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When Grief Goes Deep: Facing Your Emotions

When Grief Goes Deep: Facing Your Emotions

Read: Genesis 37

When Jacob learned of his beloved son Joseph’s (supposed) death, he did five striking things in response to his grief: he tore his clothes; he put on sackcloth; he mourned many days; he wept; he refused to be comforted. Our tendency might be to dismiss some of his reactions as culturally different, unusual. These reactions to grief, however, were common in ancient Near Eastern cultures. After observing our culture, I wonder if we might learn something from Jacob about facing grief.

We have intriguing expressions in American culture about showing grief and other strong emotions. They include “falling apart,” “losing it,” and “breaking down.” We also assign emotions to either positive or negative categories. We place grief in the latter. Our language constructs our perception of grief and our preference for turning from grief rather than facing it.

I remember visitation at the funeral home following the death of my younger brother, Dick. When my friend John C. came through the line, he hugged me and I wept. Later, someone who had observed my reaction described it as “Dave lost it.” After hearing this, I didn’t want to make others feel uncomfortable, so I chose to hide my grief. I got the cultural message and let it shape my response to my grief.

  • What messages have others given you about grief? How did they affect you?

In Dr. James Pennebaker’s book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion,1 he cites several studies which indicate that we gain protection against harmful internal stress when we express emotions. We also gain the long-term benefits of decreased risks of future diseases and increased health in our immune system.

Jacob not only faced his grief but also embraced it. He put on sackcloth — a culturally accepted way of expressing grief — which was typically coarse black cloth made of goat’s hair, much like wearing black in some cultures today. He wept and he mourned; he became a person who was acquainted with the pain of grief.

Jesus is also “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3) — or as the King James Version puts it, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He wept when His friend Lazarus died. God wants to develop the heart of Jesus, a man of sorrows, in us. What if not facing and embracing our grief means we are resisting this development?

What if expressing grief is actually “coming together” rather than “falling apart” — our heart and spirit coming together with our body?

Dear Jesus, I choose to trust You. Form Your heart in mine. Amen.

~Dave Beach

  1. James W. Pennebaker, Opening Up (New York: Guilford, 1990), 34.

Excerpted with permission from When Grief Goes Deep edited by Timothy Beals, copyright Zondervan.


Your Turn

Have your learned from others not to express your grief? How would your relationship with God, your relationship with others, and your emotional health change if instead of stuffing the pain you let it flow? God never meant for us to be relentlessly stoic. Jesus wept. So should we. ~ Devotionals Daily