Our Bayside Church community is in the midst of grief as we stand alongside a family whose eldest daughter took her life a week ago. The family are foundational church members, joining Bayside Church in its first year in 1992. So, they are well-known and deeply loved. The pain they and others are experiencing runs deep. And so, I write this blog hoping to comfort anyone who faces the depths of grief and loss.

The Psalms

The Psalms are an excellent source of the expression of genuine faith. The 150 Psalms can be divided into three main groups:

Group 1: Everything is lovely; praise the Lord, hallelujah.

Group 2: Everything is not okay. I’m struggling intensely, but the Lord is going to rescue me.

Group 3: Everything is not okay. I’m struggling intensely and praying hard, but God seems absent. These are the lament Psalms and make up almost one-third (42 out of 150) of the Psalms. Let that sink in.

Psalm 88

One such Psalm is Psalm 88, which Charles Spurgeon described as follows: “In this Psalm, Heman makes a map of his life’s history. He puts down all the dark places through which he has travelled. He mentions his sins, his sorrows, his hopes (if he had any), his fears, his woes, and so on. Now, that is real prayer, laying your case before the Lord.”

Please read and reflect on this Psalm and the raw and honest words the author uses. He was overwhelmed with troubles, drained of strength and abandoned by God. Although he prayed daily, he felt cut off from God’s care. “My eyes are dim with grief. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” The Psalm concludes with, “Darkness is my closest friend.”

The Psalm title instructs the music director to set the song to Mahalath leannoth: “The Suffering of Affliction.” This contemplative poem helps us understand that human existence is not always easy. Wherever we live, whoever we are, and whatever faith we have, there will be terrible times when we wonder where God is and why he let “it” happen.

The lament Psalms sanction our grief, honest questions, expressions of doubt, and anger at God. I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit inspired their inclusion in the Scriptures.

Express Yourself

When life is unfair, we suffer and grieve and have many unanswered questions; it’s okay to say exactly how you feel. That’s what Heman did. Over 2,700 years since it was written, we’re still reading Psalm 88 because Heman expressed himself. Imagine if he had bottled up his feelings because he didn’t want people to think he wasn’t a real man.

All the Psalms were sung publicly in the community. Heman voiced his feelings in a community of people who could support him through his grief. I am so grateful to belong to an authentic community of faith where we can be honest.

Good Grief

Grief is a process with many ups and downs. Losses that cause grief include the death of a loved one, a friend, or a pet, the ending of a marriage, or a miscarriage or stillbirth. We grieve the loss of friendships, a job, health, and life changes like retirement or moving house. We’re pained when dreams fail, future plans don’t eventuate, or our financial security is shaken.

Grief is a proper emotional response to these and other losses. In Bible times, grieving people would dress in sackcloth and pour ashes on their heads. Jesus spoke of this as a favourable expression of sorrow. Our modern Western mindsets could benefit from the example of our Eastern friends, whom we often judge as “over the top.” A healthy expression of grief is one way to live through it.

The fact that the lament Psalms like Psalm 88 are included in inspired Scripture tells us a lot. It tells us that God is totally okay with human grief and with humans expressing that grief. He’s alright with being questioned, with people being angry with him and accusing him. God is not going to smite you, turn away from you, or stop listening to you, and he will not have a holy huff. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Resist Platitudes

In my work as a pastor, I have noticed how uncomfortable we Aussies tend to be around death, grief and loss. And in our discomfort, we tend to say thoughtless things. My eldest daughter told someone this week that a lifelong friend had just ended her life. His response? “Well, life goes on.”

If you don’t know what to say, say nothing. Be present and listen. Give a hug or an arm around a shoulder. Don’t say, “I know what you’re going through” unless you do. Give practical help where possible and let people know you’re thinking of them, but don’t be intrusive. Resist platitudes like:

  • There’s a reason for everything.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • They wouldn’t want you to cry.
  • It’s all happened for the best.
  • It’s time to put all this behind you.

The last one is only for the grieving person to decide.

Not Okay

People say, “Well, everything will be okay,” but none know that will happen. What if things aren’t okay? Not everything ends well, even in the Bible, and a faith that tries to convince you otherwise is bogus.

Christie and I have a friend in South Africa who lost her son in a tragedy many years ago. At the time, she was a member of a Word of Faith church and was told by her pastor that she didn’t need to grieve because Jesus “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” When we met her, she still hadn’t grieved her loss.

The Hebrew word translated borne means to be lifted like Noah’s ark on the flood waters. It’s a stunning picture of God’s promise to carry us as we live through grief. It reminds me of the Footprints story.

Because of Jesus, we have hope in the resurrection of the dead; we do “not grieve as others who have no hope,” but we still live our way through grief. Today, our friend has processed her heartache and joined a Christian community free from toxic positivity.

Weeping and Laughter

The Psalms intertwine joy and grief, rejoicing and mourning. This is a very realistic picture of life. At funerals, stories are told that make people laugh, but we also cry. If you’re living through grief and loss, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and incredibly honest with God. As you live your way through grief, something beautiful happens within. Paul wrote about it like this: “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

If you are struggling in any way and need support, please call
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
Pastoral Care Phone: 0401 721 912