A gentle breeze stirred the already-overgrown rose bush, buds barely visible, as the scent of the rosemary hedge wafted through the air. The morning was beautiful but a tight fist of grief, loss, and anger diminished my joy in the beauty around me. Laptop before me on the patio table, I felt the kiss of springtime sunshine and heard the serenade of songbirds. They were almost loud enough to drown out the click of my fingers on the keyboard but not the pressing need of my heart–how to deal with grief. 

My emotions were directed at a target as intangible as the air through which it was transmitted. The novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, wreaked more havoc on our world in a few short weeks than I imagined possible. Deaths. Loss. Economic uncertainty. Isolation. Loneliness. 

The Blessing of Mourning

When I chose the Sermon on the Mount for my “passage of the year” a few months ago, I didn’t expect to land on the fourth verse with a resounding whack and struggle to find my way past, but I did.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

There’s quite a difference between “comforted” and “comfortable,” isn’t there? We prefer the latter but are only promised the former.

Like you, I didn’t expect a novel coronavirus to invade my comfortable life, but it did. As the number of cases and deaths mounted on the other side of the world, the novel coronavirus was renamed. COVID-19 became our mutual, relentless worldwide enemy. My first reaction was skepticism. I’ve lived through reports of many deadly viruses. None of them seriously threatened my nation. My state. My little section of the world. But this one did.

Fear gripped me long before COVID-19 hit Italy with a vengeance. This virus was much different. It brought destruction indiscriminately and it was headed our way.

Unexpected Comfort

When COVID-19 cases overwhelmed Italy’s healthcare system, doctors died, and bodies piled up, my fear and desperation hit a peak. I wrote impassioned posts on social media. If they did any good, I couldn’t tell it. Since my posts didn’t help, I thought, maybe words delivered in a different format and setting would. Thus, I started morning Zoom sessions called Whisper Connection, a 30-minute online gathering designed to build community and offer encouragement and connection in a time of unprecedented isolation.

Our first session focused on my personal stuck-place, Matthew 5:4. Blessed are they that mourn. I recognized a deep well of grief in my own soul. As it turned out, I was not the only one.

Comfort begins with recognition of our grief

We are entrenched in dense worldwide grief.

In college, admittedly a few decades ago, I studied Kubler-Ross’ landmark work. She described five stages of grief. Although her work has never been verified by peer-reviewed data, the emotions she described are valid and found in almost all grief: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. (1)

I saw clear evidence of my own shock, denial, anger, and bargaining in my posts on social media and in the turmoil in my heart. Unfortunately, my anger was mostly directed at the nameless masses who were (or so I thought) making it worse by their refusal to distance and isolate themselves. They definitely made my efforts to feed hungry children harder because of the hoarding. Grace, not more anger, was the more appropriate response but I found my outward-bound supply of grace sadly lacking.

It took me a while to see the actions against which I railed were merely symptoms of our global grief and fear.

How do we find our way through our collective sorrow?  How do we learn to deal with grief? The very place at which I was stuck held the answer. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

A Mountain of Grief

The word translated as “mourn” is pentheo (2) and can be traced back to a root word meaning “suffering.” (3) The emotion we feel in response to the deadly virus and the social distancing and isolation to which we are consigned is grief. We mourn our losses—of our way of life, our freedom, independence, the certainty of health, livelihood, and, in all too many cases, the ability to buy basics like bread and toilet paper whenever we want—and it is a very real type of suffering. Added to the universal loss are friends and loved ones who are desperately ill or have perished in part or in whole because of the virus. We have what may feel like an insurmountable mountain of grief.

We mourn but we don’t feel blessed. 

Jesus, however, said we are blessed in the midst of our mourning because of the promised comfort we can receive. The word translated as “comforted” is parakaleo and can be translated as “to refresh or cheer.” (Thayer’s) (4) It comes from a root word meaning “to call near, to invite”. (5) You may recognize a closely related word for the Holy Spirit, parakletos, meaning advocate or helper. (6)

When we put all this information together, we find a beautiful whole. We are blessed even when we grieve because the Holy Spirit invites us to draw near for refreshment, cheer, and comfort even in our sorrow. Is there any greater comfort? No, indeed.

The emotion associated with grief is both normal and healthy. Allowing ourselves to become “stuck” in our emotional response to loss is not. Once we recognize our struggle, we must take action to deal with grief. Most of us can make a good start by taking the steps that help us draw closer to God.

How to Draw Closer to God:

  1. Repent of unconfessed sin to enjoy seasons of refreshment (Acts 3:19)
  2. Read and study Scripture to find light in the darkness and direction in times of uncertainty. (Psalm 119:105
  3. Shared burdens are lightened and we are strengthened, even when we share digitally rather than in person. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
  4. Pray for one another. (James 5:16)
  5. Give thanks, even when it’s hard. (Psalm 50:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Grief is rampant but we can move from our shock, denial, and anger all the way through to acceptance and healing. We cannot do it, however, if we don’t make a start.

To my utter surprise, the very group I started to help others has been the key to unlocking my own grief and anger. Full parking lots no longer seem filled with the cars of enemies. Instead, every car represents people who also struggle with the grief, fear, and uncertainty I’ve experienced. The difference may be the place to which we’ve turned for comfort. I don’t presume to know where, or if, the crowds find comfort, but my consolation is found in my faith relationship with Jesus.

Friends, our future is not dependent upon stores of bread, toilet paper, milk, or any other item we might hoard. It’s not dependent upon the end of our shelter-at-home season nor upon the political prowess of public officials. Our hope and future are in Christ alone. He stands ready to comfort us in our time of need. We need only turn to Him.

Those are true words but what does it mean to turn to Him? What actions do we take?

How to Turn to God in Times of Crisis and Deal with Grief:

  1. Stop looking to the media for truth or direction. (John 14:6)
  2. Begin each day with Scripture and read until you have a nugget of truth to which you can cling. (Psalm 119:105)
  3. Memorize Scripture. Start with one verse. Write it out. Repeat it aloud. Pray it through. Seek to incorporate it in your daily life. (Psalm 119:11)
  4. Pray without ceasing. Pray for yourself, your family, political leaders, those serving in front line care to the sick and those in need. Now is the time to pray big and wait with expectation for God to move. (1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 3:20)
  5. Take every thought captive. Pray for strength and replace thoughts of fear or worry with the truth you know. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
  6. Make a difference where you can. Whether you can sew masks for healthcare workers or write notes of encouragement to senior adults living alone, you can reach out to others who are also struggling. (Matthew 5:16)
  7. Remember God holds the future and He has good plans for those who love Him. He will go with us every step of the way. (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 15:13)

Our world has experienced (and continues to experience) a shared challenge. We often call it unprecedented but it’s not. Infectious diseases have caused pandemics in the past and will again. This is, of course, our own personal crisis but the same faith in God and truth which brought people through the plague and the Spanish Flu of 1918 will bring us through, as well.

We will get through this the way we’ve done so many things before. Clinging to Jesus and to each other.

Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

Endnotes:

1. Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1969) 38-137.
2. “G3996 – pentheo – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)” – Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020. http://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3996&t=NASB
3. “G3958 – pascho – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3958&t=NASB
4. “G3878 – parakaleo – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3878&t=NASB
5. “G2564 – kaleo – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2564&t=NASB
6.”G3875 – parakletos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (NASB)” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3875&t=NASB

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Life After COVID-19: Choosing Change Now

How to Trust God in Hard Times

Will We Make Room for God in Our Lives?

Contentment Regardless of Circumstances

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