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It’s OK to Cry

Five benefits to grieving our losses

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Grieving is painful, which is why we usually avoid it. But we must mourn the hurts of our past before we can effectively embrace our present and future.

Grieving means “to express sorrow.” It is the process Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:4 when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Bringing our hidden emotional pain into God’s light is one of the primary ways He heals us and brings us His comfort.

Most people immediately think of death when the subject of grief comes up. But any loss—in all its forms—is something to lament. Often the losses that hurt us most are the “little” ones which we think we need to just get over.

In his book With Burning Hearts Henri Nouwen writes,

The losses that settle themselves deeply in our hearts and minds are the loss of intimacy through separations, the loss of safety through violence, the loss of innocence through abuse, the loss of friends through betrayal, the loss of love through abandonment, the loss of home through war, the loss of well-being through hunger, heat and cold, the loss of children through illness or accidents, the loss of country through political upheaval, and the loss of life through earthquakes, floods, plane crashes, bombings and diseases. Perhaps many of these dark losses are far away from most of us; maybe they belong to the world of newspapers and television screens, but nobody can escape the agonizing losses that are part of our everyday existence—the loss of our dreams.

It's-OK-to-Cry-1The bottom line is that no one gets out of life without experiencing loss, which is often on a daily basis. Even the end of a good season and the beginning of a new season requires a bit of grieving.

I recently experienced the joy and tears of walking my daughter down the aisle to give her away to the man of her dreams. As joy-filled as that moment was, I also had to grieve the end of a wonderful season. Why? So that I could let go of the past and fully embrace the new season my daughter and her husband have now entered. Though she loved me first, he must now be her focus and priority. Grieving well helps me to embrace that wonderful transition.

How Do We Grieve?

We are all wired differently, and as a result, we process our pain and loss in a variety of ways. I like to write in a journal and then at times process these pages verbally with my wife or a trusted friend.

My daughter, on the other hand, likes to grieve the end of certain seasons by cutting pictures and words from magazines, pasting them onto poster board in a creative and often beautiful work of art.

The students in my classes at Nyack College and Alliance Theological Seminary write a 7- to 10-page grief journal which they then process with a spiritual formation group or a counselor.

In other words, there is probably no wrong way of bringing the pain of our inner world into the light, but we need to do it intentionally. Rather than waiting for life to give us 20 years of loss to grieve all at once, I believe it is better to make grieving a regular spiritual discipline. Just as we need to keep short accounts on matters of sin, I believe we should deal quickly and regularly with matters of loss.

Here are five powerful benefits of embracing biblical grieving—mourning as people who have hope (1 Thess. 4:13)—as a regular spiritual discipline.

1. Grieving helps us live proactively instead of reactively.

Ungrieved wounds and losses cause us to live in a perpetual state of reaction. When we encounter a new situation that even vaguely reminds us of an old wound, we react based on the previous experience. Grieving allows us to live in the present in each new and unique situation.

2. Grieving increases our emotional capacity to handle life crises.

I like to imagine that our emotional tank has a valve at the bottom called “grieving.” When we grieve, we empty the emotional reservoir of pain and loss, making room for the healing peace of God. This practice also gives us new margin in our lives when the next crisis or loss hits us.

The failure to grieve well leaves us with emotional tanks filled to capacity. Any minor conflict is met with years of unresolved pain leading to emotional responses highly disproportionate to the offense. Regular grieving allows us to handle each circumstance with the right emotion.

3. Grieving gives us freedom and permission to risk again and set big goals.

When life wounds us, we tend to go into protection mode. We begin to believe the lie, “Maybe if I don’t hope for so much, it won’t hurt so much.” But living in this guarded self-protection robs us of our greatest dreams.

Healthy grieving allows us to risk again and set new goals even in the midst of past loss. Our vision broadens and creativity and dreams return as we face the future and as we are not afraid to make decisions that bring us joy.

It's-OK-to-Cry-2Sometimes with the loss of a loved one, we feel disloyal when we are ready to move forward into what is next in our lives. At such times, we need to realize that we have done a good job in the grieving process and can bravely and excitedly embrace next steps to live a full life.

4. Grieving keeps our heart soft and gives us empathy for others’ losses.

We no longer run from people who are hurting because we feel awkward and don’t know what to say. We have learned that simply being with our friend is enough. Weeping with him or her is enough. No words are necessary—it is best not to try to speak.

Allowing the Comforter to do His work is sufficient. We just offer a tissue, a listening ear, or a hug at the appropriate time. These expressions of our love mean the world to others in the midst of their grief.

