We experience grief because we have lost something or someone that we love. Grief would not exist if we didn’t care about that which was lost. Therefore, grief is so personal and why it can be so all-consuming and painful. God wired us for grief. Jesus himself showed grief when he wept at the death of his friend.
“But grief still has to be worked through. It is like walking through water. Sometimes there are little waves lapping about my feet. Sometimes there is an enormous breaker that knocks me down. Sometimes there is a sudden and fierce squall. But I know that many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” – Madeleine L’Engle, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage
Sometimes grief can feel like it will swallow us whole. Some days we feel like we can’t possibly face another day of our grief. We wonder if others have ever felt grief like ours and how we’re supposed to keep going. Yes, grief is a tricky experience to walk through. It is one we can never plan for and one we never know when it will show up.
As Christians, we know this world is not our home. We know God conquered death and gives us hope. Yet some believers feel guilty experiencing grief. They may repress their grief because they feel it’s not what a “good Christian” should do. This hope of resurrection can co-exist with grief. They do not need to be mutually exclusive of one another.
If we look at the Bible, we’ll see example after example of grief. Throughout the ages, we see Christians who have come before us walking the road of grief. It’s only been within recent history that Christians have struggled so much with grief. We’ve replaced funerals with brightly colored celebrations of life. We’ve replaced lament with positive quotes and feel-good songs.
This is proving to be detrimental for countless people. Folks are finding they don’t have the tools to deal with grief when it comes their way. We slap on a happy face and keep trudging even though inside it feels like we’re drowning. It doesn’t have to be this way. Grief and Christian faith can co-exist. We can deeply love Jesus and rejoice in the hope of resurrection while grieving what we’ve lost in a Holy and beautiful way.
In this article, we will examine spiritual practices for facing grief. We hope that these practices will help invite you into a way of encountering Jesus in a new way as you walk through your grief. Some of these may be entirely new to you. They may feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but this discomfort is where growth comes.
The Holy Spirit often moves through discomfort and the Holy Spirit is known as our Great Comforter. We invite you to try some of these practices for grief and to pass this article along to a loved one who may be in a season of grief.
Christian Counseling for Grief
A good place to start might be counseling. Working with a Christian counselor gives you a place to process your grief verbally. Your counselor can also help to lead you through these spiritual practices as a guided time together. For some folks, having a guide to gently walk them through new spiritual practices is exactly what they need. You can also spend time talking to them about what the experience was like after you’ve finished the practice.
Your counselor can be a safe person to share memories of that which has been lost – be it a loved one, an experience, a dream, a relationship, or a job. Grief comes in many forms and is a winding journey. Many people find themselves at a point where grief threatens to consume them. This is when a relationship with a counselor is especially important. Your counselor can help you to keep your head above water, prioritize, and process your pain.
Working with a Christian counselor means you’ll have someone who can relate on common ground. They can help remind you of the hope of Christ while also understanding that grief sometimes brings about a crisis of faith. You can find a safe place to express your doubts, questions, anger, and overwhelm with a counselor.
The Prayer of Lament
Lament is a common theme in the Bible. Yet these passages are the least likely to be read in churches. Most Christians have never really heard of lament. It is something the modern church has separated itself from and many believers are trying to reclaim.
The Prayer of Lament is one our Christian ancestors were familiar with. King David shows us Lament throughout the Psalms. We see lament in Job, Isaiah, Lamentations, and other parts of the Bible. It was part of regular spiritual practices for Christians of the past. Those who practice Lament now say they meet God in an entirely new and different way through this prayer practice.
You can do this prayer verbally if you’d like. Many people find they prefer to write out their prayer and either read or pray it aloud after writing. The structure can be a bit difficult to get used to. We’re not used to talking to God in this way, but God will meet us there and invites us into this type of prayer, which is why we see it repeatedly in the Bible.
It is a chance for us to pour out our pain before God and trust that God hears our pain and our grief. Most prayers of Lament end with a period of praise and rejoicing. Some, like Psalm 88, are solely prayers of pain and sorrow.
The steps of a prayer of lament are:
Step 1: Humbly approach God in prayer. Sit in stillness with God.
Step 2: Name what you’re feeling and why you feel it.
Step 3: Welcome these feelings and meditate on them. (We see this in the Bible, with questions like “Why?”, “When?”, “How long?”
Step 4: Express your trust in God’s plan and remember earlier moments of God’s faithfulness.
Step 5: Ask God to take away your lament and pain.
Step 6: Praise and thank God and end with sitting in quiet, allowing God to comfort you.
Centering Prayer is a Christian meditation practice. It is especially helpful during seasons of grief to calm the mind and body. Many who practice it say that during this practice they feel deeply that God meets them as great Counselor and Healer.
As with many meditation practices, it can be frustrating at the beginning. We live in a world where quieting our minds and bodies is hard. Start with a couple of minutes and work your way up in time from there.
The steps for Centering Prayer are:
Choose a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Even if you can only get in 3 or 4 minutes, it will be beneficial.
Step 1: Choose a sacred word. One or two-syllable words work best. God. Hope. Healing. Comfort. Holy. These are all good options. Sit quietly for a moment and choose your word.
(Step 1.5: This isn’t an official step to Centering Prayer but something helpful for a lot of folks when they start. Wiggle. Squirm. Hug yourself. Get any last bit of physical movement in that you need to!)
Step 2: Set your timer and settle into stillness. Invite God to join you in this time.
Step 3: Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Let your mind clear and rest with God. When your mind wanders, return your focus to your sacred word. In the beginning, you may return to your sacred word dozens or even hundreds of times. With practice, this will become less and less.
Step 4: When your timer goes off, end with a period of silence. Choose a prayer or Scripture passage to recite at the end of your prayer time- many people like to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Other spiritual practices that you may wish to explore during seasons of grief:
- Lectio Divina
- Breath prayer
- Walking labyrinths or a finger labyrinth
- Contemplative Eucharist
“Rain”, Courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cross,” courtesy of Aaron Burden, unsplash.com, CC0 License “Tough Times”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Folded Hands”, Courtesy of Reenablack, Pixabay.com, CC0 License