Honor Losses with Grief

Mitchell_review_20200514

Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anniversaries can be painful. I remember one patient in the emergency department. He was loud; he was obnoxious; he was threatening. When I spoke to him, I was startled to learn he was also grieving—his brother had died at age 40 from alcohol abuse. He was now 40 and also abused alcohol. In remembering his brother, he also feared his own death. In All Our Losses: All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson remind us that grief can accompany losses other than death and is often mixed with other emotions.

Mitchell and Anderson start by observing that grief—the normal response to loss—is much more common than most people believe (9).  Their book is organized around three questions:  (1) Why do people grieve? (2) What are the dynamics of grief? And (3) how can we help those who grieve? (10-11). At the time of writing, both authors were professors of pastoral care.  Mitchell served at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis; Anderson served at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Mitchell and Anderson observe that grief is both natural and unavoidable.  They write:  Just as there can be no life without attachments, there can be no attachments without eventual separation and loss.  Grief has its beginnings in the twin necessities of attachment and separation (21). One example of this principle of attachment and separation is the child before and after birth (20).  Another example is the child’s distinction between me and not me, and later—not me but mine and not mine (23).  All losses and separations are painful, in part, because they remind us of our limitations and eventual death (31).

Mitchell and Anderson identify six major types of loss, including:  1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (36-45).  They then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses:  1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left (46-50).  Surprisingly, they observe that:  Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional (51).  It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

The complexity of grieve arises because it is more than just a single emotion and it includes physical responses as well.  Mitchell and Anderson cite 7 elements of grief: 1. Numbness, 2. Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 3. Fear and anxiety, 4. Guilt and shame, 5. Anger, 6. Sadness and despair, and 7. Somatization—physical reactions (61-81).

In my experience as a chaplain intern, I was struck by the pervasive nature of grief among the patients that I visited and by the number of physical ailments triggered by intense or unresolved grief.  Grief was a part of more hospital visits—especially in the psyche ward and the retirement facility—than any other factor.   Mitchell and Anderson suggest that care givers be sensitive to 4 elements.  Give people:  1. Permission and space to grieve, 2. Recognition of importance of and support for grief, 3. Encouragement to share, and 4. Help in reintegrating in life (111).  They remind us as caregivers of Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount:   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 ESV; 165).

Among pastoral care professionals, Mitchell and Anderson’s book is a classic.  Grief and loss ministry remains underappreciated, in part, because death is an embarrassing subject in our youth-oriented, post-Christian society.  Because our culture denies death, the pain of death and other losses is amplified by ignorance and uncertainty.  Mitchell and Anderson shine a light into this dark corner of life.  As such, this book makes a helpful gift from time to time.

Honor Losses with Grief

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Card Explores Lament

Card_review_20200325Michael Card.  2005.  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament.  [Also:  Experience Guide].  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Grief is a postmodern embarrassment.  American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping.  As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions.  Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.

In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7).  Songs to sing?  When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation.  Lamentation is a song of grief.

Introduction

In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation.  He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.  A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.

Biblical Walk

In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God.  In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God.  Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death.  Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously.  In turn, God honors our anger.  Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God.  Here lies the path of our salvation:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).

Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie.  When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.

Assessment

A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God.  In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible.  Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.

Card Explores Lament

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Mark 15: Holy Saturday (4)

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, Grave“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.

And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath[1] and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.

A Grieving Holiday

Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts.  In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.

The Theology of Lament

The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)[2] These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition[3], Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.

Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times:  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.

Joseph of Arimathea

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave [4].

Holy Saturday Reveals our Theology

Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?

Footnotes

[1] Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).

[2] Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.

[3] Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.

[4] What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.

Mark 15: Holy Saturday 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer

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Grief Defines Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 6, 2020

Stephen_W_Hiemstra_20200125b
Stephen W. Hiemstra 2020 (Ken Burtram Photography)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Grief and Identity. After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on this link.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Grief Defines Identity: Monday Monologues (podcast) April 6, 2020

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Grief Defines Identity

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101My Father, if it be possible, 

let this cup pass from me; 

nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. 

(Matt 26:39)

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The emotional tension within ourselves is never greater than when we mourn, which requires a decision: do we turn into our pain in self-pity or do we turn to God in faith? Standing in the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus turned to God when he faced this decision.

The decisions we make and the pains we bear shape our identity because they are both unavoidable and costly—we do not normally choose to experience pain. Pain and grief transform us and the only emotion that appears in the Beatitudes is grief.

We grieve when we lose something important. In writing about the second Beatitude, Evangelist Billy Graham (1955, 20–26) identified five objects of mourning:

  1. Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness
  2. Repentance—before you can ask for forgiveness, you must recognize your sin;
  3. Love—our compassion for suffering of brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our response to Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbor,
  4. Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost; and
  5. Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

These objects of grief can also be categorized functionally, as:

  1. Material loss;
  2. Relationship loss;
  3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream;
  4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy;
  5. Role loss—like retirement; and
  6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (Mitchell and Anderson 1983, 36–45).

