The Spiritual Discipline of Grief

God blesses those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
~Matthew 5:4

Two weeks ago, my mother-in-law suddenly passed away, and I have yet to feel blessed in my mourning process. She is the first parent my husband and I have lost, so the grief process is new to me personally, even though professionally I have helped others through their grief. I realize now seminary and spiritual direction training taught me the right things to say, but not always the right words to pray.

Rereading the plethora of sympathy cards we received helps me feel God’s comforting presence. Moreover, I marvel at the various verses of Scripture people were led to pray for us. These prayers are helping my faith endure when I am not sure how to really pray. In Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes: Faith endures; but my address to God is uncomfortably, perplexingly, altered. It’s off-target, qualified.

As a spiritual director, I find myself wondering whether or not grief could be considered a spiritual discipline. How does the grieving process influence our spiritual formation? Can head knowledge about grief be translated into heartfelt words that bring comfort to others? Will grief prevent conforming to this world and usher in transformation?

The following verses have provided the comfort people so graciously wanted us to feel. But also, they have imparted a deeper sense of how and what to pray for myself and others in times of grief.

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
~John 14:18, KJV

With any goodbye, it seems that the one left behind feels it the most profoundly. The Lord has promised to not leave those who are feeling comfortless. The Lord’s presence is a comfort long after all our goodbyes are said.

God’s there, listening for all who pray, for all who pray and mean it.
~Psalm 145:18, MSG

In the course of everyday life, it is so easy to forget to pray; but it is even easier to forget when death ushers in a season when lament is most needed and most meaningful. God is near and waiting to listen throughout the grieving process.

Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
~Isaiah 41:10, NRSV

Fear creeps into the mind slowly, and then like an unwanted guest can try to stay. In times of grief, it is hard to evict them because of so many details and distractions. But God is in the business of providing spiritual, emotional, physical and mental help. It may seem that death is victorious but God holds our victory over grief in his right hand.

Three things will last forever-faith, hope and love-and the greatest of these is love.
~1Corinthians 13:13 NLT

Faith, hope and love do not end at death. Perhaps love is the greatest of all these simply because when given and received love becomes a part of us. The love that begins when you and I choose to love on earth yields eternal comfort.

In his Confessions (IX, 12), Augustine wrote, “The tears…streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”  The tears that come with reflection on these verses are a tender reminder to pay attention to what is stirring within the heart, for truly grief can be a spiritual discipline. And to that end, transformation happens when the heart rests in God’s comforting presence.

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