5. Grieving restores our capacity to trust God and people again.

In Jeremiah 20:7 the prophet cries out in grief-filled anguish, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” We all know, as did Jeremiah, that God never lies. Yet in the midst of life and seemingly unfulfilled promises, our failure to grieve can lead us to a state of paralyzing doubt in God and the people around us.

The comfort that comes in the midst of bringing things to the surface allows us to trust again and say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).

Freedom and Joy

A few years ago a woman in her 60s approached me to talk about her lifelong depression. As a young pastor’s wife she had miscarried a child in the late stages of pregnancy. The women of the church were initially very understanding and brought food to the parsonage. As they were leaving, however, one of the women began to press her about being in church on Sunday to play the piano and teach Sunday school, since they didn’t have anyone else.

As the door closed on the visitors, this young pastor’s wife realized she had exactly three days to grieve the loss of her child before she was expected to get back to “normal.”

For the last 35 years, she had been in and out of counseling and on medication for severe depression. It wasn’t until she heard a sermon on grieving that the Holy Spirit brought to her mind the connection between her depression and never having properly grieved the loss of her child. She gave herself permission to grieve, and the tears began to flow.

We held a quiet service that week, naming the child and grieving the loss. The depression lifted. After consulting with her doctor, she went off her medication and has experienced great freedom and joy.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Grieving Exercise

Perhaps there is an ungrieved loss in your life that needs your attention. Here is a grieving exercise, which I call a grief journal, to help you get started. It is best done as a regular spiritual discipline.
  • Begin a bulleted list of your losses. Start wherever the most pain arises. It doesn’t have to be chronological.
  • Fix your eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2) and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24). Ask the Lord, “Where do You want me to go first?” Allow the Lord to bring the incident or memory to mind of when each loss happened.
  • Write out the memory and engage with it emotionally. Do not censor your words or try to be grammatically correct in your writing—just get it out. Let it be raw. Don’t stop when it starts to get uncomfortable or painful. That is a sign you are getting right to the place that you need to feel and release. This is often the place where the Holy Spirit uproots lies and replaces them with an experiential knowledge of God’s truth and amazing love.
  • Find a safe person to help you “process” this pain. Read your grief journal to him/her and comment as you go. Take your time and don’t hold back your emotions. Together ask the Holy Spirit to come and comfort you.
  • Continue in the same way with the next incident or memory as the Holy Spirit directs you.
—Ron Walborn

18 responses to It’s OK to Cry

  1. Thanks for writing this article. This ties in so well with what I have been studying and practicing for the past 2 years… transformation prayer. This is still being developed and refined, but you may go to http://www.transformationprayer.org and look at the “supplemental training” section. I am encouraged that a similar message about emotions and lie-based beliefs is written in your article. I have personally experienced much freedom and healing from the Lord in allowing myself to feel, and inviting the Lord to show me the truth. My husband went to be with the Lord 3 years ago, and I can honestly say that the Lord has healed my broken heart and I have joy again.

  2. I just preached a Message at the Fairlawn Community Church is Williamsport, PA entitled Good Grief. I am a Pastor and a Christian Counselor. I attend the CMA of Lewisburg, PA. If you would like a copy of my message. Go to my Facebook page. Dr. John Radke

  3. Dear Ron, I met you many years ago at Mahaffey Camp when you were speaking. About 3.5 years ago my husband and I moved back to IL and he died 3 mos. later and I was totally unprepared for the grief of losing a spouse. I went to 3 different grief groups and GriefShare was the most help as a faith based presentation. I just started my 3rd 13 week GriefShare as a facilitator. It would take a book to tell of the faithfulness of God through all of this. Thank you for addressing grief in all of it’s facets.

  4. Great truth. My pastor husband and I went through a pit-time and “it’s OK to cry is a chapter in my memoire book I recently published called NOT ABANDONED. Amazon sells it and you can read a review of my book on Amazon or by 7 people who read and wrote reviews of my book. It also can be purchased through me. God redeemed our story and we now help other pastors/wives in crisis or wounding/grief.

  5. I recently published a book NOT ABANDONED from the perspective of a wounded pastor’s wife. I talk about some similar topics. We are given permission to lament … in the Psalms. But God is also in the redeeming business of our losses and pit timed. The book is sold on Amazon or through me. There is a general Amazon review of the book there and 7 who have read the book have written reviews as well. Miracles of redemption and subsequently helping others through their own pain. God will never abandon us.

