Listed below are 10 principles that have helped me greatly in coping with the loss of my son David and grandson Ethan. It was almost 8 years after their death that I began to put these principles down on paper. Anytime I find myself having a hard time, questioning God or feeling like I just want to crawl in a hole and never come out I go back and read over these principles. Sometimes I don’t have to start at the beginning but rather at some point in the middle. It is impossible to remain at number 10 all of the time. At least it is for me. We are all human and as such we must deal with thoughts, feelings and emotions that are imperfect.
These principles are based on one basic foundation, the Word of God. We must accept the fact that the Bible is true and that what is said and taught in the Bible about God is true and accurate. Without this foundation there is no hope, no reason for life and no sense of purpose for what happens in our lives. Therefore before going any further make sure that your faith is firmly established in the Word of God. Without that truth we are as Paul said “of all men most miserable”. These principles are built upon each other. In other words you must have a solid acceptance and faith in one principle before you can move on to the next one. Once you have come to a complete understanding and acceptance of one step then it is safe to go on to the next one. But we must remember that acceptance of mind and acceptance of heart are two different principles. There may be times when you find that you begin to question a certain principle that previously you had accepted and believed in. At that point just back up as far as you need to until you reach a step you are comfortable with and then go forward again. If you just cannot come to grips with a certain step just read the verses over and over again until the truths are grounded in your heart. Always remember that everything is founded upon the Word of God. It is our final authority for all that exists.
1. God is in absolute control. In the simplest terms this means that nothing happens in our lives that God doesn’t cause or allow to happen. That doesn’t mean that God approves of everything that occurs. We do not always let our children have what they want. However, in some instances we “allow” them to have their way in order that they may learn, grow and mature. God could stop any event or action to occur. When Job was tested by Satan it was only by God’s allowance. God could have stopped Satan at any point. When David sinned and took Bathsheba and subsequently had her husband Uriah killed in battle God could have stopped him. However, He chose not to send Nathan the prophet to confront David until after he had already completed his wicked plan. God did stop Balaam the prophet from following after the servants of wicked King Balaak. He even performed the miracle of a talking mule to do it! We have to accept the fact that it is God that is in control of everything. Job 1:12, 2:6, II Samuel 11-12, Numbers 22
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God is in absolute control we can then move on to the next principle.
2. God cannot do anything that is “bad” or “wrong”. He never has and never will make a “mistake”. If He ever did anything “wrong” then He wouldn’t be God. In fact if God was ever “wrong” or “bad” then His Word would be false and all of life would be useless and hopeless. We must believe, based upon the Word of God, that God is pure, holy, good and always right. It doesn’t matter if what God does or allows makes sense or whether we understand it or not. At this point we only have to come to grips with the fact that God cannot do anything “wrong”. Deut. 32:4, Job 34:10, Psalms 18:30, 33:4, 145:17
When we have securely grounded our faith in the principle that God is always good and right we can then move on to the next principle.
3. God designed all of creation for Himself. Subsequently all of the events that occur have an intended purpose. That purpose is to bring Glory to the Creator Himself. When a child is born crippled or handicapped it always seems to us as a sad tragedy. However, it is always God’s plan to use that “tragedy” to bring Glory to Himself. The man born blind in John 9 was “allowed” to be born that way so that Jesus could perform a miracle and give to him sight for the first time. He was not born blind as a result of any sinful act or as punishment for wickedness on the part of his parents. Lazarus was allowed to “die” that the power and Glory of God might be made manifest. In order for God to show his power, his might and his glory there must be situations available for God to intervene. Psalms 106:8, John 9:1-3, John 11:1-4, I Peter 4:11
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that the purpose of all of life’s events is to glorify God we can then move on to the next principle.
