Perhaps social media has increased our awareness, but chances are you or someone you know is enduring a season of grief right now: the death of a loved one, friend, neighbor or coworker.
Loss always produces grief. There is no escaping it. If you try to deny it or postpone it, it will only gather force and become more debilitating the longer you try to suppress it. That is one reason prayer is an indispensable resource for a grieving heart. While intelligible prayer may seem impossible in the early days of a deep loss, one or more of the following prayers may become helpful as the shock begins to subside:
1) Pour out your grief.
“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief” (Psalm 31:9, NIV). My heart is broken, my mind exhausted. I cry out to you and hardly know what to ask. All I can do is tell you how I feel and ask you to “keep track of all my sorrows. . . . all my tears in your bottle. . . . each one in your book” as I pour them out to you (Psalm 56:8, NLT). Amen.
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2) Ask for comfort.
Jesus, You said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NIV). I am mourning; send me Your comfort now. Wrap around Your arms around me and hold me tight. Send angels of mercy to me. Shower Your comfort on me through those around me, and keep far from me those whose words and actions are no comfort. Amen.
3) Ask for healing.
O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, hurry to help me. Please take the consuming anguish I feel right now; take it from me and hold me in Your arms. Heal my broken heart and bind up my wounds (see Psalm 147:3). Amen.
4) Ask for peace.
Jesus, You told Your followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. . . . Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:1, 27, NIV). I need Your peace. I need “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” to guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7, NIV). I need peaceful sleep. I ask for peaceful thoughts and emotions to rule my days and nights. Amen.
Read More: The Garden That Healed Our Grief
5) Ask for hope.
Lord, the Bible says You are “close to the brokenhearted and those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalm 34:18, NLT). Draw close to me and rescue me. Help me not to grieve like those who haven’t discovered Your kindness and mercy, who have no hope (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13); lift me up and give me hope once more. Help me to believe that tomorrow will be better, and the next day will be easier, and that a day will come when I will feel a surge of energy and expectation for what You are doing and where You will take me. Amen.
As the prayers above suggest, you may find special comfort in reading and praying the Psalms during a season of grief. They can help you take the time to grieve well and to pray as much as you are able.
Rick Thyne is a spiritual mentor and old friend. Ever since that day he came to talk to our Sunday school class and some rowdy teen lodged a balled-up program at him and he caught it with one hand, never missing a beat, I’ve been putty in his hands.
He was the youth minister back then, and I was a freshman in high school. Our friendship has lasted over many years, through emails, phone calls, lunches, heart-to-heart talks and books passed back and forth.
“You’re all about Jesus,” I used to tell him. Nobody I ever knew had greater passion for Jesus. He used to read the book of Mark from beginning to end, over and over again, savoring all of Jesus’ counsel. He’s probably read it hundreds of times by now.
He’s seen plenty of joy in life and much sorrow. In all the years of saying the Lord’s Prayer, I wonder if he’s stopped and paused over that phrase, “Lead me not into temptation” or the more recent translation, “Save me from the time of trial.”
He’s seen his faith tried and tested, never more than when his 24-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in an accident in Africa while serving in the Peace Corps. Talk about a time of trial.
Jesse was the youngest child of three, an adopted sprite, musical, off-beat, earnest, ready to make his mark in life by serving the poorest of the poor deep in the damp equatorial heat of Guinea, a calling that surely honored his father’s own instinct for “the least of these.”
There he died in a horrible traffic accident in the back of a ramshackle taxi going too fast on a blind turn, hit by a truck, killed violently and instantly.
Because Rick is a man of faith, because Rick has a probing theology, because Rick prays constantly even when he’s not sure his prayers are heard, he has grappled painfully with what this all means. Where was God’s grace then?
At the graveside service for my dad, Rick offered a phrase that all of us found comforting, “Think of your dad as one of the balcony people now,” he said. Gone, but not gone. Dad was up there in a balcony someplace, looking down on us, encouraging, looking out for us, always there.
That’s something he got from going to church as a teen, and feeling the support of the congregation, especially those looking down on him from the balcony, those blessed folk who are always there.
Dare I say that Rick will always be one of my balcony people, in death and in life? Not just for the good times we’ve shared but also for the tough, trying times, and for the way he’s shared himself.
He’s written a book about those times, The Awful Grace of God. It doesn’t offer simple pat answers, but in ways that Rick might not even realize, it shows the awful presence of God.
On March 8 and 9, the Kindle edition of the book is free and the paperback is at a deep discount. (To get the discount, use code NN2Y2MHM at checkout.)
His book will always be a reminder to me of how essential it is to pray to God during the toughest times, and tell God the truth. God can’t reach out to us unless we reach out to him with what’s on our minds, even if what’s on our minds seems baffling and anger-making.
Then the grace of God works through us.
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).