Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (Job 1 v 20-22)
When loss comes, grief is often not far behind. Though the shock of pain or the adrenalin of the survival instinct may make us appear strong for a time, grief—“the inward desolation that follows losing something or someone we loved” (J.I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified, page 9)—will eventually find its way into every fiber of our being.
Grief follows the great losses that some of us walk through (death, infertility, abuse, a wayward child, and so on), and it follows the smaller yet still painful losses (financial issues, missed opportunities, disappointments). All are hard to navigate in a marriage.
Job knew loss. He lost everything—his livestock, servants, and every one of his children. In one fell swoop, his wealth, security, and family were stripped away. Yet, in response to unfathomable affliction, Job does something equally unfathomable: he shaves his head, falls to the ground, and worships the Lord.
This is unfathomable because it is so different than the way most of us, including Christians, respond to trials.
In Western culture, we’re often uncomfortable with grief, doing our best to avoid the reality that death and decay (of people and things) is evidence that this world is wasting away. Instead, we strive to appear strong, think positive, and fill our lives with whatever will help mask the pain. Or, instead of allowing grief and loss to drive them to a greater hope, many avoid facing brokenness head on by relieving the deep ache with whatever will dull the pain. Alternatively, sometimes as Christians we do grieve, but we think that while we grieve we can be excused from wor- shiping God—we’ll start living for him again once we feel better and the grief has faded.
How can we learn to respond as Job did? And why would we even want to?
GRIEF IS NOT A SIGN OF UNBELIEF
Don’t think that Job’s worship was in place of his grief, or that those who believe do not feel grief at all. As the pastor and author John Piper points out:
“The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial ‘Praise God anyhow’ response to suffering. The magnificence of his worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. And let the rest of us weep with those who weep.“(Job: Reverent in Suffering, desiringgod.org/ messages/job-reverent-in-suffering, accessed 12/1/19)
It’s natural and right to grieve the losses and pain we experience in this life. Grief and tears are not a sign of weak faith, but a normal and healthy response to the brokenness of this world and the painful effects that it has upon our lives. The Bible tells us that this fallen world is not the place we were designed for. The place we were made for is coming, but it is not here yet. Until then, we have to learn to live in a land between—grieving but hoping, unsettled in the pain but at peace in Christ’s presence, worshiping in our pain.
Having hope doesn’t mean we won’t grieve. Having hope means we grieve with the confidence that “Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5 v 10).
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF WORSHIPING IN GRIEF
Equally, Job’s worship did not mean his grief didn’t continue. Job didn’t, and we don’t, walk through the pain of loss in a week or two, never to feel the absence or pain again. (The book of Job would be far shorter, but far less helpful and hopeful for us, if he had!) In truth, we typically don’t feel the full weight of our grief until the shock wears off, the meals stop coming, our friends stop calling, and the world seems to move on while we are left with our pain and daily reminders of our loss.
Job didn’t find it easy. He, like us, went up and down in his worship. By chapter 19, Job’s words begin to sound far less worshipful:
Behold, I cry out, “Violence!” but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice. [God] has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. He has stripped from me my glory and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.(Job 19 v 7-10)
But Job isn’t ceasing to worship; rather, the face of his worship has begun to change. Now Job reveals his trust in the Lord by honestly bringing his pain and confusion before him. Though it’s wrong to grumble about God, we’re allowed to come to him humbly and ask him, “Why?” and we’re allowed to feel conflicted. God doesn’t expect us to be silent in our pain, grinning and bearing it, but to come to him honestly, with all our questions, fears, hurts, and confusion. It’s here, in the unsettling place of grief, that we can wrestle with, and begin to understand, the depths of God’s love and goodness toward us.
