As we head into another holiday season, I find myself reflecting on the painful subject of grief. If you’re like me, the holidays have a way of triggering lots of emotions, especially when we have suffered a loss of some kind.
The fact is, we all experience various losses during our journey through life. These result in grief over such things as…
- Lost loved ones or deceased pets
- Divorce or other broken relationships
- A job loss, failed business, or bankruptcy
- A church split and departed friends
- The reality of growing older and facing declining health
- Divisions in our nation and the shift away from Biblical values
I don’t know about you, but I’m astounded by how many of these circumstances I’ve already encountered in my life. Grief is a universal human experience. No one is exempt, not even those with strong faith.
Yet I’ve recently concluded that grief isn’t all bad. Surprisingly, it often results in awesome changes. We see this in the story of Nehemiah, which began when he received some very bad news:
Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:2-3 NLT).
Like Nehemiah, perhaps you’ve received some distressing news. For you, it’s not a matter of city walls being torn down or gates being destroyed by fire. Instead, maybe your family, finances, church, or health are in ruins. Consequently, you feel like you or loved ones are experiencing “great trouble and disgrace.”
How do you respond to news like that? Nehemiah openly grieved!
When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4).
You see, it’s okay to grieve when you experience a loss. Nehemiah sat down and wept for a while as part of his grieving process – and perhaps you should as well.
Yet it’s crucial to see that Nehemiah didn’t allow himself to get stuck in his grief. Yes, he wept, but he also began to fast and pray, turning his heart to the Lord for healing and for answers.
Although I don’t know what his prayer life was like before he received this disheartening news, by the end of the story Nehemiah was praying powerful prayers. His grief had moved him closer to the Lord than he had ever been before.
Clearing the Rubble
I’m not going to share the entire book of Nehemiah, yet I encourage you to read it on your own. It’s an inspiring story, and I can put it all in a nutshell:
Nehemiah let his GRIEF motivate him to take ACTION
and REBUILD the walls of Jerusalem!
Do you see how powerful this principle is? Whenever we suffer a loss, we have a choice to make. We can sit and sulk forever, blaming others or feeling sorry for ourselves…or we can take prayerful action and begin to rebuild.
But hey, let’s be honest: Rebuilding isn’t an easy process. Nehemiah had to remove lots of rubble before he could even begin to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:14, 4:1-2, 4:10).
If you’ve faced a devastating loss, you know what rubble looks like. With your strength at low ebb, it’s a daunting task to remove the debris, let alone actually rebuild something beautiful.
Dealing with the Naysayers
Nehemiah’s recovery from grief faced other challenges as well. If things weren’t difficult enough already, it turned out that many people we’re happy about his plans to rebuild the walls of his beloved city. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were among the naysayers who did everything they could to demoralize Nehemiah and his team of builders.
I wish this wasn’t so timely for you and me today! However, if you’ve ever tried to rebuild some area of your life, you’ve no doubt discovered that some people refuse to cheer you on. Still today, there are naysayers who would be happy to see you remain endlessly stuck in your grief:
- Instead of rejoicing in the new relationship you’ve found after your divorce or bereavement, they give you 100 reasons why they don’t feel right about it.
- Instead of applauding your new business venture, they keep reminding you of past failures.
- Instead of pointing you to the goodness of God and His ability to help you rebuild, they reinforce your fears and negativity over your difficult circumstances.
Yes, my friend, here’s the bad news: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are alive and well. Amid a rebuilding process that was already hard enough, you’ll discover that you must battle for your new life. As in the days of Nehemiah, you’ll learn to hold a sword in one hand, even as you use a trowel in the other (Nehemiah 4:16-18).
Are you weary of the battle today, my friend? Does the rebuilding process seem just too difficult? Believe me, I understand. But I’m counting on the great outcome we’ll see if we don’t lose heart and give up (Galatians 6:9).
Like Nehemiah found, I encourage you to remember where victory comes from. As you continually look to God in prayer, I’m confident you can maintain hope despite the challenges of rebuilding. Weary as you may feel at times, keep in mind this wonderful insight from Nehemiah’s story: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Out of the ashes and rubble, may hope arise in your heart today!
The joy of the Lord is our strength! My beloved father-in-law just died a couple of weeks ago and I could list about 20 other serious losses I have experienced over the last month. How do I cope? Knowing I am deeply loved by the Lord brings me immeasurable “joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” as the old hymn says. May we all stay in His presence as we deal with all the deep pain and grief. Thank, Jim for your encouraging words.
The pandemic and election are enough to cause grief. In addition, family connections must go on a back burner for those of us past middle age–and, does it seem like there are more deaths this year not related to the times? Thank you for the encouraging words.