Participating in two different grief support groups, one gains perspective on how the pain of loss affects people in different ways. One of the groups I attend is designed for parents who have lost children. The other I have been involved in is GriefShare. No matter what your experience is in grief, there is some commonality among all who suffer loss.
One of those common things is the very human desire of those expressing sympathy to say something that will alleviate your pain. Even though there are no words, and it is certainly advisable to simply sit and suffer with those who are hurting, listening if they should want to talk – few people can do this. It really is hard. So out come the words. In most grief meetings someone recalls something that was said to them that was totally nutty, even though the heart of the person really wanted to try to help. I don’t have to rehearse those here… I can probably think of some dumb things I’ve said to people.
One of those things, though, is heard very often and it is a misrepresentation of a Bible verse. Some well intentioned person will say, “well, you know God will never put anything on you that is heavier than you can bear.” Or some rendition such as that. Nevermind the fact that this saying wouldn’t help even if it were in the Bible. It simply isn’t. And let’s remember that when you’re grieving God hasn’t necessarily given you that grief. He may use it to His purposes, but I do not believe He causes it. The verse being recalled is from 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
This comes in a discussion the the children of Israel, and how they grumbled, committed sexual immorality, worshiped idols and in other ways offended God. They serve as an example for us – an example of what not to do. We are told in verse 12 to be careful so that we do not fall into the same kinds of sin. And then comes the verse above. Temptations are common to all people. Temptations are not in control of our will. We have a choice in our response to temptation. And if there is a loss of self-control on the horizon, then there is a way out.
Grief is not a temptation. It is a reality. Ask a grieving parent if the burden is too heavy to bear (no, don’t really ask, just think about it). Think of the widow who has lived for many years with a companion who has now gone from this life. There may be temptations associated with any experience, but grief is not a temptation. This use of the above verse is not only unhelpful, it is incorrect.
Will God allow us to endure something that is too heavy to bear? I think yes. For one, the above verse mentions a “way out” … to me that says you have to escape to survive. But that is dealing with temptation. What about burdens? Apostle Paul, in Galatians 6, offers two helpful perspectives:
Carry each other’s burdens. True, this is in the context of sinning and being restored (Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.“) Grief is not a sin. But in this case grief is a burden, and it is one that others can help us bear. And in doing this, we fulfill the law of Christ – which I believe is what Jesus identified as the two greatest commandments.
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
We bear the burdens of the grieving by acts of love and service, listening, quietly supporting, and by giving them time and space when needed. We stick with them longterm, not allowing loneliness and quietness to overtake them once the funeral is over. That’s the hard part, and one at which we often fail. But yes, this is a bigger burden than many can carry, and we need strong people to carry us through.
Carry your own burdens. Some burdens cannot be carried by others. Galatians 6:5 says, “…for each one should carry his own load.” Some things are just things we must bear on our own. Grief is also one of these kinds of burdens, for no one can hurt for us. No one can express our feelings for us. No one can heal for us. When others have done all the burden bearing they can, then we must also carry our burdens. I believe we do this by prayer, journaling, interaction with people, reading Scripture and other expressions of perseverance (not giving up).
To the grieving, I want to encourage you not to see yourself as abandoned by God in your pain. He hasn’t given you this burden. He hasn’t watched as your heart has been weighted down until you can barely move as if you are just above the breaking point. The loss of a child, or other loved one, is a breaking point. It takes time to rebuild faith after devastation like that. In 1901 Frank E. Graefe, after a long period of discouragement asked in his hymn Does Jesus Care? His song asserts in the chorus, “Oh yes, He cares, I know, He cares. His heart is touched by my grief. When the days are weary the long nights dreary I know my Savior cares.”