Grief: God's Way of Healing the Heart

by James White

This book is lovingly dedicated to the memory
of Autumn Dawn Middleton. She lived only a
short while on this earth, but in that brief time
she brought joy into the lives of so many,
including, especially, her grandpa Mike Middleton,
for whom also this book is written.

Autumn's Grandpa Mike

When I picked up the phone I thought my friend Mike was calling about my computer. He had kept me sane during the preceding weeks when I was going through "upgrade trauma," and I thought he was calling about the next item we needed to replace. But I was wrong.

"Jim" he said, his voice strangely thin. "I lost my grand-daughter last night. She's gone."

Ministers, and those who have worked as hospital chaplains, have this strange belief that they are supposed to have immediate answers in such situations. We think we are supposed to be super-human or something and always be prepared for such an announcement. I proved my humanity by responding with nothing more than, "What?"

Mike went on to tell me more about what had happened. His grand-daughter, Autumn Dawn, had been born four weeks and one day earlier. I had remembered his joy and pride at his first grandchild. But now she was gone, and as Mike said, "Last night I just wanted to die. I've lived forty seven years in this world, and made a mess of things. Why couldn't God take me and leave her?"

I had gathered enough of my wits about me to realize that now was not the time for in-depth theological analysis of the transcendent reasons behind this tragedy. There would be time enough for that another day. For now, I simply wanted to be there for my friend, so I asked if there was anything I could do.

The viewing was Friday night. I've done my share of funerals, having worked as a hospital chaplain, and so I'm not a stranger to death. But there is simply something "wrong" with seeing a 29-day old baby girl in a funeral chapel. My mind didn't want to accept the reality before me. I held Mike and we cried together.

The funeral was the next morning. The congregation of Mike's church was there for him. His pastor did a masterful job. I don't believe I could have made it through such an experience. I simply can't control my tears well enough. They took the tiny cradle out of the church and whisked it away in a hearse. Words failed me.

That night I made up a card for Mike. I inserted some pictures I had obtained of Autumn from a memorial Mike put on the Internet for her (for those who desire, the address is Accompanied by my seven-year old daughter Summer Marie, I went over to Mike's house to deliver the card. After spending some time in the house, we went outside. As I was getting ready to leave I gave Mike a hug. There was a moment of silence, and then Summer threw her arms open wide and said, "My turn!" As Mike knelt down to receive from Summer the greatest gift she could give him, I thought about how wonderful it is that God puts others in our lives.

And so begins a process in Mike's life. The viewing and the funeral are just the beginning. The process of grieving has now begun. It will not be an orderly process. It will often times call him into the darkest alleys of emotional pain, and at times propel him into confusion, sadness, and even, once in a while, joy. But it is a process that he will go through for two simple reasons: he is human, and he loved. Since he is human, he will grieve, for God designed us that way. And since he opened his heart and loved his grand-daughter Autumn Dawn, he will grieve the loss of that special little girl. Anyone old enough to love is old enough to grieve. Fight as we might against it, that is just the way God has made us.

Christians Grieve, Too

My friend Mike enters into grief as a Christian. There is no promise in Scripture that says that a believer will be spared these kinds of tragedies-none at all. The promise is that God will be with those who mourn, not that He will keep them from such things. But what will it mean to Mike that he goes into this process believing that Jesus Christ died and rose again? How will this impact his grief?

Sadly, some Christians think that they should not grieve. "My loved one is in a better place, so why should I grieve?" Yes, your loved one may well be in a better place, but you have lost an important part of your life, and that causes mourning and grief. We miss that person, and the love we shared. Being a Christian does not remove your human feelings from you. You will grieve that loss, just like every other human being.

So what is the difference? The apostle Paul summed up the difference very well when he wrote to the Thessalonians about their loved ones who had died:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Some might misunderstand the import of Paul's words and understand him to be saying that Christians should not grieve. That is not his point. He says that Christians should not grieve "as do the rest who have no hope." It is not grief that Paul says the believer should not experience: it is grief without hope. That is the key difference.

Christians grieve, just like all other human beings. But the major and all-important difference is that Christians grieve in hope. They live in hope of the resurrection of the dead, made a surety in their experience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They live in hope of His redemption, His return, His glory. They grieve knowing the truth of Paul's words to the Corinthians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Available to the Christian is the very comfort of God Himself. The One who gave His own Son on our behalf, who certainly knows, then, the depths of love in that self-sacrificial love of the Cross, promises to comfort us in our pain and sorrow. That is why the Christian grieves, but in hope.

As we briefly discuss the grieving process, we will often find that the believer and unbeliever alike share the same experiences. But when it comes to the point of how one moves through the process and how one views grief, the issue of hope will be seen over and over again.

What is the grieving process like? How can we make heads or tails of it? Let's find out.

Read the next chapter.

Return to the Autumn Dawn Middleton Memorial.