*Text: John 11:1-6, 17-37
Aim: to discuss Christian perspectives on grief, and to promote the ladies recovery class.
Thesis: grief is not a disease to be curse, but a sorrow to be shared.
Often in the gospels we read of three people to whom Jesus was especially close: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. These two sisters and one brother lived in the little village of Bethany, not far from Jerusalem. Jesus was a frequent visitor to their home and enjoyed the hospitality he found there. The day came when the Lord received the disturbing news that Lazarus had passed away. He traveled to Bethany to be with Mary and Martha, to share in their sorrow, and the story of his meeting with them provides three lessons for us in how to deal with grief.
Because ALL of us will lose someone at some time, let’s consider this story to see what it has to teach us about responding to grief.
1. ACCEPT THE COMFORT OF OTHERS.
Verse 31 “the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her”
The custom of the Jews was to gather together with the family of the bereaved. Grief was considered to be a burden that should be shared. We know there is nothing we can do to take it away – every person must mourn for themselves. But we also instinctively know that we should BE THERE, BE WITH those who grieve. In fact, sympathy is one of those virtues commended to Christians: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” – Romans 12:15.
One of the most precious privileges of Christianity is the sacred sharing of sorrow with our brothers and sisters who grieve. Agape love is never more needed – or more welcomed – than when a fellow believer has lost a loved one.
But most of us don’t feel competent to carry out that command – very few of us are confident or comfortable in that role. And because we don’t know what to say or do, we may end up doing nothing. What is the best way to minister to those who mourn? Being there for them!
There are some things you just cannot understand about losing a loved one until you have actually experienced them.
· Your sense of time becomes disoriented – everything seems to take so much longer.
· There is so much to think of, to plan, so many decisions to make and errands to run.
· You don’t realize how much even the small gestures of sympathy can mean in a time of loss.
o Visits, calls, and cards, and flowers
o People who take the time to come to the funeral
o People who just put an arm around your shoulder
o And the FOOD!
o All of those are gestures that say, “We want to BE THERE for you.” There’s nothing you can do to “solve” another person’s grief – there’s nothing you can say to take it away. That’s not the point. When Romans 12:15 says “mourn with those who mourn” it’s telling us to BE THERE – to do all of those things that say, “We know you’re grieving, and we’ll be here to grieve with you.”
And Mary is a model for us of someone who accepts that comfort. Often our first impulse is to withdraw, to retreat into the isolation of privacy, but we have a greater need than ever to associate with others. When we are open – willing to tell people how we feel, or what we need – we make two discoveries:
· FIRST, that we are not alone in our struggles – that others have gone through the same kinds of experiences.
· And SECOND, we realize that there are others who care.
One of the best ministries we have is our Ladies Grief Recovery Support Group. I have talked with Karen about the work they are doing; have reviewed their material; and have gotten feedback from some of the people who have participated. It is a powerful program because it communicates so well the love of God in a practical way! They will begin again on the second Sunday night of next month, and it is open to the community: if you have a friend who might profit from this ministry, be sure to tell her about it!
2. BE REALISTIC ABOUT DEATH.
Verse 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”
Mary’s statement is one of frustration, perhaps even accusation! She felt that Jesus could have done something, should have done something, to prevent her brother from dying. It was an understandable reaction, of course, but it was not realistic. Jesus had nothing to do with the situation – Lazarus died because he was sick.
It is natural to respond with unnecessary guilt, second-guessing, but if we are realistic about death we will come to the understanding that there is nothing to be gained by dwelling on the “might-have-beens”, the “What if’s”, or the “maybes” – maybe if we’d said this differently, done that more quickly. That kind of thinking is futile because it is not within our power to accept responsibility for another person, no matter how much we might desire to. We cannot live another person’s life for them, make their decisions for them.
And the time will come when we accept the reality of death and remember the things we DID do for our loved one, because we cared about them. People need a season of grieving. In fact, they need that breathing room to get adjusted to their loss so much that they shouldn’t be rushed, shouldn’t make any major decisions, until the process of sorrow has run its course.
This is especially true in the loss of a spouse. Widows or widowers should not make any major life decisions for at least a year, until they have had time to process their emotions, clear their head, and gain a new perspective.
The time will come soon enough when we will move ahead, go on to continue to build our life. After all, we cannot back up on the highway of life – we can only go forward. Philippians 3: 13-14 “This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…..”