Each loss is unique and must be separately grieved which takes time and energy. When we neglect to take the time to grieve our losses, the grief does not magically disappear; it can come back in the form of sudden outbreaks of anxiety or depression without obvious explanation—emotional hijackings. We try to avoid grief because it reminds us of our mortality and, in doing so, frequently challenges the flawed assumptions that we prefer to live by.

Loss and grief were not always ignored, as my grandfather taught me when my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of being over one hundred years old, my grandfather expressed his love by caring for her at home and set an example of sacrificial love and faithfulness that I will never forget.

Saint Francis of Assisi said it best:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved; For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life (Graham 1955, 24).

The griefs we bear and the choices we make strengthen our faith, define our character, and temper our relationships, working in us like the refiner’s fire (Mal 3:3).

Jesus teaches: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4)

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

Grief Defines Identity

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Prayer for Joy in Sorrow

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of All Compassion,

Draw near to me in my grief, oh Lord. Let me not mourn alone, but instead turn to you. I remember how you walked with me during sunny days—days when the trees were bright with leaves and the flowers bloomed along the beach and the hills and the forest.

Now that autumn has come and the days grow shorter, be ever near as a I walk along stormy paths that wind through the shadows and under leafless trees.

Forgive my aloofness, ever at a distance, thinking that the sun would always shine and warm breezes would stay near. Forgive my tight-fisted attitude, grasping at time, grasping at resources, grasping for myself.

Grant me a clear mind, a generous heart, and helpful hands through your Holy Spirit, Almighty God. That I might be like you—now and always.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Joy in Sorrow

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Believer’s Prayer

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Worden Explains Grief

Worden reviewWilliam Worden.[1]2009. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner.New York: Springer.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The problem of unresolved grief could reasonably be described as posing a silent healthcare crisis. When I worked as a chaplain intern at Providence Hospital about half of the patients that I visited had presenting diagnoses brought about or complicated by resolved grief. This outcome is no doubt related to the unwillingness of American culture generally to respect the grieving process and of many people to participate in organized religion where they might better share their grief with a support group. Unresolved grief may lead to anxiety and depression or simply be confused with both.

Introduction

In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, William Worden writes:

“In this book I am using the term ‘mourning’ to indicate the process that occurs after a loss, while ‘grief’ refers to the personal experience of the loss.”(37)

He further explains:

“I make a distinction between grief counseling and grief therapy. Counseling involves helping people facilitate uncomplicated, or normal, grief to a healthy adaptation to the tasks of mourning within a reasonable time frame. I reserve the term, grief therapy, for those specialized techniques, described in chapter 6, that are used to help people with abnormal or complicated grief reactions.”(83)

Worden spends the first half of the book explaining the process of mourning and dealing with uncomplicated grief. The second half of the book focuses on complicated grief and special situations that arise.

The Mourning Process

Worden (39-50) divides the process of mourning into four tasks:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss,
  • Working through the pain,
  • Adjusting to a world without the deceased, and
  • Finding connection with the deceased while moving on.

The first task is to get beyond denial—a funeral with an open casket helps mourners get over the denial. The second task has to deal with the pain that may be accompanied by anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, and loneliness. The third task is to account for all the activities that the deceased shared with you and to find alternative arrangements. The fourth task is the re-evaluate your relationship with the deceased while moving on.

Challenging Grief Situations

Getting stuck in any one of these four tasks may flag a case of complicated grief. Generally, complicated grief is a consequence of having a complicated relationship with the deceased. Complications might include unfinished business, broken relationships, co-dependencies, or psychiatric issues. Factors inducing guilt or shame normally complicates the mourning process.

Special circumstances arise when the grieving person is prevented from participating the normal mourning process, such as suicide, physical absence, death from AIDS, or death of someone involved in an affair. Sudden death or multiple deaths pose other special circumstances.

Background and Organization

William Worden has most recently been a professor of Psychology, Rosemead Graduate School of Professional Psychology, California. He has taught and practiced psychiatrics at a number of institutions. His doctorate and final post-doctoral work were at Boston University. He also has a seminary degree.

Worden writes in ten chapters:

  1. Attachment, Loss, and the Experience of Grief
  2. Understanding the Mourning Process
  3. The Mourning Process: Mediators of Mourning
  4. Grief Counseling: Facilitating Uncomplicated Grief
  5. Abnormal Grief Reactions: Complicated Mourning
  6. Grief Therapy: Resolving Complicated Mourning
  7. Grieving Special Types of Losses
  8. Grief and Family Systems
  9. The Counselor’s Own Grief
  10. Training for Grief Counseling(ix-xi)

These chapters are proceeded by a preface and introduction and followed by an appendix, bibliography, and index. In view of the media handling of mass shootings and other disasters in recent years, I wish that Worden had also written a chapter on secondary trauma, a kind of vicarious loss.

