A friendship ends. A family member dies. A child leaves for college. A diagnosis shatters the sense of health and vitality. A revered mentor succumbs to scandal.
Loss comes in many forms, but it comes to all of us, and it comes repeatedly. It can be debilitating, particularly when one loss follows another, as often happens. It can be surprising; a financial setback may move us to tears and make us wonder why we are so affected. It can even be perplexing; a “mixed blessing,” such as a beautiful wedding, may leave us strangely sad, because a child is growing up and moving on (and out, presumably), and we may even feel guilty because, well, it’s a “happy occasion,” right?
Loss always produces grief, and grief begs to be expressed. And the Bible can teach us how valuable prayer is in the grieving process, and even equip us to grieve well.
Since psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s influential work in the book, On Death and Dying, identified five stages of grief, many people have been helped by the knowledge that denial, anger, bargaining, depression and (eventually) acceptance are all part of a healthy response to loss. Both those who feel sorrow and those who mourn with them can fulfill Jesus’ words (“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Matthew 5:3, NIV) by praying through the five stages of grief, with the help of such biblical prayers as the following:
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm” (Psalm 55:4-7, NIV).
I cannot keep from speaking.
I must express my anguish.
My bitter soul must complain.
Am I a sea monster or a dragon
that you must place me under guard?
I think, ‘My bed will comfort me,
and sleep will ease my misery,’
but then you shatter me with dreams
and terrify me with visions.
I would rather be strangled—
rather die than suffer like this.
I hate my life and don’t want to go on living.
Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.
What are people, that you should make so much of us,
that you should think of us so often?
For you examine us every morning
and test us every moment.
Why won’t you leave me alone,
at least long enough for me to swallow!
If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
O watcher of all humanity?
Why make me your target?
Am I a burden to you?
Why not just forgive my sin
and take away my guilt?
For soon I will lie down in the dust and die.
When you look for me, I will be gone (Job 7:11-21, NLT).
“Abba, Father… everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36, NIV).
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God….
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me (Psalm 69:1-3, 13-16, ESV).
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).
Obviously, these are not the only Bible prayers that can help with the grieving process. In fact, Job and Lamentations are excellent resources for praying through the early stages of grief, and the Psalms are incomparable for praying in and through every stage, not only of grief, but of every human emotion and experience. But the above prayers can help the grieving heart to make a start, along with the precious promise that “God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans” (Romans 8:26, The Message).