A Lesson from Jesus in Handling Grief

I’m not an expert on the subject of grief by any means – far from it. Yet recently several friends have had loved ones die suddenly and unexpectedly. I’ve found myself wondering, how are they supposed to handle that?

Then today I noticed a woman at the grocery store who had some sort of Christian bracelet. When I asked about the bracelet, she told me the heart-wrenching story of how her sister had died just two weeks ago of a rare form of cancer.

Wow. How is she supposed to handle that?

As I pondered these situations, a story in the life of Jesus came to mind. John the Baptist – Jesus’ cousin and the preacher who had inaugurated His ministry – was beheaded by King Herod. It was a gruesome event, with the severed head of Jesus’ forerunner put on a tray and given to his persecutors before his friends buried his body.

Knowing that He cared deeply about John, we’re told that John’s disciples “went and told Jesus what had happened” (Matthew 14:10-12 NLT).

So, how did Jesus respond to the news? He apparently didn’t spout a bunch of spiritual platitudes as we might have done. I probably would have offered some lame and inappropriate words of comfort, like “God will work it for good,” or perhaps the old standby, “He’s in a better place now.”

Jesus didn’t do that. In fact, we’re not even told what  He said. However, we can see three significant things He DID in the wake of His grief over John’s death:

  1. He withdrew and spent time by Himself  (vs. 12-13). Often after a loved one dies, we’re surrounded by well-wishing friends and family. That’s fine – up to a point. But Jesus went “to a remote area to be alone,” and usually we need to follow this example. Withdrawing shouldn’t make us feel guilty! It’s part of the grieving process, a necessary step in getting our bearings again.

How long should this “withdrawal” step last? A day? A week? A month? Longer? There’s no way to set a firm time limit, because everyone is different. In verse 23 Jesus again went to be alone, which shows that this step may need to be repeated from time to time. Yet it’s big mistake to get stuck in this phase forever, because we will eventually need to move on to step 2. 

  1. He found people needier than He was  (vs. 14-21). I’ll never forget my first Christmas after experiencing a significant loss in my life. It was going to be an incredibly lonely time for me, but God gave me a helpful strategy: I took my guitar and went to sing for people in a nearby nursing home! Although I’m not sure they particularly liked my singing, they seemed glad I was there. And my gloomy disposition certainly improved as I set out to bless people who were even lonelier than I was.

Of course, Jesus didn’t visit a nursing home after hearing of John’s death. But He reached out to heal a bunch of sick people and then took five loaves of bread and two fish to feed thousands of hungry people.

If you’re facing some kind of grief today, perhaps it’s time to reach out with the love of Jesus to someone who’s needier than you. Taking that step won’t immediately relieve the pain, but you’ll find it beneficial to put your grief in the rearview mirror instead of making it your constant focus.

  1. He (and Peter) walked on water  (vs. 22-32). I’ve probably lost you at this point. First of all, you assume it’s impossible  for you to walk on water. And even if you somehow could pull it off, how could that accomplishment have any bearing on your grief?

But you see, walking on water is a beautiful picture of going beyond yourself and doing something that once seemed impossible. In order to truly overcome grief, something supernatural must take place. Put simply: You need God’s help!

Not only did Jesus walk on water, but Peter did too. Peter did something he never could have done in his own strength – and so can you. Despite the initial devastation brought by your loss, you can make it. You really can be OK again. His grace is always sufficient if you take time to draw upon it (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This story also reminds us to keep our eyes on Jesus amid the wind and waves around us. Grief and fear are frequent allies, and our fears become overwhelming if we focus on the stormy conditions swirling in our path. Miraculously, the Bible says “perfect peace” is available when our eyes are fixed on the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 26:3, Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 4:4-9).

Perhaps, like Peter, your grief and fear have conspired to give you a “sinking feeling” down deep in your soul. But remember: Even when you feel like you’re about to drown in your sorrows, Jesus will be there to grab your hand when you call out to Him.

If you’ve suffered a major loss in your life, there’s a good chance you know a lot more about grief than I do. If so, I encourage you to take time to comfort others with the comfort you’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As you stretch out your hand to others, your own healing process will be accelerated (Mark 3:1-5).

Even though you may feel bewildered by the loss you’ve experienced, never forget that the Lord is WITH you through it all: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18). When grief comes sweeping in like a flood, let it lift you higher and draw you closer to Him than ever before.

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