How to Grieve as a Christian

A little over three years ago I lost my mother to breast cancer. That was definitely the most difficult experience of my life. There are no words to explain the grief of watching your mother fade away. To see the one you’ve lived so much life with lying there lifeless. Still. Dead.

And I’ll never forget the scene just after my mother passed away. As she lay there dead in our living room, I watched my family members go through an interesting ritual. Just as they were about to break down in painful tears of sorrow and loss, they would suddenly try to fight the pain by saying, “She’s in a better place. She’s not suffering. God works all things for good.”

As I watched this ritual play out before my eyes, I discovered an important truth.

God’s word is not meant to minimize our pain.

Too often Christians use God’s promises like an anesthetic. Something to take the pain away. Something that will keep them from feeling life’s hard edges.

But I want to suggest something radical. When pain or tragedy strike, the healthiest response is not to quote Romans 8:28 and tell yourself to not feel so bad. The healthiest response is to go as deeply into that pain as God will allow.

Why would I say this? Let me answer by telling you how my mother’s death affected me. I grieved hard, bitter, agonizing grief when she died. I watched the cancer rack and wither her body until it ripped the life out of her. And as she lay there dead, and I stood over her weeping bitter tears, two amazing things happened.

1. I began to hate sin more than ever. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Until the day my mother died, death was just a concept to me. A theory. A truth. But now it was real. Now it had flesh and bones. Now death had ripped my heart in two. And I hated it. You see, to the degree that you enter into the grief, you will also cultivate a hatred of sin.

2. I began to understand the gospel more than ever. In the months following my mother’s death the Bible came alive to me. And particularly, the gospel message. Again, up to this point the gospel was largely theoretical. I believed it, to be sure. But now it meant something so much deeper when I read about Jesus conquering sin and death. For I had tasted the bitterness of death and wanted nothing more than to be delivered from it. And because I entered into this grief, the gospel of Jesus began to thrill me.

And it wouldn’t have happened if I had just quoted a few verses to myself like taking aspirin.

In To the Golden Shores, Courtney Anderson tells of an incident in the life of Adoniram Judson. After losing his wife and child on the field he nearly went insane with grief. After about three years of hard grieving one of his fellow missionaries died leaving a young wife behind. Here’s an excepts of a letter Judson wrote to this grieving widow:

You are now drinking the bitter cup whose dregs I am somewhat aquainted with.  And though, for some time, you have been aware of its approach, I venture to say that it is far bitterer than you expected.  It is common for persons in your situation to refuse all consolation, to cling to the dead, and to fear that they too shall too soon forget the dear object of their affections.  But don’t be concerned.  I can assure you that months and months of heart-rending anguish are before you, whether you will or not.  Yet take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to your meal.  You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom…

What do you think? How should a Christian use God’s word in times of deep suffering?


  1. Reply
    Scott Holman says

    great post, brother. These events forever mark our lives; we are weaker and far more fragile than we wanted to admit, but our access to the grace of God is correspondingly that much greater.

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Thanks for stopping by Scott. My fear is that we often try to use the Bible to run from grief instead of into grief. I firmly believe that is the only path to deeper internalization of the gospel in our lives.

  2. Reply
    Daniel Davenport says

    Andy thank you for this post. During life changing events I have always had the tendency to flee to God’s word for comfort and to ease the pains and stresses of life. This is a great reminder that God puts these events in our lives to bring us closer to him and cultivate a greater sense of the impact of sin. The more hatred we have for sin the more precious our salvation becomes.

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Hey Daniel. Yeah, we have to be so careful not to give the impression that we shouldn’t run to God’s Word. We should! We just shouldn’t use the Bible like a magic pill meant to take away the pain. Paul said he was “afflicted but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Cor 4:8). The affliction really hurt and life really was perplexing. But God’s word sustained him “in the midst” of pain; it didn’t deliver him from pain.

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s so encouraging to see your faith growing brother!

  3. Reply
    Cynthia Smith says

    Thanks, Andy. This is a real help in my current situation. I enjoy the blog.

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      I wrote it with you in mind. You are in our prayers daily. Emmy also prays for you every night before bed. We love you.

  4. Reply
    Andrew Nordine says

    I was just thinking about you today. It’s the 3rd anniversary of a friend of ours in our new church losing his mom to cancer. Glad you posted this. I know I learned a lot from walking through this with you. Hard to believe it’s been 3 years already. Love you, brother. Praying for you.

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Andrew, good to hear from you. Yeah, it’s so hard to know how to be there fore somebody when tragedy strikes. You were a great friend to me through that whole thing. Thanks again. Love you to, bro.

    • Reply
      Collin M. Barrett says

      I am that friend of Andrew’s. This is so true, brother. Thank you for sharing. Pain is a consequence of death. And death is a consequence of sin. Pain is natural and, at least that I found, the most natural way to grieve. I miss my mother dearly. I believe in the truth of Romans 8:28. But, as you said, that still does not take the pain away. Thank you, sir.

      • Reply
        Andy Barlow says

        Collin, so sorry to hear about your mother. May the Christ continue to be your comfort your soul in the midst of your loss. And I pray that you would cry with the apostle Paul, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

      • Reply
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