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The motions of grief


As a child of the fifties and sixties I was used to seeing signs with the above pictured message at every railroad crossing. This was before electronics, digital technology, flashing signs or even automatic arms triggered by a passing car. You know, kinder, gentler times. Happy Days! But, it was a common warning as traffic in America was building and vehicles with the power to zoom 60 miles per hour were more common-place. It's sound advice now as the velocity of life challenges us. It is even more fitting counsel when disaster strikes.

The motions of grief are usually scripted by circumstances. Urgency most often greets us at the threshold of grief. In times of loss we are swept into a potentially dangerous sea of emotions. There are shock and awe factors that can empty us of energy, feeling, even sorrow. Instantly we are ushered into corridors of decision, the busy-ness of those minutes, hours, and days immediately following our crisis. It's one of the occasions when "STOP. LOOK. LISTEN." should flash across the screen in our head, a caution to pause, look around, and listen carefully.

I remember a dear friend sitting me down the night we were told of Brian's murder. The day had been filled with officials from the coroner's office, the police department, news media, people from our church, friends, and our own family. It was a hectic pace, the mechanics of grief orchestrating our movements. In effect, my friend said to stop, look, and listen. It was only in reflection later that I understood why I was supposed to put on the brakes during those days, and what i should be looking and listening for.

The Stop Motion

We were immediately caught in the undertow of arrangements, contacts, decisions, events, and all the details of such tragedy. My friend reminded me, a pastor for more than 30 years, to "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10, ESV). He also took me to Luke 10:40, ESV, where Luke described Martha as being "...distracted with much serving". He added, "Your church family is trying to comfort and surround you with care, and your servant's heart is getting in the way." it was a sobering moment, a teachable moment. So, my first advice to Christians facing the ordeals of grief is to stop, step aside, and pay attention.

The Look Motion

Observation is difficult when the road ahead is obscured by clouds of busy-ness. That night Harriet and I were reminded of something Jesus had said: "My Father is always at his work, to this very day, and I too am working" (John 5:17, NIV). Remembering this raised our awareness that he would be working in Brian's death and our response to it. That's when we remembered "grace ambulances", the way he revealed his presence, his promises, and his provision for us through the people, comments, and expressions of kindness as we came to grips with Brian's death. There were many. One was when a reporter slipped in the front door past my brother who was guarding us. Before we could show him out, he said something to this effect: "I'm not here to sensationalize your son's death or to create problems for you. I'm here to care for you and express my sorrow at your loss." That was just one immediate "grace ambulance". There were many others. Had we not stopped and paid attention, we may not have seen it. Paul wrote, "Look at what is before your eyes" (2 Corinthians 10:7, ESV). We must be watchful!

The Listen Motion

Listening is not my forte. But, my friend reminded me that night of James 1:19, ESV---"...be quick to listen, slow to speak...", and other Scriptures guiding us to pay attention to what God was saying to us in that dark night of the soul. David recorded what God had said, "But my people did not listen to my voice" (Psalm 81:11, ESV). In times of crisis we must listen.

The motions of grief position us to see his hand and hear his voice as we open the doors through the wall of sorrow and loss. They are intentional movements, without which we can be paralyzed in our mourning. Job stopped, looked, and listened. He told his friends, "Behold, my eye has seen all of this, and my ear has heard and understood it" (Job 13:1, ESV). God had revealed to him "...things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (Job 42:3, ESV).

Grief is an unavoidable element of life. But, believers experience it on a different level because of our eternal hope in Jesus Christ the Lord.

"...that you may not grieve as others who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 413, ESV).

Amen.


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