The Psalms outline a cycle of grief and hope
Written by Josiah Piett
Recently my wife and I were given devastating news. When things like this happen, my initial reaction is to run away. To escape. Everyone reacts differently for a wide variety of reasons. But the question I am asking today is, is there a “right” way through mourning? I am not sure there is. What I am sure of is this: as followers of Jesus, we are not promised a life without devastation, but a life with God’s presence.
So, what does God’s presence look like in times of grief? While God reveals Himself uniquely to us depending on the person and the circumstance, He does invite us to express and release our troubles to Him. Instead of fleeing, fighting, or numbing, God invites us to sit with this pain, with Him.
Often when I have found myself in these places, I don’t necessarily hear anything from God. Instead, I pour my heart out to Him—expressing the anguish, pain, doubt, and all that is within me. God promises to comfort us as we mourn, but we must mourn.
Sometimes God responds to us with silence, but not because He is distant, distracted, or unaffected by what we are going through. Instead, I believe He knows that some things hurt so deep that we need to let the wound breathe a bit before we move forward. And He suffers with us and for us. We may not know the reason for our suffering, but we can be assured He is with us in our despair.
What is beautiful yet difficult is having the courage to face our pain, feel our pain, and express it to God. This is not a one-time interaction but a journey we walk through with God and others as we grieve.
Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman describes how the spiritual journey with God is revealed through the psalms of the Bible in three acts: orientation, disorientation, and renewed orientation.
We see orientation when the people of God are expressing their unwavering adoration and praise toward God. We see disorientation when they cry out to God asking Him where He is or why this is happening to them. Finally, we see renewed orientation when they declare God’s glory revealed to them in their deliverance from oppression.
These three acts aren’t to be understood as stages of progression, but a cycle in motion as the Israelites journey with God.
In other words, the focus in the psalms isn’t about trying to attain and maintain renewed orientation; it is to remain connected to the vine regardless of the circumstances that surround us.
The psalms reveal that God desires for us to cry out to Him in times of trouble. We are not to be passive in these moments of disorientation but are to actively engage with God in our mess. It is not pretty or romantic, but God meets us in our anguish and the cross of Christ reveals to us that He suffers with us, through these things. He is not distant; He draws in close.
While expressing our pain to God will look different for each of us, I think it’s important to remember to not walk this road alone. Ask God to bring people into your life or to highlight people who are already there who could walk with you—not to fix the problem but to be present.
There are no shortcuts in working through our grief, but God promises to be with each of us through our process.May we find comfort in God as we mourn, and may we be a people who mourn with those who are mourning.
Josiah Piett is a house church pastor and spiritual director living in Niagara Falls, Ont. Read more of his “Digging deeper” column.