How to Grieve Well

How to Grieve Well

By Alexis Rebennack 

          Slouched over my steering wheel as my lap caught my tears, I prayed “Holy Spirit, please help me to grieve well in this.” Days before this moment, my dad suddenly passed away. Fourteen months removed, I’m still learning what on earth it means to “grieve well.”

          As it came time to start my first full-time job, I had to make some choices. I had to decide what I would do in order to get myself out of bed every morning. I had to decide what I would do to keep from crying at my desk. I had to decide what I would do to just make it through the day.

          Mostly, I pep-talked myself. I quoted scriptures under my breath; I repeatedly just said, “Jesus” until the urge to crumble passed. I encouraged myself in the truth that God works all things for my good (Romans 8:28).

          However, every time my emotions came knocking, I faced a decision: walk down Road A or walk down Road B. Road A meant releasing the floodgates of my grief and letting emotions rage full force (Not a practical decision for a young professional trying to prove herself). Road B meant looking to God and saying, “I know I will see Dad again, and I know this will work for the good. So, I will press on and push my emotions away until this moment passes.” Nearly every time I chose Road B I sung, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” until the urge to sob passed, and I sealed the floodgates shut.

          But had I known about the other Road, I would have taken it.

          Fourteen months later, and I think I am just scratching the surface of what it means to grieve well. In Acts 20, Paul gathered together the church leaders from the city of Ephesus because he wanted to tell them goodbye for the last time.

          Paul’s friends, these leaders, endured ridicule and riots with Paul, they fought fervently for the Gospel with Paul, they laughed and worshipped; they marveled at miracles. They had a bond. They were a family. They loved each other deeply. But now in this moment, it was time for each one to say goodbye--not only to Paul (their leader, their mentor, their encourager, their friend) but to this season of life.

          Gathered around, as Paul said his final goodbyes, "They all wept as they embraced him.” But, “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship" (Acts 20:37-38).

          Can’t you just feel the heaviness of this?

          But in the midst of this grief, Paul knelt down and prayed with them.

          Infused in this deep moment of loss was an even deeper well of hope--the hope that God would sustain both Paul, the Ephesians, and the rest of us thereafter.

          The hope that the goodness of God will prevail.

          The hope that everything we endure on this side of heaven won’t even compare to what’s in store for us on the other side.  

          Paul chose to call hope into this heartbreaking moment, and in doing so, Paul gained strength for his own journey ahead, and he also transferred strength to those who would have to carry on without him.

          This moment reveals a side of the grief process I didn’t know. In my former months, I would pick myself up by shaking away my emotions and running straight ahead to God. However, the problem is that God did not want me to fling my emotions away and then run to him.

          Like Paul, God wants me to acknowledge and embrace the pain of saying goodbye to someone I love so much.

          Paul was fully present in this moment. Paul opened his arms to the grief, and he sat in the reality of the sadness that he wouldn't see his friends again. But after some time, Paul sailed away.

          Paul wasn't callous. Paul was incredibly in tune with the reality of the heart: of love and loss, and he gave his heart room to grieve.

          But Paul didn't let himself get stuck in this grief. He knew that God wanted him to press on and move forward, so Paul encouraged himself through prayer and in the hope of Jesus.

          Pressing on through pain doesn't look like hardening your heart. It's acknowledging your loss, giving yourself total freedom to feel and mourn, but keeping your heart soft in the process. Keep your heart soft and keep your mind focused on heavenly things. Run down Road C with all of your emotions in hand, straight to the throne of God.

          Grieve with your whole heart, my friend, but don't harden your heart. Let God in on the process, and He will help you grieve well with a heart full of hope.

Alexis Rebennack is a New Orleans native pursuing her passions with the time she’s been given. She hopes that among the verbs, adjectives, and nouns you’ll encounter Jesus and His gloriously kind heart.

Alexis Rebennack is a New Orleans native pursuing her passions with the time she’s been given. She hopes that among the verbs, adjectives, and nouns you’ll encounter Jesus and His gloriously kind heart.

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— H.B.W.