Is it strange for you to hear Christmas lyrics outside of the season? It can be for me.
These lyrics speak to a time when there was global heaviness, mourning, tiredness, and exhaustion. But then… they celebrate this tired world being interrupted by a sudden, exciting, surge of hope; followed by a loud proclamation of joy!
Discovering hope somewhere in the journey of grieving loss can feel a lot like this. Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever been caught off guard or surprised by hope and joy in the midst of deep sadness and lamenting?
The Meaning of the Word “Grief”
The term grief, like the lyrics of this well-known Christmas carol, is from an old French word grever which means “to burden.” When we are met with disaster, trauma, change, and loss… we are burdened with the “without.” What once felt known and whole is now gone and the pain of the “gone” and the “without” feels heavy, awkward, and frightening.
As Christ-followers, we have an opportunity to think about grief differently. As Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Without a thrill of hope finding us and breaking in somewhere along the way, our grief can turn into a dark and complicated issue that effects us as long as we live. As author Tim Challies writes, “The reason we have hope is that Christians grieve temporarily. We grieve genuinely, but hopefully, because we grieve temporarily.” Grieving for a season is vital to heal from whatever loss we have been blindsided with. But allowing grief to take up a more permanent residence in our lives- allowing grief to accompany us for the remainder of our lives- can have devastating effects.
As we journey through the process of loss, we either recover (eventually) or we get stuck, and begin to deteriorate. Deterioration can lead to a host of unpleasant, negative, and destructive physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Our sleep is disturbed, we blame and criticize ourselves and partner with skewed beliefs, we are irritable, we experience increased, debilitating guilt and shame, and we adopt physiological conditions like difficulty breathing, nausea, or panic attacks. If we don’t learn to grieve well, we experience another level of loss that exacerbates and deepens our grief. Our minds move from a place of healthy integration to unhealthy dis-integration. People with disintegrated minds struggle to function in meaningful ways and to connect in sincere or significant ways with others, leading to loneliness, isolation, and deepening depression.
The Stages of Grief
Below are two diagrams that I like to use when conceptualizing or trying to understand my own grief, or the experiences of my clients. They are a bit different from the “typical” stages of grief that many of us are familiar with: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While there is some definite validity to those stages, they are often difficult to connect to and feel restricted or vague in their explanation of what one might go through in the process of grief. These two models offer more insight into the possible trajectory of mourning a loss.
Because grief is a universal experience, we all know what the reality is as we look at any grief model: there is no standard path when it comes to the unpredictable, fluctuating, and capricious nature of emotions and thoughts that we experience, when we grief comes knocking. I once heard it said that the process of grief is like blowing up a balloon and releasing it; there is no expected or foreseeable course, it is random and erratic.
Scriptures on How to Overcome Grief
Although it can be challenging to “grieve productively” it is so important to try to move through the stages and hang onto the promises that echo throughout scripture that offer hope in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death:
Psalm 34:18 – The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 147:3 – He heals the broken heartened, binding up their wounds.
Matthew 5:4 – Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
John 14:27 – I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give is not fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
Psalm 46:1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
Psalms 30:5b – Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
John 16:33 – I have told you these things so that you will have peace of heart and mind, Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but cheer up, for I have overcome the world
Jeremiah 31:13 – I will turn their mourning into gladness. I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
Remember that adjusting to and recovering from loss does not mean that you are dishonoring the life that was lost or condoning the trauma that caused the grief… it means that you are closer to finding a new normal and celebrating the hope that is in store for you and those whose lives you influence, as you navigate the remainder of your life.
Your life has meaning and purpose, others can benefit from knowing you, and you have profound value that cannot afford to be concealed or overshadowed by unresolved grief and pain. You are worth the work that it takes to grieve hopefully. If you are ready, allow Cornerstone to help you process your grief as grief counseling is one of our core service areas. Locate a counseling center near you today!