God as Companion to Those Who Grieve
By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
Surely one of the most painful losses a human being can encounter is the demise of a sense of self-worth, the loss of a perception of one’s purpose and meaning in life.
A person whom I met recently expressed the depth of his grief in a letter that reads in part, “I am a pathetic loser of a man, a failure at everything . . . I don’t know what to do. I am lost, in the dark, and I have no clues. I do not know where forward is anymore, and I’m not sure I know what hope is either.”
His despair and grief calls to mind the Biblical story of the prophet Elijah, as told in 1 Kings 19. There we are told that Elijah “went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’”
Then we are told that Elijah lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Those who grieve soon learn that sleep can be received as a gracious gift and respite from the work of grief. As the psalmist says in Psalm 127:2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for [God] gives to his beloved sleep.” Sleep then, in seasons of grief, can be a reminder that God is with us in our sorrow.
The further presence of God, for Elijah in his grief, is revealed in the very next sentence (1 Kings 19:5) where we are told that “Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
Thank God for those companions on our grief journey who, even today, are agents of God’s hospitality and hope when we are so immobilized by grief that we can’t tend to such essential needs as getting enough sleep and remembering to eat!
Next in the scripture story God provides a cave where Elijah can spend the night. And the following day God offers an opportunity for some honest conversation in which Elijah is free to express his fear and frustration and receive from God some suggestions that will help him to move beyond grief and find some new direction in a post bereavement future.
Perhaps as you read my re-telling of this ancient story you are thinking of persons who were God’s angel companions, sent to walk with you during some dark time in your own grief.
And have you also considered that God might be calling you to walk as companions with others as they are grieving? Remember, from the story we have shared, that being God’s angel for someone in grief is really quite simple. Mostly it involves offering hope by just being present.
But it can also mean offering a non-judgmental listening ear, allowing the bereaved person to speak of their fears, frustrations and feelings of hopelessness—without fear of criticism.
And it may mean offering a surprise gift of food [the traditional casserole perhaps!?] and other helpful services to help the bereaved person get through each day until they are ready to begin to resume these normal activities on their own.