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Godly Grieving

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Friday is going to be rough. I just know it. Friday marks five years since I lost my dad to cancer right there in our living room. Some years it passes with nothing but a few tears and memories, and other years the loss feels so sharp and fresh that it almost takes my breath away. This year I have felt the wave of sadness building since I got back from Alaska. Each day I glance at the calendar knowing that day is coming and feeling like I just might not be able to keep it together this time. But you know what, that’s okay. God didn’t call us to always “keep it together.” He didn’t call us to not feel grief over loss. He didn’t call us to glaze over it and act like we’re fine. But I do believe He asks us to grieve in a godly way. Godly grieving is a topic I’ve thought about a lot. What is it? How do we do it? And in what ways is it different than grieving without faith? I think these are important questions and I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned to help me sort through and solidify it in my own mind before Friday.

Be Honest With God and With Yourself

I’m no expert “griever,” but I can tell you this, the first thing that comes to mind is that godly grieving involves honesty. We need to be honest with God and with ourselves about what we are feeling. For me, honesty involved allowing myself to cry. A lot. And in public sometimes. It’s glamorous, I know… but I believe in the power of being honest with God, telling Him how you feel and leaving it there with Him.

I was in college when Dad passed, which meant I had a full load of classes, a major office in my sorority and a hurting family to try to help through a difficult time. So you know what, whenever the grief or sadness or anger or confusion came over me, I cried. I let it wash all the way through me. And it was okay. People might look at you weird, maybe even stare but it is the most cleansing thing in the world. There may or may not have been a number of coats and sweaters that were taken to the dry cleaners later to clean the sleeves… and I may have been “that girl” who was always crying in the coffee shop at Hillsdale College, but I also graduated from that college, on time, with a cleansed heart and a soul laid bare to God. No bitterness. No lingering anger. Just real, raw, daily intimacy and honesty with my God. Plus, it’s scriptural (which always helps validate my babbling ): “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalms 126:5 Psalms 126:5They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
American King James Version×

Grieve With the End in Mind

The second part of godly grieving is grieving with the end in mind. I realize I kind of stole that from Stephen Covey’s habit, begin with the end in mind. I believe it’s completely normal and okay to sob. I mean really sob, like lose it for a minute or two. Sometimes life is hard and painful and cutting. The difference is that after the sting wears off, we must remember the hope that we have. Paul says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
American King James Version×

We are supposed to be sad when we lose someone. What we are not supposed to do is get lost in it. I am allowed to miss my dad on Friday, but it is not okay for me to become bitter because of my loss. God has given me hope! I will see him again someday! It is right to grieve over the things I will not get to share with him in this life. He wasn’t there to see me graduate, get married or buy my first house. He won’t be there when we have our first child and I can’t pick up the phone and ask for his advice or run into his arms for a hug. There is a hole in my life. It is important that I acknowledge the hole, and then continue living the rest of this life that God has given to me. I have hope and I cannot be so focused on what I don’t have that I miss out on everything I do have. As Job said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21 Job 1:21And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
American King James Version×

Choose Joy

The last thing I want to share today is that sometimes it’s really hard to be joyful in the midst of great loss. But it’s really important to do it anyways. Something I think God is trying to teach me lately is that because joy is a fruit of the Spirit I must learn how to have it. It is not optional. When circumstances in life are difficult, it must come from within .

More and more I am learning that joy is a choice. Sometimes it’s so easy I don’t even have to think about it, and other times I need to muster up the strength to put in a Brian Regan comedy DVD and just laugh—even when I feel like crying. It’s choosing to write someone a card when you feel low yourself. It’s choosing to get up and go for a walk instead of wallowing on the couch. Take a lesson from the wisest man who ever lived when he says, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 Proverbs 17:22A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.
American King James Version×
). Sometimes it’s a battle but we must choose to be joyful.

Deep breath. Sometimes life is hard… but sometimes it’s really great too. I feel oddly prepared for Friday because I know in my heart that it’s okay to be sad and important to be grateful too. I will go to the cemetery on Friday and shed some tears. And then I will offer a prayer of thanks for the 20 years I had with him, get up and choose joy .

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 Revelation 21:4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
American King James Version×

Oh and here is a link to Brian Regan, a clean comedian who has helped me laugh through seasons of sadness:

Editor’s note: This blog was published with permission by the author, who originally published it on her personal website on Oct. 9, 2013, at

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Sorrow is defined as pain of mind, grief and sadness.


