing people to focus on losses will block other “missions” of the church such as evangelism, discipleship and social causes. To the contrary, effective grieving promotes authenticity and living from a heart level connection with God which brings more power and love to whatever else we are doing. It removes roadblocks to health in the soul.

Is there ever a time and place for choosing to reject sadness, depression and grief? Yes. Sometimes our negative thinking and complaining creates depression. Studies have proven that thanksgiving and appreciation create an environment in our brains that moves us toward joy. God knows what He is talking about when He instructs us to “give thanks in all things.”[8] At the same time, He also told us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”[9] Authenticity about what is in our hearts, when combined with dependence on and intimacy with God has a wonderful outcome!

Obviously, there is a time for every season. God will guide us to the appropriate prescriptions for each need if we can resist relying on static formulas. “One size fit all” doesn’t reflect His way of doing things as displayed in the Bible.

I have often seen two opposite reactions to grief played out in people’s lives. Some run from it. We have multi-billion-dollar industries that aid people in avoiding pain. All kinds of medications may replace tears or a bad mood. If anesthetics don’t take the edge off, elaborate avenues of escapism can. Anything from movies …comfort food…shopping…to pornography and sexual deviation can be diversions from inner pain.

At another extreme, people may wallow in what they think is grief. Here are those who make being victimized a lifelong distraction. Instead of taking responsibility for their loss by grieving it and moving into vibrant life, they become a crusader for the cause against whatever has created their loss. Let me go on record that I am not against movements condemning bullying, racism, and sexual harassment, to name a few. But to stay stuck in what hurt you as the defining characteristic of your life is to neglect the opportunity to move forward and embrace this day, this reality, this possibility!

As believers we need to ask ourselves if we can allow ourselves and others a safe place to grieve. Wisdom and strength are needed to welcome and manage the process of grief. There are pat answers you hear over and over:

  • Your loved one is better off in heaven now.
  • Trust God.
  • Be a good witness to others.
  • You need to move on.

If a priority is “image,” you will present a happy face. This can fool others and even perhaps ourselves. But our growth depends on having connection with the true person deep inside.

Many years ago, I counseled several pastors. One thing I liked to ask them is how many sermons they have ever given or heard on the effects of evil in our lives due to the sin of those around us. Not one could remember such a sermon. Then I asked how many sermons they’ve heard on our own sin and its effects. You can be sure this is a favorite topic.

Why so little on the suffering that evil produces in our lives through parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, or society at large? Secondary to the forgiveness of sins, Jesus wanted us to be victorious when the evil of a fallen world falls upon us.

 “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles[10],” came here to know what it feels like to suffer at the hands of evil men. Does He shy away from our suffering due to evil? Are we to avoid discussing it?

In our performance-oriented minds, suffering must have a “good point.” Do we believe suffering for life’s traumas, such as being unwanted or ignored by parents, laughed at by school mates, passed over for a job, or being discriminated against–to name a few of the evils we may suffer–are allowed without being judged as “soft”? Like Pharisees who split hairs over nuances, we carefully arbitrate and pass judgment on which circumstances warrant a response of pain and for which we must stoically hide any reaction. Out of touch with our true hearts, we aim for looking appropriate and maintaining image. We polish our masks and leave the heart in solitary confinement.

As Christians we can use some good and holy methods of distracting ourselves from grief. Some people force themselves to concentrate on Scripture, others seek ecstatic supernatural experiences to run from pain. Both activities can be extremely helpful at points in bringing healing. But if used to neglect our hearts while we attend to what we believe we should be, these activities can be counterproductive. It reminds me of the verse where Jesus rebukes those who have been doing all kinds of holy things like prophesizing and doing miracles in His name.[11] But He laments that He didn’t know them, He didn’t know their hearts.

Others continually go after “emotional triggers” and “deep catharsis” in the belief that reliving your pain and going over it again and again brings resolution. I have been in a type of therapy where people enjoy the drama of re-visiting their loss. Ironically, this can be another diversion from finishing the grieving process and moving on!

Our dilemma stems from a theology filtered by culture. Although we have an assurance that victory comes from Christ’s suffering at Calvary, we’re disarmed by our own weakness, and feel ashamed of our own pain. Though we might know enough to desire to be broken before God, we stiffen at the first twinge of breaking. Some of this may be because we have no vision for the intense life and fullness that awaits the person who has come alive through grief.

Sometimes we’re ashamed of brokenness. If we feel loss, we quickly conclude that something must be wrong with us. With our concept of “the abundant life” slightly misconstrued, we actually miss out on a good deal of abundance by acting like we have it when we don’t.

Picking up the cross: what does that mean? If we begin to see the cross as God’s culminating act of grief which ushers in great power and positivity, it suggests picking up our cross will involve recognizing and letting go of the losses in our lives for encouraging and compelling reasons.

Whether our losses are self-inflicted by bad choices or caused by the evil choices of others, they both need resolution and won’t go away by themselves. Without proper handling, our losses fill us with many unsavory beliefs, emotions and toxicity which leave less room for the good stuff God has promised to us as His beloved children.

Is it possible to resolve emotional, physical and sexual abuse issues merely by addressing them with a prayer, or our reasoning, or by avoiding them? Is it human to gloss over a life of rejection and isolation, pretending that such evils have no effect on how we view God and others?

On the other hand, is it helpful to live in a toxic environment of constant feeding on the ways we have been victimized or wounded without the vision of finally putting it all to rest and moving forward in new life?

You can exist –numb, feigning joy and wearing a façade of strength, but oblivious to the conflicts buried within your soul. Or you can parade your hurts like a badge of honor with no intention of letting them go. The place where these choices hurt is in your closest relationships: spouse, children, church, and work. Do you have fragile and shallow relationships where love is not sincere or strong? That’s what I had in my life for many years before I learned how to allow myself to grieve. The next chapter tells that story.

(You can purchase this book by Dr. Nancy Moelk at

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[1] See the book of Job.

[2] Genesis 45.

[3] I Samuel 1.

[4] I Samuel 16:1

[5] John 11.

[6] Luke 19: 41-44.

[7] James 4:9.

[8] I Thessalonians 5:13, KJV.

[9] Matthew 5:2, KJV.

[10] 1 Corinthians 1:3b, 4a.

[11] See Matthew 7:21-23.