Godly Grief


I spent two years working as a Hospice Chaplain in the Mountains of East Tennessee. When you’re working with hospice, death and grief are ever-present. You have no choice over your patients. Mine ranged from Mountain Pentecostals, to unbeliever scientists here in Oak Ridge (a science city). But grief was universal.

I learned many things about grief, both by watching and listening to others and by paying attention to myself. One of the most surprising things I learned about grief is that each grief is all grief, meaning, that an event that opens up grief in our hearts, taps in to all the previous events of grief. Thus we find ourselves grieving far greater for something than the loss itself would have indicated.

Those two years were years that for a variety of reasons brought much grief to my heart. I found myself at the bedsides of strangers, listening to their stories, and weeping. They must have thought I was very emotional, or incredibly empathetic. I didn’t know how to say, “Your grief is part of my grief which is quite substantial just now.”

The discipline of Soul Saturdays and the frequent prayers for the departed in the Church probably saved my sanity those two years. I never had a week with less than three deaths.

The experience if anything taught me that it is possible for some one thing to be part of some larger thing. There was a communion within the experience of grief that I cannot articulate other than to say that it is so.

Thus, the verse of St. Paul which I quoted several days ago, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10) became important for me. Worldly grief can be the door to despair (which we certainly do not want). To grieve in a “godly” manner, I believe, means to unite and offer my grief to God. Thus “we do not grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I think in the same manner we can “weep with those who weep” learning that such things are not utterly private as our culture often teaches, but that the loss and suffering of one is the loss and suffering of us all. Even Christ wept over the grave of his friend Lazarus.

That passage in John 11, is very instructive:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept (33-35).

It is not simply the news of Lazarus’ death, nor his sorrow over his death that moves Christ to tears. It was when He saw Lazarus’ sister Mary weeping and the others who came with her weeping, that he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Their grief became His grief. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 52:4). We are not asked to do less.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





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