But we shouldn’t overlook another dimension to Mary’s comment: it is not only a statement of frustration, but also one of FAITH! She knew that Jesus had the power to overcome even death itself because she was familiar with the miracles of Jesus, had seen what he had done previously. And that reminds us that a part of being realistic about death is to realize our own days on this earth are numbered, and that we must prepare ourselves for this last great appointment.
When Jesus met with Martha he spoke not of death but of life; not of the grave, but of the resurrection.
Verses 25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Since one day each of us will come to the end of our road, the only realistic response is to place our faith in the one who holds the power to give us eternal life. I would encourage each of us here tonight to search our own heart, and to take inventory of our own soul. And if we realize that we are not prepared for eternity, to make our relationship with God right now while we have the opportunity.
3. ALLOW THE OPPORTUNITY TO GRIEVE.
Verse 35 “Jesus wept” We typically remember this as the shortest verse in the Bible – but tonight I also want us to realize it is also one of the sweetest! Why?
Because the example of Jesus reassures us that it’s all right to grieve! Jesus grieved for his good friend Lazarus – even though he knew he was about to raise him from the dead, he still shed tears of sorrow. Never does the Bible condemn grief – never does it tell us that we will not suffer pain, or should not shed tears of sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says “Grieve not like the rest of men who have no hope,” but it doesn’t say to “Grieve not”!
· GRIEF is not a disorder, disease, or disability.
· GRIEF is not something to avoid or evade; it is not a weakness or a sin, and it doesn’t indicate a lack of faith or of character.
· GRIEF is simply a statement that we loved someone – that we have lost them – and that such a loss is painful to us.
And the more we care about someone, the more keenly we’ll feel their loss. That’s why those standing near Jesus said, “See how he loved him!” Grief is painful, to be sure, but it is a healthy pain – for after all, to grieve for another person is simply another way of saying that they had a place in your heart, that you loved them and you will miss them. When someone is taken from us we have every right to feel that loss, and no one has the right to tell us otherwise.
In fact, not only is it all right to grieve, it is a healthy thing to express our sorrow. Someone has said that “tears wash the soul.” One of the most common mistakes Americans make is to fail to give themselves permission to grieve, or time to recover. So often the real problem is not the grieving – but the unhealthy attempts to avoid grief!
And perhaps most important of all, God’s Son is not indifferent to our grief, is not unaware of what it means to grieve. Jesus knows, understands, feels with us. Twice in this passage it says that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit.” Our Savior is able to sympathize because he understands. READ Hebrews 4:14-16
“Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song;
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?
O yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savor cares.”
THE CRISIS OF BEREAVEMENT
Since the pale of death pierces every mortal, it is necessary for all of us to learn how to handle bereavement. I have watched with great admiration and respect the courage that has borne many a saint through hours of sorrow. Here is some practical advice I have seen others use in dealing with grief:
1. EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS. It should not be considered a Christian virtue to be unmoved by the loss of a loved one. There is a difference between suppressing one’s emotions and losing one’s self control. The Bible does not say, “Sorrow not”; but it says, “Sorrow not as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
2. SEEK THE AID OF YOUR FRIENDS. The very presence of friends is an encouragement. When Paul neared Rome, the brethren came to meet him and he “thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:15).
3. COMPEL YOURSELF TO BE WITH PEOPLE. Your inclination may be to retreat into the refuge of privacy, but there is a greater need than one realized to associate with others. David did (2 Samuel 12: 19-23).
4. EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS IN WORDS. Talking about it will help you to accept it. If this is done at the outset of bereavement, one will sooner be able to stabilize his life.
5. AVAIL YOURSELF OF SPIRITUAL RESOURCES. Even though you may not have realized the importance of the Scriptures and their comfort, now these can help in building your faith. The power of prayer and the peace of God are very precious possessions.
6. DON’T BROOD OVER WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. Both Mary and Martha said, “If thou hadst been here my brother had not died” (John 11:21-32).
7. ACTIVELY PURSUE WORTHWHILE TASKS. Once the initial shock has been dealt with, get busy at other things. Resolve like Paul to “reach forth unto the things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).
8. MAKE CAREFUL AND THOUGHTFUL DECISIONS. Many an individual jumps hastily into deciding the full scope of the future rather than waiting until he or she has regained a proper perspective of life. Don’t get in a hurry. Make prayerful decisions.
9. INCREASE YOUR TRUST IN GOD. Those who have come through their sorrows with a deeper faith can verify that God who rules over all truly does make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).
