How Loss Relates to Grief

Everyone has been created with three God-given inner needs—the needs for love, for significance, and for security. When one or more of these needs is no longer being met, we naturally feel a sense of loss, which in turn causes grief.

Unmet need → Sense of loss → Feeling of grief

Throughout our lives we will incur numerous losses. Although we need to feel the pain of our losses, we do not need to be controlled by our losses. Instead we must rely on God’s promise that He will meet our deepest inner needs. The Bible says, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

LOSS OF LOVE

  • loss of significant family member (spouse, parent, unborn baby, child)
  • loss of an endeared pet
  • loss of a romantic relationship
  • loss of ability to have children (childlessness, infertility)
  • loss of a close friend
  • loss of an admired mentor or role model

Great Trial: “I’m still in agony over the death of my husband, and I feel like I’m only half a person.”

God’s Truth: Take comfort in this. Although your loss is severe and even though you have no earthly husband, the Lord says He will be your husband—He will be your Provider and Protector. “For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name” (Isaiah 54:5).

LOSS OF SIGNIFICANCE

  • loss of employment
  • loss of hopes and dreams
  • loss of freedom
  • loss of achievement
  • loss of respect/reputation
  • loss of purpose

Great Trial: “I’ve lost everything that gives my life purpose, and I feel such a sense of loss.”

God’s Truth: Take comfort in this. As long as you are alive, your life has purpose. “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8).

LOSS OF SECURITY

  • loss of companionship
  • loss of health (physical abilities)
  • loss of finances
  • loss of home
  • loss of justice
  • loss of family environment

Great Trial: “I’ve just experienced the greatest rejection of my life, and I feel overwhelmed with grief.”

God’s Truth: Take comfort in this. While people reject people, the Lord will not reject you. He says, “I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:9–10).

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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

How to Know You Are Grieving

When we initially experience a significant loss, we can plunge into depths of grief and have difficulty coming up for air. Then eventually, after we surface, we are simply treading water, not swimming toward a real destination. The reason is called grief. When you feel engulfed with grief, realize that you have a Deliverer who will keep you from drowning in the depths of despair. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (Psalm 18:16).

What Does Grief Look Like?

  • Do you feel alone and isolated?
  • Do you feel that you are mechanically going through the motions of life?
  • Do you feel resentful toward God for allowing your loss?
  • Do you ask, “Why?” over and over again?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed, not knowing what to do or where to turn?
  • Do you feel emotionally distraught because of your loss?
  • Do you have frequent daydreams about your loss?
  • Do you feel angry or bitter over your loss?
  • Do you have difficulty forgiving those who caused your loss?
  • Do you frequently dream at night about your loss?
  • Do you see life as an empty struggle without much reward?
  • Do you feel helpless knowing how much others must also be suffering?
  • Do you wonder what kind of God would allow your loss?
  • Do you view God as uninvolved and lacking compassion?

Regardless of your view of God right now, the Bible says, “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).

What Are Characteristics of Chronic Grief?

Allowing yourself to be open and honest about your intense sorrow takes great courage. For some, the reality of personal pain has been buried so deeply that the ability to experience real grief is blocked. People do many things to camouflage or ignore their grief so that they don’t have to acknowledge and work through it. As a result, they have unhealthy, chronic grief, which is a barrier to emotional maturity. This unresolved sorrow blocks the comfort that Christ wants to give us. In the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

  • Inhibited grief, denial of grief: “This is not really happening to me.”
  • Isolated grief, selective remembering: “I refuse to think about that car accident again.”
  • Insulated grief, reduced emotional involvement: “I’m not going to open myself up to be hurt this way again.”
  • Intellectualized grief, rationally explaining events: “It could have been worse.”
  • Inverted grief, returning to immature ways of responding: “I can’t believe it! I just had a temper tantrum like one I had when I was five years old.”
  • Immortalized grief, inability to let go of the loss: “He will always be a part of everything in my life.”

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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

What is Grief Work?

