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The Christian response to grief

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All of us will experience some kind of loss and the accompanying grief in our lives. Loss can take many forms: divorce, getting laid off, being diagnosed with illness, and most commonly, death of a loved one. Despite the universal human experience of grief, those who grieve often find themselves feeling isolated, lonely, and misunderstood. Unfortunately, it too frequently occurs among Christians due to good intentions but misplaced faith.

We live in a world that has been completely and thoroughly brain-washed by "the power of positive thinking" and "prosperity preaching." We are required to smile at all times, think happy thoughts at all times, and suppress anything that be even the slightest bit "negative." No pain, no sadness, no loneliness is allowed here -- and not because it doesn't exist. Its existence is very real indeed. But we are forced to suppress it all for convenience and appearances. Just look at the vast selections of Christian self-help books and the huge fortunes of prosperity preaching super-stars. We have somehow convinced ourselves that feeling only a small part of the huge spectrum of human emotions will bring us health, wealth, and anything else we want. Those that bring any "negativity" into our lives should be shunned, as long as we promise to pray for them.

This is not an appropriate Christian response to those who grieve. The Bible makes references to all emotions, including grief. There are countless Psalms, including the traditional favorite Psalm 23, that express deep sadness, anguish, and fear. In Ecclesiastes 3, we read that "There is a time for everything... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance..." Even Jesus experienced grief at the beheading of John the Baptist. On the secular front, psychologists have identified several emotional stages that make up what is called "the grieving process." It can logically be concluded, then, that grieving is a very natural response to a traumatic loss.

What this means is that, as Christians, we should not be viewing those who grieve as "negative" or "not having enough faith." We need not pummel them with Bible verses or constantly ask them to hold hands in prayer. We should avoid clichés like "He's in a better place," "It's all in God's plan" and "God will never give you more than you can handle." While we may have good intentions, many of those who grieve find these types of comments unhelpful and, at worst, hurtful.

Instead of making it our duty to try to make someone "cheer up," what we should instead be doing is comforting those in mourning. While every person's experience with grief is different, the most important thing you can do is validate the victim's feelings. Even feelings we might consider "negative," such as denial and anger, are part of a healthy grieving process. Allowing those who mourn the time and space to work through those feelings is one of the most supportive things you can do.

For more information about grief and grief support, please visit Grief: The Unspoken and National Grief Awareness Day.

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