No denial in Jesus

In today’s study, Selwyn asks the question: ‘is Jesus able to sympathise with us when we experience grief?’

He uses John 11:17-44, to illustrate the fact that Jesus experienced the full range of emotions – just as we do!

I like the New Living Translation, in the way it expresses Scripture in our language, for example – these verses John: 11:32-44.

‘ … When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. “Roll the stone aside,”Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” ‘

In these verses, we witness Jesus experiencing two emotions. The first emotion is anger – why? This event occurs close to the end of Jesus’ ministry, His close friends would have seen Him heal people and perform many amazing miracles – He had told them that they would see God’s glory – if they believed. Yet, Mary’s first words to Him are, ‘if you were here, this would not have happened’; and, some people in the crowd were also saying – ‘if He could heal a blind man – why didn’t he cure Lazarus (before he died)’.

The second emotion is grief – the overwhelming sadness (and hopelessness) He sees and feels, in His very close, weeping friends, Mary and Martha.  I think, His grief is all the greater because He knows that the people there, don’t recognise His ability to provide hope for everyone. Although, He has demonstrated His power on many occasions – they still don’t fully realise, ‘who He is!’

The main point I found in Selwyn’s study, was this: “You see, no matter how positive and optimistic our outlook may be, we must never deny what we are feeling at the moment. We need not be dragged down by our feelings into a whirlpool of despair, but we must be willing to face and feel those emotions.”

We face these emotions by taking them to Jesus – telling Him how we feel – asking Him to lighten our burden – and, He will raise your dying hopes  – restored, back into the full joy – you have, in knowing Him.


Excessive grief

My first thoughts on today’s study was that grief is a fairly automatic reaction to loss – the way we express grief would vary according to our different personalities.

Today, Selwyn looks at the issue of excessive grief – and provides advice on how to avoid it.

This is a longish summary, of what he wrote: First, to understand that everyone will suffer grief … ”This attitude will save you from feeling, when grief does come that you are being singled out for persecution (or punishment). Second, don’t try to escape grief through illusions and subterfuges.Third, surrender all bitterness and resentment into the hands of God, for it is this more than anything, that is responsible for grief staying with us longer than it should.

Finally, get along side someone else who is grieving and see what you can do for them – you are made tender by your sorrow (as long as all bitterness and resentment has been, or is being dealt with).”

A further aspect, not covered by Selwyn,  is that there is no fixed time for a person to experience grief after a significant loss; it’s not helpful to tell a person, within a short time after their loss – that, ‘they should get over it, and move on.’

Sometimes, after the death of a family member or very close friend – a bout of sudden grief might be experienced for up to a year or longer after the event; especially at ‘special’ times, such as birthdays and Christmas. However, there are some, who appear to get ‘locked into’ the early phases of grief – if,  acute emotions are still evident after eighteen months – then I, for one, would be seeking professional help guided by lots of prayer.

What’s your view?

The walk to Emmaus

I liked this quote, used by Selwyn in today’s study on grief.

“I was sitting torn by grief, when someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listening when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved, I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

I think that Jesus, Himself, comes to us, at those times when we are deeply hurting – and, walks along with us. Often without saying a word –  and, by His Spirit comforts us with His presence. As Selwyn’s says in his concluding statement: “The first thing a person who is grieving needs to know is not that something good will come out of the experience, but that someone cares.” Jesus cares. We can be the vehicle for the Spirit of Jesus, who lives within us; we, can follow His example – and care for those who are grieving. But, it requires us to be open to His guidance.

Perhaps, those people who repeat biblical truths to those in severe grief; about suffering and God’s ability to turn anything to good. May not have sought God’s guidance in prayer – before they opened their mouths?

What’s your view on this subject?

Grief involves work

I agree with Selwyn, when he expresses in today’s study – that to provide comfort to a loved one, who is suffering, is to just –  ‘be there’; and, at such time – words, are often useless noise.

The verses selected by Selwyn, provide a good example, of friends – sharing grief [Job 2-11-13, NLT]: “When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”

I remember, sitting next to my father’s bed when he was dying – we, were past words – I was caressing his forehead, as he once did, when I was a child. I didn’t know how aware he was of my presence until I looked over and saw tears flowing from his eyes. Some minutes later – he died – I don’t think I could have said anything that would have been better – than just, ‘being there’.

Of course, such moments are always drenched in prayer – and, I believe that Jesus takes us by the hand, and leads us through such difficult times, especially when we hurt too much to find the way out of our despair, by ourselves.

Grief is inescapable

All of us – will suffer loss at some time during our lives – we, will undergo acute grief at those times when one of our family, or close friend – dies. In the darkest moments, especially if our loved one has suffered a lot before their death – we may ask God, in our heart; ‘Why, so much suffering?’

There is no satisfactory answer, to that question – this side of the grave. We can only trust – that our perfect and loving God has the answer; an answer which will make sense – when He unfolds the ‘big picture’ for us, in paradise. 

Grief has been extensively studied, and many people are familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief, which was first introduced by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. She originally applied these stages to people suffering from terminal illness, later to any form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, divorce, freedom, and disasters).

Here, is an extract from Wikipedia, describing the progression of stages (here the description relates to dying – but the same stages can be seen in many forms of personal loss):

  1. Denial – “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.
  2. Anger – “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.
  3. Bargaining – “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…”
  4. Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die… What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
  5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the death that is approaching. Generally, the person in the fifth stage will want to be left alone. Additionally, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the dying struggle. … ” 

As Selwyn, mentions in his conclusion: “The natural reaction to deep loss is that of grief, and any attempt to avoid this can lead to all kinds of spiritual and psychological problems . So don’t try to escape grief by any illusions or subterfuges, for the illusions and subterfuges will in the end turn out to be worse than the grief itself.”

Grief is inescapable – and, all we can do, is to seek comfort (through prayer) in the arms of a loving God – a God who has suffered grief – of the darkest kind – and, who understands our pain – better than any human counsellor!