Grief is not a Four-Letter Word

One of my profs posted this blog post on Facebook yesterday from a young lady that is grieving. No, she did not lose a loved one as that is typically what we associate with grief. But she is experiencing a loss of a dream, a desire, something that will make her whole. She wants a baby but for whatever reason, it’s just not happening.

Now for some of us, that doesn’t mean too much. It doesn’t touch me at all. My kids are 23 and 14 (almost 15) and that shop, along with any further desires have long been closed up. But for the person experiencing that loss, it is a hard thing to take regardless of whether we understand it or not.

For some odd reason, I find there to be a general expectation that grief should not touch the Christian. Or if it does, it is only for “qualified” reasons and should have a very short shelf life. I find that typically we treat grief like a four letter word – something that needs correcting that we really shouldn’t say. We’ll tell that grieving person that it’s their problem, their attitude needs adjusting or worse, that they are not devoted to Jesus enough. Not only is that insensitive to the grieving person, but it completely negates why the grief is experienced.

We should be honest about grief and understand that it comes in may forms not just death of a loved one. Nobody wants to experience it and yet it happens.

Merriam-Webster provides these definitions:

  1. A deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement
  2. A cause of such suffering
  3. Mishap; misadventure
  4. Trouble or annoyance.

The picture that is painted here is “loss”. Not just any loss but one that is felt down to the core of our soul. Grief impacts us with a sadness that is difficult to explain and can occur from any circumstance in which loss is experienced. If you can’t understand the loss that doesn’t mean it is not there.

The bible is full of people who experienced grief. Hannah was such a woman, a godly woman who remained barren in a culture where childbearing was a mark of favor. Her barrenness was her loss and her grief. To make matters worse, her loss was exacerbated by the taunting of other wives, childbearing women, women who possessed what Hannah desired the most. The taunted her because the priest gave Hannah a double portion of meat because the Lord closed her womb. (1 Samuel 1:1-6)

This went on year after year, the text says. Hannah’s loss affected her deeply. Even her husband could not console her. He would ask her “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8)

Today, we would most likely tell Hannah that she just needed to fix her eyes on Jesus and not be so idolatrous. Hannah, look at what you do have. If God wanted her to have a child she would have one and she should sacrifice that dream. Or my personal favorite, “just let it go”. The young lady who wrote that blog post heard it and I’ve heard it too with loss that affects me deeply. But in the end, they are shallow, myopic prescriptions.

Hannah couldn’t ride that pollyana puffy cloud or hide it when she went to the temple to pray.

In bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head (1 Samuel 1:10-11)

When she prayed, her grief was so bad that words could not even come out of her mouth. Eli thought she was drunk (1:12-14).

Not so, my Lord, Hannah replied. I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief (1:15-16)

How insulting it would have been to go in and tell Hannah her pain was not real or worse, created by her own inability to let it go. Hannah felt loss, a deep and abiding loss that only restoration would make right.

Restoration. That is what we need when loss is experienced. Our humanity is a tremendously complex animal. When we suffer loss, brokenness or any type of damage it impacts us. Sure we can pretend that it is not there, but the reality is that an impact is an impact that can happen over an extended period of time.

There are things that continue to stab me in the heart, reminders of loss and harm that I can’t wish away, think away or pray away, the longing to be loved and valued and embraced especially having my eyes opened to the reality that when I should have been, I wasn’t. That reality only made it worse. Only restoration will make it go away, that gnawing ache for vindication and restoration.  And just like the young lady who longs for a baby, I too have been forced to watch the contrast of those who get it and wonder why the Lord has opened up this reality only to be taunted with other people’s parties…four years in seminary and counting.

But how interesting that the text says the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb. Maybe it was so to drive her to that place of ultimate sacrifice that she might not have otherwise. After all, her son Samuel was a prophet who spoke for God. His ways are not our ways, says Isaiah.  I don’t know why he doesn’t grant this young lady her wish to have a baby. And I certainly have given up trying to figure out why my situation has gone the way it has despite angst-fill prayers. I know he has looked into the depth of my heart but for whatever reason, has not responded yet. But it doesn’t take away the grief. The best I can do is turn to the Lord with it whenever I feel that pang stab me in the heart and just trust him with it.

Grief is not a four letter word to be despised. It is a five letter word that many people experience.


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