Christ and Woman

Notes on Grief

(Drawn from a sermon by David Holwick and Adapted by M. Walther for the Grief Support Group, August 19, 2003)


A Sad Story
A newspaper reporter in Chicago received a telephone call. It was from a man named James Lee, and he said he was sending the newspaper a letter containing the story of his suicide. Immediately the reporter tried to trace the call. But he was too late. When the police arrived, the young man was slumped in the phone booth with a bullet through his head.

In one of his pockets, they found a child's crayon drawing. It was all wrinkled up and faded, but obviously the man treasured it. On the back of it a note said: "Please leave this in my pocket. I want to have it buried with me." The drawing was signed by his little daughter, Shirley, who had been killed in a fire just 5 months before.

When she died, Lee had been so full of grief he asked total strangers to attend her funeral so she would have a nice service. He told them there was no family left because Shirley's mother had died when the child was 2 years old.

James Lee could not handle the despair, so he took his life.

I. Christians grieve, but not like others. 1 Thess 4:13 and Matt 5:4

A. Our culture doesn't value mourning.

1) Right after the Vietnam War a newspaper took a poll on the topic of mourning.  The overwhelming majority of those who responded thought individuals should be through mourning between 48 hours and two weeks after a death. Even doctors and nurses who work with mourners on a regular basis assume that mourning ought to be short. They become very concerned if the mourner exhibits characteristics of grief much beyond the first month.

2) According to Ann Kaiser Sterns, when a significant loss has us in its grip, a minimum of six months to a year is usually required for healing. Some aspects of the grieving process continue into the second or third year. Resolution may not come until even later.

B. Jesus mourned.

1) He was perfect and had complete trust in God, but he wept at death of friend Lazarus. John 11:35

2) He also mourned at his own death. (Gethsemane)

C. Christians mourn.

1) This fallen world is a constant cause of sorrow. Psalm 90.10

2) Our hearts need to break with the things that break God's heart. Psalm 78.40

II. Recognizing sorrow

A. Sorrow is the sadness due to a loss.

1) Jesus had perfect faith, yet knew sorrow in Lazarus' death.

2) Sorrow and grief are natural and healthy emotions. They are realistic in the face of this world's real woes.

3) Sorrow is temporary. Our sorrow turns to joy. John 16:20

B. Despair is the loss of all confidence or hope.

1) Christians never need to despair, because we always have hope in Jesus. 2 Cor 4:8

C. Self-pity is the self-indulgent lingering on sorrow.

1) It may involve accumulating sorrows from yesterday and those imagined for tomorrow, bringing all the pain of past and future into the present.

2) Each day has enough trouble. Matt 6:34 Don't add to it.

3) Sorrow is an emotion, not a sin. It depends on what we do with it.

III. Four Stages of Grieving (According to observations of some psychologists)

A. The first stage, numbness, lasts about two weeks.

1) You feel stunned.

2) You do not really feel they are dead.

3) Everything seems unreal.

When the wife of C.S. Lewis died, he wrote:

"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness. I keep on swallowing."

B. Numbness soon gives way to searching and yearning.

1) You become restless and impatient.

2) There may be feelings of anger and guilt, that you don't understand.

3) Anger needs to be allowed to come out.

4) Guilt needs to be addressed…

a) The past cannot be rewritten.

b) Some guilt is for real sin and needs God's forgiveness.

c) False guilt can be created by Satan. The "Satan" means "accuser." We are not responsible for all the bad things that happen in the world.

C. After about five months, the disorientation phase begins.

1) You become disorganized, depressed, acutely aware of your loss. Ps 31:9f

2) If the anger and guilt have not been dealt with, they weigh you down. You may gain or lose many pounds. Actress Helen Hayes described her first two years of widowhood: "I was just as crazy as you can be and still be at large."

3) The disorientation can last as long as two or three years.

D. Reorganization is the last phase.

1) Concentration gets better. Judgment improves.

2) Normal eating and sleeping patterns return.

3) Joy returns. It is God's gift, not a right. Ps 51:8,12

IV. Allow others to grieve.

A. We cannot judge when another person has cried enough or mourned enough.

1) The only instruction we are given about how to handle those who weep is to weep with them. Rom 12:15

2) Allow them to drink their cup of sorrow; share it with them and it will be empty sooner. John 11:33-36

B. There is a place for grief in God's presence.

V. The Church must minister to those who grieve.

A. Three out of every four women will be a widow.

1) LaVonne Neff told a close friend that she was writing an article about widows, the friend responded, "Tell your readers that widowhood has little to recommend it. I still miss my husband dreadfully."

2) Another widow said, "Life's crises must be terrible for people who don't have Jesus for a friend. He certainly got me through a difficult time."

B. Those who have grieved can give comfort to others. 2 Cor 1:4

1) Mourners are more likely to become instruments of God's healing in this world.

2) Behind every hospital and hospice was someone who mourned.

C. Grieving people are open to the promises of God.

1) God is our ultimate refuge. Psalm 46.1

2) Jesus came to conquer death and its fears. Hebrews 2.14-15

3) When he returns, sorrow will finally cease. Rev 21:4


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