  6. Thank you for your message. I’m going through being apart from my husband due to verbal and a one-time physical abuse issue. He refused to get help and so we are apart. I’m in a safe place but it is very difficult. I also have been diagnosed with arthritus of the spine and had to leave my last two jobs so do not have any income. I am so grateful to have God as my Lord and Savior;I don’t know how I would make it through each day. But the crying is coming over me easily as the pain is so great. It has been about 2 1/2 months of being apart. Without giving all the details of why he is at times abusive and otherwise affectionate and tender, the fact is that when we are joined as one in marriage…..we truly are. I will not go back into the living with him unless he has a heart change and makes an effort to heal and go through whatever God would have us do to have reconciliation. But it’s hard and painful. I just had someone today say something about me crying and so many people act as though I should be healed and over this already. Your message is an encouragement to me, I know I have to be able to grieve, but not everyone else does. I’m keeping my eyes on Jesus and remembering all of the Lord’s promises from scripture. He is patient and walks with me through this time. I believe He’s understanding of my tears. I trust that He will use this to make me more like Jesus Christ, our Savior.

  7. Thank you for this article—- our grand baby boy was stillborn in June and the tears still flow way too easily. Everyone around us had moved on and I tend to feel guilty for crying so easily—- thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to grieve….

  8. Awesome article. TY Pastor Walborn. I am there now. Wish I had read this a few years back. I’m grateful to have had read it today

  9. After leaving the ministry out of severe pain caused by the senior pastor, I have almost given up hope of the normal. Plagued by anger hatred bitterness depression fits of emotional outburst of crying and a loss of hope of ever finding my again I only hope I can begin to heal from the empty she’ll I have become.

  10. Grieving is so painful, but in my case it is because of strong love. The loss is horribly severe and therefore I grieve. My prayer is that I will represent God well, even as I cry out to Him in sorrow. I cannot make my loss an idol. For my experience (everyone is different), I appreciated the aurhor’s portion about just being near a grieving person. Don’t try to fix them. Gird them with prayer. Pray they will let God use their grief and strengthen them. Thank you.

  11. Ron….such a powerful article about grief. Roy and I have worked alongside grieving people through GriefShare and a kid’s grief program we created. We have walked alongside a lot of grieving people, including those who experienced loss through death, loss of homes and animals in the Colorado Springs fires, kids who have been separated from family and who have experienced other forms of losses. Your article so well articulated what we share in our sessions. Would love to sit in the class you do this exercise in…..the healing process is a continuous, every day discipline for each one of us. I thank God for the dark days of my life that have drawn me into a deeper understanding of who He is and just how much He loves.

    We now work at a camp in NH. We are 1990 grads of Nyack and live this crazy journey we are on! We started a free weekend experience here at camp called ‘Home for the Holidays’, allowing families to seek healing from their losses, especially through the holidays.

  12. These are calming comforting words and I thank you for sharing them!
    People need ” permission ” to grieve sometimes. Many in the body of Christ, wrongly make you feel Grieving is unacceptable for Christians! So very foolish and I truthfully didn’t understand much about it in my young years but as life happens and losses mount, I am so thankful for words like yours in the Power of the Holy Spirit. After the deaths of my parents,suicide of my sister, my own experience with cancer, and the death of my husband of 47 years along with other kinds of loses, I’ve learned to let it out ! And “feel” my pain! It’s not fun! But oh so good as we cry it out to God! Comfort & Help, Healing and Hope restore my heart and my very life! Thank you! Keep on Encouraging!

  13. Thank you Ron for sharing this and putting it in a format that is easy enough to even those who don’t want the challenge. I will share it and we should talk about how much I can share it in the future alongside the devotional I just wrote about grief that will be published next month

  14. Thanks Ron for sharing the article. I needed it writing so I can share with my closed friends that did not have the chance to listen to you talked at College of Prayers. I enjoyed your articles and talk for they are very practical and God use you to speak to my life when I needed it. God bless you and your work. Sye Kong, MN

  15. Thank you for your wonderful insights again. I am in a place where this so applies. I am reminded as we used to say, “It’s OK not to be OK “!

  16. This was so truly comforting to me. My daughter is also getting married and moving away. When I start to feel sad, I just remeber what a gift my new son in law is, and push back the tears. I now feel free to embrace this true loss in my life so that I can enjoy what God has next for them and for me.
    I also sat and cried and prayed with a patient today who is grieving the loss of a miscarriage in May. She is in therapy and having trouble coping daily.
    This article is a great tool of truth, which provides freedom to grieve, pointing to the One true comforter, who can heal all wounds and bring new life.
    Thank you Ron for sharing this with us. I will share this with my patient in a hope that she will find her peace and recovery in Jesus.

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