  • Ahumble1
    Wonderful, truthful, and straight to the heart. Thx for sharing.
  • Scott Hoefker
    Thanks Rachel…I too look forward to seeing your Dad again…a promise we all look forward to…think of all the things you’ll share with him…thanks again for sharing your thoughts in this article.
  • bergspl
    Thank you so much for your comments and wonderful story. I lost my husband, father-in-law, sister and brother all in the same year. I tried to be strong for my children, but it felt so good when I was finally alone and able to cry. God created these emotions in us. It is important to go through the grieving process, but I found comfort in knowing that I will see these loved ones again. God is so merciful. Thanks again and I pray God will comfort you in your loss. Love, Patti
  • Heather Disher
    Thanks so much, Rachel. My mom died when I was 12 and I know exactly what you mean- sometimes the pain is dull and throbs and sometimes it cuts like a knife. It is so brave to cry and share your pain with others. I wish I had known sooner how important that is. It has been (WHOA?) 16 years since she died. I have learned so much and am such a different person than I would have been. I agree with you on every point. Please keep writing and sharing on :O).
  • allenda1967
    A very good article with a lot of helpful suggestions. There does come a time we have to get up and get moving and get the light off of ourself and think about other people. After my husband died, at some of the worst times when I felt I couldn’t stand the pain, I prayed and asked God to help me bear it and to try to help someone else and He did.
  • Pamela Joan Bartholomew
    Thanks for the article. I lost my dad when I was 27 years old. It has been almost 40 years now. It took a long time for me to stop thinking about him off and on. He was crippled from polio. I was worried about him going thru the great tribulation and he had been having various health problems. I prayed God would take him if he wasn’t going to repent now and 3 months later he died on Memorial Day. When I heard, I started losing a pregnancy, but went to bed for 3 days and it was fine. My mom died 4 years ago. I’m a senior, but I still feel like an orphan sometimes. My family is not very close, so talking to church friends can be comforting. I find it hard to pray, I’m getting hormone therapy for depression caused by too low of hormones for my age. Hopefully, God will soon heal me and give me His joy. He has led me to a Naturalpath Doctor who was able to have a lab give me a full hormone panel and brain chemical tests to see why I had no joy in my life and is giving me natural herbs, hormones, to bring me back to where I should be. He said it may take 6 or 7 months to get there. I’m getting better. I felt like I was getting dementia, but it was a nasty depression that made it hard to get organized and make decisions. It was exceedingly crippling to my life.
  • Steve Myers
    Thanks Rachel! I couldn’t help but think of your dad’s wonderful legacy. I was also reminded of Proverbs 23:24 Proverbs 23:24The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begets a wise child shall have joy of him.
    American King James Version×
    “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, 
And he who begets a wise child will delight in him.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
  • God Seeker
    This may be strange but sometimes I think human beings get too caught up in grief. I know it’s a natural process in human beings but death is a natural process, too. I think of death as a transition now from darkness to a greater life. When my mother passed away 4 years ago I grieved more before she died than at the actual funeral. I continue to remember her every day and to thank God that I had her in my life especially for her Christian influence. I think faith helps human beings balance the emotional scales so we can dwell on the positive things in this life and the next. This is a favorite verse of mine that probably involves grieving and other powerful emotions: 2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
    American King James Version×
    (KJV) “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” If you check this verse in multiple bible versions instead of “sound mind” sometimes “sobriety”, “self discipline” or other translated words are given. I love checking different bible versions because it makes me aware that everything God says has multiple meanings and/or could be multidimensional in scope. Sometimes humans are a little one dimensional in their thinking. Trying to see things from God’s perspective is usually uplifting whenever I let this world get to me.
  • EvanToledo
    Thanks for sharing your very personal feelings! There is nothing wrong with weeping or wiping watery eyes—our loving Savior and coming King Jesus Christ wept more than once and was emotional often—it shows a loving, tender heart, a person who cares deeply for others! May God comfort you as you look forward to His Kingdom and the resurrection of all those who have lived.
  • Eric V. Snow
    Rachel, I thank you for sharing your feelings about your father’s death. I lost mine when I was 15, so I can understand this kind of pain some. You have a very balanced approach in this situation and on this subject. People who grieve need to find some kind of balance between either being totally consumed by their loss or moving on much too quickly in life, which causes self-alienation when they don’t let their emotions have the time to heal. Queen Victoria’s deep mourning after his beloved husband Albert died is a famous historical case of someone who went too far in her grief. I knew Mark Vreeland (Rachel’s father) personally some, and his passing was a deep blow to the local church in Ann Arbor. We appreciated his service to the teens in the State of Michigan and through his public speaking. I still remember one sermonette he gave about tolerance that condemned liberals for proclaiming that virtue while not practicing it themselves concerning others who disagree with their beliefs. He is still sorely missed here in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, UCG congregation.
  • Rachel Henderson
    Thank you all for your comments! I’m so glad this was helpful and relate-able! I appreciate all your comments and I think it is so comforting to know that we are not alone in our losses. God Seeker- I agree with you to an extent. It is a wonderful thing to look at death in the ‘big picture’ as you stated. I am so glad that my Dad’s next waking thought will be when Christ has returned- that is wonderful. However, I think it is normal, healthy and godly for those of us still living to acknowledge the things we will miss in this life. We are physical and will feel loss in the short run, even if we have a clear vision of the long run. Thanks for your sentiments too Eric! He is missed by so many and we can’t wait to see him again!

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