Do you ever feel that your grief will never end … that your loss is a continual source of sorrow? Moving through the grief process takes time and commitment to “stay the course” until the goal of grief is accomplished.

Working through your grief is not an easy task; it is a difficult task that involves dedication. Be assured, God has a plan for you during this season of pain, and God will give you the strength to persevere through the pain. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

Grief work involves a step-by-step process through which a grieving person walks in order to reach a place of emotional healing. “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” (Psalm 138:7).

Healthy grief work will culminate in …

  1. Accepting that the past will always be in the past
  2. Accepting that the present offers stability and significance
  3. Accepting that the future holds new and promising hope

In the end you can say, along with the apostle Paul, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3–5).
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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

What is Grief?

Before one gets too far down the road, it is good to define a few terms that will come up on this journey of grief.

What Is Grief?

Grief is the painful emotion of sorrow caused by the loss or impending loss of anyone or anything that has deep meaning to you. “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief” (Psalm 31:9). Grief begins in your heart as a natural response to a significant, unwanted loss.

Grief is a God-given emotion that increases with knowledge about the sorrows of life. The wiser you are about the grief that people experience, the more you yourself will grieve. “With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (Ecclesiastes 1:18).

In the New Testament, the Greek word lupe means “pain of body or mind.” When Jesus told His disciples He would soon be betrayed and killed, they were filled with grief. “The disciples were filled with grief” (Matthew 17:23).

What Is Mourning?

Mourning is the process of working through the pain of sorrow that follows a significant loss. “Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning” (Lamentations 5:15).

Mourning (also called grieving), is a normal, healthy process that lasts for a period of time. God uses mourning in order to produce the ultimate healing of deep distress and sorrow. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).

Mourning evokes compassion and expressions of comfort from others. When Lazarus died, Jesus and many others came to comfort Mary and Martha. “Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother” (John 11:19).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word abal means “to mourn or lament.” Jacob’s favorite son was Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers told their father, Jacob, that his favored son had been killed by a ferocious animal, Jacob went into deep mourning for days … and ultimately years. “Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34).

What Is Chronic Grief?

While we are grieving, a prevalent problem may be that we don’t want to talk about our grief or let others see our sadness. We don’t want to appear weak … so we mask our emotions! Yet if we delay sharing our sorrow, our healing will also be delayed. If we are going to be “authentically human,” we need to be able to share the truth about the heaviness in our hearts. If we have chronic grief, we are emotionally stuck, and we need to be set free. That is why Jesus’ words about truth are so freeing … even when applied to grieving. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Chronic grief is an unresolved, emotional sorrow experienced over a long period of time as the result of not accepting a significant loss or not experiencing closure of that loss. “The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish” (Psalm 25:17).

Chronic grief (or incomplete grief) can also be an unresolved, deep sorrow experienced over a long period of time and characterized by misconceptions that result in a failure to move through a grief process.

Misconception: “My grief will never end.”

Correction: You will mourn for a season, and then your grief will end. “[There is] a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

Misconception: “If I cry, I’m not strong.”

Correction: Jesus was strong, yet He wept after Lazarus died. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
King David was strong, yet he and his men wept after Saul and Jonathan died. “They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan” (2 Samuel 1:12).

Misconception: “If I feel deep sorrow, I must not be trusting God.”

Correction: Christ, the Messiah, never failed to trust God, the Father, yet He was called “a man of sorrows.” “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).

What Is Repressed Grief?

Have you seen someone smiling, yet within the smile you recognized sadness? Have you heard someone laughing, though you knew the heart was not healed? This is a picture of “repressed grief.” “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief” (Proverbs 14:13).

Repressed grief occurs when a person has reason to grieve and needs to grieve, but does not grieve.

The person with repressed grief exhibits negative lifestyle patterns but does not know why. (Examples may be distancing from others, playing the clown, using mood-altering substances like alcohol or drugs, engaging in mood-altering behaviors like gambling or compulsive spending).

