Dealing with Grief: Getting Through Life’s Losses
Emmanuel (Noel) Villarivera
I know this as both a pastor, a counselor, and a human being, that everyone has gone through some major losses in life and so I learned many things that I am sharing with you.
Lessons for Dealing with Grief
Now let’s get right into it. The first thing I have learned about going through losses in life and dealing with grief is that:
Loss is unavoidable, but grief is a choice.
You have to choose to grieve. A lot of people choose not to. They stuff it. They deny it. They try to go through all of the losses of life without ever grieving. That’s a big mistake.
There is no life without change. There is no change without loss. And there is no loss without pain. But grief is a choice.
All living things change. The only things that don’t change are things that aren’t alive. If you’re alive, part of life is you’re going to go through changes in life. The things around you change, the things inside you change.
There is no change without loss because, with change, you lose some of the old to grab on to some of the new. And there is no loss without pain simply because we don’t like to lose things. But grief is a choice. You have to choose to let grief in. You have to allow it. You have to allow yourself to feel it.
Why in the world would I ever want to feel grief? Because grief is the key to your spiritual growth. We’ll come back to that but first, just let me say this. When I mention grief, most people think grief is something that happens only at funerals, that it only happens with the loss of loved ones.But you have thousands of losses in your life. You can lose your health. You can lose your job. You can lose a friend. You can lose your finances. There are hundreds and hundreds and even thousands of things that you have in life that you lose. So grief is not simply for when somebody dies. That’s one of the things it’s for. But there are many other things in life you ought to grieve because they’re losses in life.
Because grief is unpleasant most people just try to avoid it. They want to stuff it. They want to put it aside. “I’m not going to grieve. I’m going to get on with my life. I’m going to deny it.”
I want to say to you, that is the cause of many of your problems – unresolved, unmourned grief. Things happened to you as a child, things happened to you at school that you should have grieved over but you haven’t. And if you don’t grieve over it you get stuck at that stage. I’m going to explain that.
Grief is absolutely essential to your life.
Grief is healthy.
The second thing I’ve learned is that grief is healthy.
It is healthy. In fact, it is the only healthy response when you have a loss.
Now the loss could be anything. It could be the loss of a job, it could be the loss of a career, it could be infertility, it could be the loss of an engagement, serious financial problems, stillbirth. All kinds of different things. Maybe the loss of a limb, the loss of a breast, whatever. We all have losses in life.
Grief is healthy. It’s good for you. It’s the only healthy response to loss because it’s unhealthy to deny a loss. Grief is without a doubt the most painful emotion we go through in life. But it’s also the most helpful emotion. How is that? How is grief helpful to me?
Grief is God’s tool to help you get through the transitions of life. If you don’t grieve over your losses you get stuck. And some of you are still stuck at age fourteen or age 28 or age 32 because you didn’t grieve a major loss in your life and you got stuck there. And you wonder why you have anxieties and you have phobias and you have fears and you have low self-esteem. It’s because you haven’t learned how to do good grief.Would you agree that Jesus never did anything wrong? Yes. He never sinned. He never did evil. And Jesus never did anything unhealthy. And yet Jesus grieved. Jesus, the Bible tells us, wept. The Bible says he was a man acquainted with sorrows. When his dear friend Lazarus died, the Bible says Jesus grieved. He cried. In fact, he sobbed.
Here’s what the Bible says in John 11:33 and 36: “When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister [Mary] sobbing, and he saw how all those with her were crying also, his heart was touched, and he was deeply moved… Then Jesus started crying. ‘See how much he loved Lazarus!’ they said.”
Notice that Jesus started crying. Sadness is not a weakness. It is a cultural myth that sadness is a weakness. Weak men are afraid of showing their emotions. Weak men are afraid to cry. Weak men are afraid to get emotional. They’re afraid of their emotions. They’re very weak.
I cry with my clients during sessions all the time. I cried in the car as I was thinking about and praying about some people that I care about deeply who are in some deep trouble. And I was crying out to God.
Nobody has ever accused me of being weak. Weakness and sorrow or sadness are not the same things. In fact, the stronger you are, the more confident you are, the more you’re not afraid to show your emotions.
There are two unhealthy reactions to loss. One is called repression and the other is called suppression. Repression is when I unconsciously try to block out painful thoughts out of my mind. And suppression is when I try to do it consciously. I intentionally say, “I’m not going to think about that hurt. I’m not going to think about that pain. I’m going to put my head down and move forward.”
That is a mistake! To not grieve losses is a mistake. Grief is God’s gift of getting us through the transitions of life. Let me explain it this way: If I don’t let it out in healthy ways, I’m going to act it out in unhealthy ways.I see this all the time. People who, as adults are doing all kinds of bad behavior because they never grieved over an alcoholic dad or an unloving mother or mistreatment or prejudice and bigotry, and things like that on the playground. If you don’t grieve the losses in your life then, as I said, you act it in unhealthy ways.
Another way to say it is this: When I swallow my grief my body rejects it. Doctors have said that a lot of illnesses that people have come from unresolved grief, unresolved regrets, and unresolved resentment.
You could empty most of the hospitals with a lot of people because of that pain in the back or that pain in the rear or my aching neck, a lot of that is caused because we take emotions inside of us that God never intended for us to keep bottled up. He intends for us to let them out.
Loss is unavoidable in life but grief is a choice. You have to choose to enter into it. You have to embrace it. Why? Because grief is healthy. It’s good. It’s the way that you get through the stages of life.
The third thing that I learned (and this is a big one):
God grieves with me!
Your whole ability to grieve comes from God. The only reason you have emotions is that God has emotions. And you were created in the image of God so God gave you the ability to have emotions. The reason you grieve is that God grieves.
Did you know that God gets sad? Did you know that God weeps? Did you know that God sorrows? Did you know that God has regrets when he sees the evil that people do? The Bible says that God is an emotional God.
Your ability to grieve is what makes you different from animals. Cows don’t grieve. Worms don’t grieve. Birds don’t grieve. When you say, “I’m not going to grieve over that loss… I’m just going to put my head down; I’m going to live in denial. I’m going to stuff it.” You are denying the very thing that makes you a human being.
You are denying the very thing that makes you like God – in his image. Animals don’t grieve. Humans grieve because they’re made in the image of God. So you don’t want to say “I’m not going to grieve.” That’s what makes you a human! If you don’t grieve, you are a robot. You’re emotionally no better than an animal because you’re not using the abilities God gave you.
The Bible says that God not only gave us the ability to grieve; God grieves with us. God suffers with us. He is a suffering God. He is a sympathetic God. When I’m in pain, God isn’t aloof. He’s not standing over on the sideline watching and saying “Can’t you get over that? Why don’t you buck up and work harder and take it like a man?”
No. The Bible says God isn’t standing on the sidelines. He enters into your grief. Psalm 34:18 says this: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and he saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Maybe your heart was broken this week, perhaps this month or this year. Or maybe it’s been broken for a long, long time. The Bible says God is close to the brokenhearted. When you think God is a million miles away and he’s nowhere to be found, guess what. He’s as close to you as he can get. You just need to tune in to him.
The Bible tells us that grief is healthy and that God grieves with me.
“Grief”, Courtesy of Kat Jayne, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Paying Respects”, Courtesy of Brett Sayles, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Feeling Dwon”, Courtesy of Durong Nhan, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “In the Garden”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License