After the crisis of grief, you can serve more fully and sympathize more completely with men of like passions. With Paul you, too, can thank God for the comfort received knowing that it has now given you the ability to comfort others who are in any trouble (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Sixth & Izard Church of Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
A FRIEND TO THE GRIEVING
Lynn Kelly lost her husband 22 years ago when she was 34 and the mother of three small children. A few years ago she started doing research about what was available for those who have friends in this situation. She found there wasn’t much there.
Wouldn’t it be helpful, she thought, if people had a guide that they could use when a friend is grieving? She has compiled the advice from many people into a book issued last summer, Don’t Ask for the Dead Man’s Golf Clubs: Advice for Friends When Someone Dies. Sample comments from the book:
“The most moving cards were those from people who took time to write a story…..Any piece of history shared about Tony was important to me. I wanted to know what his co-workers thought of him, stuff he never told me–his sense of humor, his creativity, the special qualities that made him unique.”
“I love to remember anything at all about Ryan and to bring it up. ‘Oh, he used to do this.’ I want to hear every single thing that anyone can remember about him–any funny thing, anything…..I want to keep him alive with the memories.”
“Just be company. When you lose a father or a spouse, you are so lonely. Just being company helps…..I don’t think it makes any difference what people say. It’s just the idea that they are there and you know they care.”
“The thing I missed most was being held. I just wanted somebody to put their arms around me.”
“The thing I didn’t like was when people said, ‘I know how you must feel losing a brother.’ They didn’t at all know that.”
“Take off work, even if you are busy, and go to the funeral. It just means an awful lot to see how many people cared.”
Elmwood church of Christ bulletin
Some Alternative Statements When Responding To The
Crisis of Grief
Instead of: “I know exactly how you feel.”
Try: “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
Instead of: “At least he doesn’t have to suffer anymore.”
Try: “He suffered through a lot, didn’t he?”
Instead of: “It’s God’s will.”
Try: “One comfort I find is God’s Promise never to abandon us.”
Instead of: “Don’t you think it’s time to get on with your life?”
Try: “Everyone has to grieve in their own way, don’t they?”
Instead of: “She wouldn’t want you to grieve.”
Try: “It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it?”
Instead of: “Don’t cry – you’ll only make it worse.”
Try: “Sometimes tears are the best way to express our feelings.”
Instead of: “This death is a victory for God.”
Try: “Even with the promise of the resurrection, it hurts to give someone up.”
Instead of: “You’ve got to be strong.”
Try: “I want you to know it’s okay to be yourself around me.”
Instead of: “You can’t be angry with God.”
Try: “God understands even when we’re upset.”
Sixth & Izard church of Christ bulletin
Little Rock, Arkansas
Blessed Are They That Mourn
There are three ways in which this beatitude can be taken.
(1) It can be taken quite literally: Blessed is the man who has endured the bitterest sorrow that life can bring. The Arabs have a proverb: “All sunshine makes a desert.” The land on which the sun always shines will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow. There are certain things which only the rains will produce; and certain experiences which only sorrow can beget.
Sorrow can do two things for us. It can show us, as nothing else can, the essential kindness of our fellow-men; and it can show us as nothing else can the comfort and the compassion of God.
(2) Some people have taken this beatitude to mean:
Blessed are those who are desperately sorry for the sorrow and the suffering of this world.
When we were thinking of the first beatitude we saw that it is always right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. This world would have been a very much poorer place, if there had not been those who cared intensely about the sorrows and the suffering of others. Christianity is caring.
(3) No doubt both these thoughts are in this beatitude, but its main thought undoubtedly is: Blessed is the man who is desperately sorry for his own sin and his own unworthiness.
As we have seen, the very first word of the message of Jesus was, “Repent!” No man can repent unless he is sorry for his sins. The thing which really changes men is when they suddenly come up against something which opens their eyes to what sin is and to what sin does.
That is what the Cross does for us. As we look at the Cross, we are bound to say, “That is what sin can do. Sin can take the loveliest life in all the world and smash it on a Cross.” One of the great functions of the Cross is to open the eyes of men and women to the horror of sin. And when a man sees sin in all its horror he cannot do anything else but experience intense sorrow for his sin.
Christianity begins with a sense of sin. Blessed is the man who is intensely sorry for his sin, the man who is heart-broken for what his sin has done to God and to Jesus Christ, the man who sees the Cross and who is appalled by the havoc wrought by sin.
William Barclay – Commentary on Matthew
College Avenue church of Christ
1817 North College Avenue
El Dorado, Arkansas 71730