Grief and worship can co-exist, and so can trust and questions. Even as Job asks what God is doing, he reminds himself of what he knows:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.(Job 19 v 25-27)
When a fresh wave of grief comes, we let the tears come, we cry out to the Lord with honesty in our pain… and we remind ourselves of the hope of the gospel. Our grief acknowledges that things are not as they should be, while our hope in the gospel reminds us that our grief no longer tells the whole story. We have a Redeemer, who paid the price to set us free from the punishment for our sin and will one day set us free from the presence of sin. When he returns, he will redeem what has been lost and restore what has been broken. At last—and not a moment too soon as we struggle through our trials—he will stand upon the earth, and we will stand with him, beyond the loss and the grief and the pain and the death.
WALKING IN GRIEF WITH YOUR SPOUSE
Not long ago, as I was experiencing another wave of grief over trials that have plagued our family for years, I felt myself pulling away from Jeff. I felt lonely, and I felt resentful. It felt to me that he seemed completely untouched by all that was going on, while I was battling fresh heartache. One day, after believing the lies that he didn’t care and was detached from the circumstances that felt (and still feel) so devastating to me, the dam of resentment I’d allowed to build up broke and I told him, in a forthright way, how I was feeling.
His response was calmer than my outburst, thankfully. He explained how he was struggling in his own way. It was a much-needed reminder that we are both grieving, but the face of our grief often varies. As I’ve reflected on that conversation, I’ve taken three things away that I need to remember:
1. PEOPLE GRIEVE DIFFERENTLY
Couples tend to grieve differently than each other, just as Jeff and I do. One of you may express grief through frequent bouts of tears and will need to talk things through; one of you may show little emotion at all, and you cope by distracting yourself with anything that will keep your mind elsewhere. One of you may feel as though you have to hold it together, and then months or years later your own grief suddenly and unexpectedly begins to surface. Recognize these differences and be patient with one another—and communicate with each other. One of the enemy’s powerful attacks on a marriage is the words that should be spoken but never are. When a husband and wife do not communicate their grief and let the other one into their wrestling with God at the appropriate time, the “one flesh” can feel as though it has split into two.
2. YOUR SPOUSE ISN’T CHRIST
Remember to bring your grief first and foremost to Christ, for he alone is the source of your hope and strength. If you expect your spouse to be able to provide all the comfort you need, or to understand you fully and completely and respond with wisdom and just the right encouragement, you’ll be disappointed and they’ll be crushed, and you’ll both grow resentful.
3. YOUR SPOUSE IS YOUR SPOUSE
Yes, your spouse is not your Savior, but they can share both your joy and pain in ways that others can’t and weren’t meant to. If we begin to think independently from each other, and we are unwilling to let our spouse into our heartache because we think they won’t understand or may say the wrong thing, it’s bound to leave us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. In the end, our silence robs us of the opportunity and privilege to walk and grow alongside of each other, coming to know more of Christ together and grow more in love with each other through our suffering.
(Jeff) As a husband, it’s tempting for me to take my pain solely to the Lord but then to keep it all from Sarah. When I do this, I sacrifice trust and intimacy between us. At times my motive may be one of not wanting to place any addi- tional burden upon Sarah, but at others it is because I don’t like to show weakness. I need to remember that we need to grieve together, even as we grieve differently. God wants me to knit my heart together with Sarah’s, leading us both to stronger faith through greater dependency on and delight in our loving Savior. And I need to be open with Sarah if that is to happen.
WHAT IS MOST PRECIOUS HAS NOT BEEN LOST
How was Job able to respond in worship in the way he did? Not because he was not grieving his awful losses, but because he knew that what was most precious to him he had not lost and never could. If you know Jesus, you too can lose precious things yet still worship. Grief can refocus us on the value of Christ and the security we have in him. This is why grief and joy can co-exist and even grow together. To experience that alongside of our spouse is a gift we will only know if we’re willing to let each other into the ups and downs of our grief, and extend grace to our spouse as they navigate the ups and downs of theirs—as messy and unpredictable as that can be.
Friends, it’s ok to grieve, but don’t grieve alone. Let Christ into it and know the joy he has for you. And let your spouse into it and know the closeness which that can bring. Unexpected blessings are found as we walk side by side on the path where joy and sorrow meet.
~Jeff and Sarah Walton
Article is an adaptation of chapter 3 from Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts