For so many of us, life has been thick with grief.
Devastating news cycles—ones that start national conversations about racism, ones that divide and scatter family members, making us forget that, as Mother Teresa said, we belong to one another.
National disasters—hurricanes and fires that rip us from our homes and most meaningful possessions.
If you’ve been reading the Bible for a while, it’s easy to fall into a common trap: that Bible reading feels trite. After all, you know all the stories. Blessed are those who mourn; yeah, you get it. But when it’s really happening to you, when you’re truly finding yourself knee-deep in grief, it can be helpful to cling to a few people in the Bible whose lives were anything but easy.
Jeremiah is often known as the “weeping prophet,” and it’s no surprise why. God called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry but didn’t exactly hand him a ready and willing crowd. Jeremiah was persecuted for his ministry and even though God protected him, I’m guessing it wasn’t fun to be thrown in a hole of mud. Jeremiah even angrily tells God “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!” (Jeremiah 20:7)
What we can learn: Jeremiah does what God asks of him, but he suffers for it. Greatly. Oftentimes these days, people think that our highest achievement should be worldly happiness. Jeremiah reminds us how untrue that is. Jeremiah also teaches us an important lesson about God—that He can handle our anger! Jeremiah yells at God and really lets Him have it, letting Him know all that’s on his heart, but we still consider him a saint today. If you feel the need to rage at God for a bit, know that you can. He can take your feelings of anger and hurt. If you feel duped, bring that to Him—burying it will only make you explode.
Naomi definitely doesn’t have it easy. Her name may have meant “my joy” but her life seems beyond the pale when you read her story. After a famine forces her to move with her family, her husband and two sons pass away, leaving her with no one but her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi says that the “Almighty has dealt very bitterly with [her]” (Ruth 1:20) and it’s true—that’s almost too much loss for one woman to take. Yet Naomi continues in her trust of the Lord, counseling Ruth and surging forward. She’s the definition of a strong woman, even though she was desolate and lonely.
What we can learn: It would have been easy for Naomi to give into despair, but instead, she focused her efforts on serving her daughter-in-law and helping her to secure a new husband, something that was vitally important during the time they lived. How can you use your grief to serve others, or use your skills to connect to a higher purpose? When we’re living through grief, it’s tempting to curl up in a ball and refuse to get out of bed. But if we’re able to find ways to help the world around us even through our sadness, we can make the world look more like Heaven and continue to point our hearts toward sainthood. The reverse is true as well—sometimes, in times of immense grief, it’s important to let others serve you. Naomi was so old that she couldn’t go out and gather food for her family, so Ruth had to go to the fields for her. Naomi wasn’t too proud to accept help, but instead realized this was the natural order of a family, to help one another in times of tumult.
If you’re talking about grief in the Bible, you obviously need to mention the mother of Jesus! Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and that it did. First, she said yes to carrying the Son of God, a yes that made Joseph question her. Then, she gave birth in a literal barn beside a handful of livestock; no comfy birthing ball or doula for Mary. As her Son grew, she watched Him be doubted, mocked, and ridiculed; although many praised His name, just as many condemned Him. And finally, she stood at the feet of the cross as she watched the most important person in the world to her be brutally murdered. Mary’s entire life was one painful moment after another. Yet, Mary continued to give that faith as she poured her heart into raising the Son of God.
What we can learn: Mary’s “yes” was obviously incredibly painful. But it also had moments of immense joy. Imagine the moment Mary realized Jesus has truly risen from the dead. The happiness that filled her heart in that moment must have been nearly indescribable. Or, much earlier, the moment He was placed in her arms at His birth. Even though she had to lay Him in a manger, He was still her firstborn, and the one she loved beyond measure. Can you find pockets of joy throughout your grief? Seeking out moments of grace can be incredibly life-giving during times when we feel as if we can’t possibly go on.
The Bible is full of people who experienced insurmountable grief. From Rachel to Vashti to Peter, you could spend days diving into characters in Scripture whose lives were remarkably difficult. It may feel as if your problems are nothing compared to theirs—after all, you probably aren’t being lowered into a pit of mud vis-a-vis Jeremiah. But that doesn’t mean your hard isn’t hard. That doesn’t mean your problems aren’t real. And that doesn’t mean your grief isn’t vital. By leaning into these influential people of the Bible, we can learn how to function through grief—how to not merely survive when things are hard, but to thrive.