Perhaps some might wonder where I could have found a more confounding title? Would anyone wish to associate the word “good” with “grief?” Actually it came from the title to a little book I was introduced to many years ago. It has gone through numerous printings and still remains a definitive work on understanding grief. The book is titled, Good Grief, written by Granger Westburg. I have also gained insight from an article by Joey Faucette, Jr.
The truth is most of us don’t like to think about grief until it stares us in the face. Grief is simply a word which describes how we cope with death or loss. It can be good or bad depending on our reaction to it. Let’s focus on how grief can be a good experience.
We are grieving as a nation over the death of a celebrity, over the death of a correspondent at the hands of terrorists, and over the death of a young man which has caused great turmoil in a community. Certainly many who read this have faced death of someone in your family or close to you in the past year. Grief is also a byproduct of other sudden changes in our lives relating to health, job or family situation. And those things have also impacted some of us and we are in the midst of our own grief.
“As a society we tend to avoid talking about unpleasant things, and death is in that category. We want to focus on happy thoughts, the beginnings rather than the endings. We work hard to accumulate and achieve, striving to do our best among the many challenges and difficulties of daily life, and we don’t want it to end. We don’t want to lose everything we have attained, and we prefer not to think about this inevitability”
However, reality is just the opposite. I recall a quote by the past NFL coach of the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, Bum Phillips. In his less than elegant English he once said, “There are two types of coaches in the NFL: them that have been fired, and them that are gonna be fired.”
There are also two types of people in the world; those who grieve and those who will grieve. We can’t escape it. Neither can we avoid it. At some time or another, we’ll all face a situation—either by the circumstances of life, or by the death of those we love, or by friends or by people we trust, or by a drastic change in our environment, or even by own stupidity. It’s a fact that there will be times in our life when we hurt and grieve. Just because you make a commitment to follow Christ, you don’t receive an exemption from grief.
However, our grief doesn’t have to destroy us; Christ offers us hope in dealing with our grief, as a matter of truth, only Jesus can take our hurt and turn it into good grief.
Therefore, it is important we consider positive ways to cope with grief when it occurs and perhaps come out of it with a healthy outlook on life. Let me suggest three ways we can turn grief into “good grief.”
Good grief is first realizing that life will be different because of death. The first thing most of us do in facing grief is to deny its reality. Many times I have had people ask me to tell them that the news is really just a dream or that someone is playing a cruel joke on them. We want to turn back the clock to a time before death interrupted the harmonious flow of life. “Death is somehow supposed to rob others and their loved ones of joy, but not you.”
Recall with me from the Bible how David suffered the loss of a child. His grief was as real as any other parent in that situation. The Bible says in II Samuel 12 that “David arose from the earth, washed, anointed himself and changed clothes.” That means more than he just needed a bath. When questioned by his servants he responded, “Can I bring him back again?”
I am reminded of the story of a little boy who had an incurable disease. He asked his mother one day, “Mommy, what is it like to die?” She was both floored and inadequate to know how to explain. After a few moments she asked her son if he remembered times he would go to sleep in the car on a trip but wake up the next morning in his own bed? The child responded, “Yes, that’s when daddy carried me up to my room.” “That’s right,” she said, “and death is like that. The strong arms of our Heavenly Father carry us to a place He has prepared for us.”
Grief looks different when we think of the Heavenly Father receiving His child. Good grief is knowing life can and will be different rather than denying it happened.
Good grief also is remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Currently I am preaching through Romans at our church and focusing these days in the magnificent Chapter 8. If you have not read it lately it would be great encouragement in so many ways including the subject of grief. The typical feeling of grief is emptiness, a sense of being unloved or even forsaken. Many times this feeling becomes anger focused on God. We question how a loving God could let this happen to us. Remember the power of grief when Jesus cried out in the midst of his torturous death on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In his grief David remembered that not even death could separate him from the love of God. The scriptures tell us that following his change of clothes, David “went into the house of the Lord and worshipped.” That was in a sense a kind of funeral experience for him in which he recognized the providential care of the Lord for him even though his child had just died.
Most of us remember the words from the beautiful 23rd Psalm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me…” These words are an acknowledgement that death is a dark place, but one in which we are not alone. David walked through that valley no matter how dark the night or thick the clouds.
It’s a little like traveling through mountains and seeing a beautiful peak. Rounding a bend further down the road the same mountain is covered in clouds and mist. A child traveling with his parents asked, “Will the mountain still be there when the clouds are gone?” “Of course,” was the answer from his reassuring mother. “It will always be there.”
No matter how difficult the situation of our grief, God will always be there. One of the great comforts of scripture is from Romans 8:38-39 which reads, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Third, good grief is reclaiming the life that is still ours. Grief may rob us of a sense of responsibility as well as enjoyment of the life we still have. Withdrawal is a human reaction. It makes us think we are finding security when in reality we find only loneliness and emptiness.
Again I learn from David. It is said after his worship, something like we would call a funeral, he went “to his own house, and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate.” So what does this mean? It speaks to me of his forward look. He knew life would be different. He remembered that nothing could separate him from God’s love and that he had a future life to live.
There is no doubt that grief has the capacity to cripple our present and rob our future. It is a good thing to feel deeply and be honest about our grief and loss. What we must not do is let it take from us what it does not deserve and what those who have gone from us would never want us to lose sight of. We can act with hope not because we see, but because by faith we know we are seen by the One who loves us.
Good grief looks back but does not remain there. It accepts that life will be different. It lives in the present through the reassurance that vibrant faith and family brings. Most of all it keeps a forward look to make the most of the days ahead because one day each of us will come to the end of our lives.
Few stories of someone’s grief are as touching as the story of Horatio C. Spafford, who lived from 1828-1888. Spafford had known peaceful and happy days as a successful attorney in Chicago. He was the father of four daughters, an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and a loyal friend and supporter of the evangelical leader of this day, D. L. Moody. The great Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out the family’s extensive real estate investments. When D.L. Moody, left for Great Britain for an evangelistic campaign, Spafford decided to lift the spirits of his family by taking them on a vacation to Europe to assist Moody in the meetings.
In November, 1873, Spafford was detained by urgent business, but he sent his wife and four daughters as scheduled, planning to join them soon. Halfway across the Atlantic, the ship was struck by another vessel and sank in 12 minutes. All four of Spafford’s daughters were among the 226 who drowned. Mrs. Spafford was miraculously saved. Horatio Spafford boarded a ship carrying him to rejoin his grieving wife in Wales. When the ship passed the approximate place where his precious daughters had drowned, Spafford received sustaining comfort from God that enabled him to write these words which many of us have sung through the years:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll-Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul. Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and shed His own blood for my soul. And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll: The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, ‘Even so,’ it is well with my soul.”
Let me mention in closing the final thoughts of David about his grief experience. He expresses it so well in Psalms 30:11-12, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
That’s what good grief can do!