Assessment

William Worden’s Grief Counseling and Grief Therapyoffers a thorough understanding of mourning and complicated grief. Since 2011, Worden’s advice and counsel has informed my pastoral approach to grieving people and I frequently go back to refer to the chapters. Although Worden writes to professional counselors in an academic context, his writing is accessible and understandable.

Footnotes

[1]http://media1.biola.edu/talbot/faculty/cvs/william_worden_1.pdf.

Worden Explains Grief

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Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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Authentic Grief: Monday Monologues, September 2, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on authentic grief.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Authentic Grief: Monday Monologues, September 2, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

Sandberg and Grant Option BSheryl Sandberg[1] and Adam Grant.[2] 2017. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss. American society does not cope with grief adequately so we mask our grief with physical ailments.

Introduction

In their book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore Sandberg’s journey with the loss of her husband Dave Goldberg early in 2014 during a vacation in Mexico. They write:

“This book is my and Adam’s attempt to share what we’ve learned about resilience. We wrote it together, but for simplicity and clarity the story is told by me (Sheryl) while Adam is referred to in the third person.” (11)

You might think, oy vey, another book about grief, but you would be wrong for two reasons. First, Sandberg and Grant really do explore the question of resilience, providing something other than another book outlying the stages of grief. Second, Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and Grant is a well-known psychologist at the Wharton School. This book is a deep dive into resilience (or self-care) with both personal and professional applications in view. Still, grief is normally the jumping off point for the resilience issues discussed.

Three Ps

An important insight that Sandberg and Grant return to throughout the book draws from the three Ps of Martin Seligman:

  1. “Personalization—the belief that we are at fault;
  2. Pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and
  3. Permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.” (16)

The three Ps are important because they amplify the losses that we suffer and we hammer them in our own heads through negative self-talk.

In the death of Sandberg’s husband, the three Ps each played an important role in deepening her experience of grief. She initially blamed herself for his death (personalization), felt that everything was horrible—especially for her kids (pervasive), and believed that the pain of grief would go on forever (permanence; 16-20). Her counselors worked hard to disavow each of these lies/half-truths that she had told herself, helping to ease her discomfort and accelerate her recovery.

Core Beliefs of Resilience

Sandberg and Grant see four core beliefs that aid resilience, especially in children:

  1. They have some control over their lives;
  2. can learn from failure;
  3. matter as human beings;
  4. have real strengths to rely on and share. (111)

What stands out from this list of beliefs is how extremely counter-cultural they appear. If anything, our culture reinforces just the opposite beliefs. In fact, Sandberg and Grant immediately cite a study showing that two-thirds of at-risk kids fail to develop such resilience and suffer serious consequences already in adolescence (111).

Assessment

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B, opens up the question of grief through the eyes of someone who has experienced it deeply. Christians often say that when God closes a door, he opens a window—Option B is that window. Sandberg and Grant walk their readers through that window with flair and grace.

References

Seligman, Martin E. P. 1991. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_Sandberg.

[2] http://www.adamgrant.net. @AdamMGrant.

Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief 

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Grief Prayer

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, GraveBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of all Mercy and Compassion:

You are the alpha and omega; the beginning and the end; the one who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:9). For you created heaven and earth for your glory and we praise you for their beauty and our creation (Psalm 19).

Presence

Make your presence especially known among us for our eyes are heavy with tears and our ears barely hear. With heavy hearts we, your people, stand before you today confessing our sins and our doubts but confident of the love of Christ.

We thank you for sharing these days with us during our season of life. We praise you for our friend’s compassion, quiet dignity and devotion to family,  constant smile and companionship, and daily presence in our lives.

Permission to Grieve

In the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us a season of grief as life passes. Open our hearts; let us cry; help us feel and express our loss.

Place your hedge of protection around us as we grieve. Protect our persons and our spirits; guard our relationships; keep our jobs. Let us not have to choose between expressing our grief and other things.

Godly Grief

May our grief be godly grief until salvation, not worldly grief that leads to sin and death (2 Corinthians 7:10). In our grieving, let us be like Job who did not sin in spite of many afflictions (Job 1:13-22). But let us turn to you in our lament, great giver of life, to empty our hearts of the pain, the shame, the guilt, and the grief so that we might once again enter your gates with praise. For we know that you grieved over Lazarus and the widow’s son, and raised them both from the dead even though no words of faith were spoken (John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17).

May we know that through Jesus Christ death is not the final answer. Let us be like Him who was raised from death to new life. Remind us daily that: “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Turning to You

By the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the strength to turn to you in our grief, following the example of Christ at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:3). Let us live life in view of the resurrection and the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

In the strong name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

Grief Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Father’s Day

Prayer for Moms

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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