Only by facing the truth of your painful losses in life and by going through genuine grief will you have emotional healing. In the Bible, the Psalmist prayed this prayer … “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me” (Psalm 43:3).

Repressed grief can be overcome and grieving can begin when a person takes The Timeline Test.
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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

Guidlines for Healthy Grieving

There are ways to grieve that are unhealthy, and there are health ways to move through your journey of grief. Here is some information adapted from June Hunt, founder of Hope for the Heart.

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)

The path for recovery requires ministering to body, soul, and spirit to diminish painful emotions and find your way out of the ditch of despondency. A new path can be charted on which renewed peace is possible and Christ-like maturity is manifested even in the most grievous circumstances.

Emotional Guidelines:

  1. Cultivate a strong, sensitive support system: Having people around who genuinely care about you is essential; people who accept you wherever you are in the grieving process and encourage you to share your feelings. (Proverbs 27:17)
  2. Cultivate the freedom to cry: Expressing emotions honestly, openly, and as frequently as needed is vital to walking through grief in a healthy, productive way. (Psalm 126:5)
  3. Cultivate a plan for socializing regularly: One way to feel good about life, even while mourning, is attending social activities and interacting with others on a regular basis. (Hebrews 10:25)
  4. Cultivate a trustworthy, honest confidante: Being able to be yourself with someone and share your struggles, troubled thoughts, and swinging emotions—and still be accepted and affirmed—is healing to the soul. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
  5. Cultivate the release of resentment: If you have unresolved issues, anger, or hostile feelings regarding your loss, take the time to list your resentments along with their causes. Journaling can bring buried emotions to the surface. Release into the hands of God each offender and the pain of each offense. Pray that the Lord will help you to release bitterness and resentment so you can make progress on your journey of healing. (Ephesians 4:32)

Physical Guidelines:

  1. Get a sufficient amount of rest: Grieving often disturbs regular sleep patterns and disrupts prolonged periods of sleeping, so getting sufficient rest during the grieving process is often a challenge—but doing so is critically important to the body. (Exodus 33:14)
  2. Get a generous intake of fluid and eat a balanced nutritional diet: Because the sense of thirst frequently goes unnoticed during the grieving process, drinking nonalcoholic and caffeine-free fluids is important. Eat daily portions of food from each of the basic food groups and avoid skipping meals. Don’t become dependent on eating junk foods, smoking, or drinking alcohol. (2 Kings 19:7-8)
  3. Get daily exercise: Regular exercise is a natural deterrent to feeling depressed and contributes to feeling a sense of well-being. Exercise carries oxygen to the blood and promotes overall good health. (1 Timothy 4:8)
  4. Get big doses of sunshine: Taking a walk in the sunlight is another natural way to fight depression. Light coming in through the eyes stimulates the brain to send a message to the body to release antidepressant endorphins. (Ecclesiastes 11:7)

Spiritual Guidelines:

  1. Develop a purposeful prayer life: The grieving process provides a strong impetus for “getting down to business” with God. Have candid conversations with Him about your thoughts and feelings. Listen to Him and lean on Him for comfort and reassurance. (Psalm 119:26).
  2. Develop a positive, practical perspective: Maintaining a positive mental attitude based on the practical application of spiritual truths during the grieving process carries you to victory even through the darkest valley and the deepest loss. (Philippians 4:8)
  3. Develop a sense of peace about the past: Resolve any unfinished business regarding the past by asking forgiveness of God for any failures on your part and by extending forgiveness for any failures on the part of others. Then let go of the past and embrace the present and the future God has planned for you. (1 John 1:9)
  4. Develop a Scripture-memorization method: God spoke the world into existence, and the Bible is powerful enough to create new life and to restore joy to your heart, peace to your mind, and hope for your future. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  5. Develop a yearning for eternity: One of the most helpful, hopeful, and healing truths is realizing that this present life is lived in a temporal body, and a permanent body is waiting for you. In that body you will live throughout all eternity. Grasp God’s promise of living eternally! (2 Corinthians 4:18)

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Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.