4. God chooses certain people for the purpose of enduring tragic events. The grief and suffering that we experience is “on purpose”. Why was the blind man in John 9 born this way and not someone else? Why did his parents have to endure the hardship of raising a “crippled” child? If, as the Bible says, that God is “no respecter of persons” then why doesn’t God treat all families the same when it comes to their children? The fact is simply this, that God chose this particular family for a special purpose. Their child would be born blind so that Jesus could use him to perform a miracle and bring glory to God. In Acts 9:15-16 God stated that Paul was “chosen” to “suffer’ for the Lord. In Hebrews 11 God supplies us with a listing of people with great faith. Up through the first phrase of verse 35 every character mentioned experienced deliverance and even miracles as a result of their faith. Beginning with the words “and others” in verse 35 we have a list of people that did not receive “good” as a result of their suffering. Whenever we endure tragedy and the great grief that always follows it is because we have been “chosen”. That “choosing” or “calling” upon our lives is a personal commission from God Himself. It is not a punishment but rather an honor. There is a powerful truth declared in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him…and the fellowship of his sufferings”. Whenever we are chosen” for suffering we are placed in a very special group of people, those to whom Christ is especially close. However, that doesn’t mean that we are yet ready to accept what God has designed for our lives. At this point we only need to accept the fact that we are “chosen of God” to “suffer”. John 9:1-3, Acts 9:15-16, Hebrews 11:35-42, Philippians 3:10, I Peter 4:19
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that we have been chosen by God for a special purpose we can then move on to the next principle.
5. God loves us and hurts for us more than we could ever understand. Whenever we endure suffering and grief it is a normal reaction for us to sometimes “question” whether God really cares about us or not. We believe that God loves us and that Christ died for us but somehow it seems that the emphasis is only on Heaven and life after death. When we suffer and others don’t there is always the thought somewhere inside that, “Does God really care for me? Does He really understand how I feel and what I am going through?” In John 11:35 we have the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept”. It was at the scene of the death and subsequent raising of Lazarus. It is obvious that Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from that grave. Why then was He weeping and groaning in Himself? Could it have been that when he saw the sorrow and suffering of Mary and the others that He felt their pain. Lazarus was not hurting. He was in Paradise. It was those that loved him that were suffering and Jesus hurt because they hurt. When you truly love someone the greatest pain you can feel is when you see them hurt and you hurt for them. That is what Christ does for us when we suffer in this life. There are times however when we may say, “Well, I know Christ loves me and hurts for me but I just don’t think He understands how I feel.” When Jesus was hanging on the Cross one of the most intriguing statements that he made was, “My God, my God, why host Thou forsaken me?” Christ knew that he would rise from the grave three days later. He knew he would be reunited with His Father. Why then did He utter that question? Could it be possible that God allowed Christ to experience the feeling that God was not there for Him when He needed Him most? Could God the Father have hurt more because He could not remove the suffering from His own son? During those times in our life when we feel that God doesn’t love us, that He doesn’t understand and that He isn’t there for us we must stop and meditate on this important truth. God does love us, He does understand and He is there with us to share in our suffering and pain. John 11:32-38, Mark 15:34
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God loves, cares and hurts for us we can then move on to the next principle.
6. God wants us to love Him and draw closer to Him. We must remember that “God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).” However, there was some “special” type of bond between Jesus and His three “closest” disciples – Peter, James and John. These three men did share a relationship that was not evident with the other disciples. It is that same type of “special bond” that Jesus has with those that endure grief and suffering. Philippians 3:10 speaks of a “fellowship of sufferings”. It literally means to “partner with” or “participate with”. He is drawn closer to us because of suffering and He wants us to draw closer to Him because of suffering. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus states His desire for us to come closer to Him so that He might give us comfort and rest. All of this simply means that the more we experience grief and suffering in life the closer that Jesus is drawn to us. Therefore as He is drawn closer to us He wants us to be drawn closer to Him in order to form that “special bond” between suffers. Because we have been chosen to suffer, because Jesus understands our pain and hurts for us and because He is drawn closer to us we have a unique opportunity for a privileged relationship with Him. Matthew 11:28, Philippians 3:10
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God wants us to draw closer to Him and establish that “special bond” through the “fellowship of suffering” we can then move on to the next principle.
7. God wants us to accept our grief and suffering as part of His calling on our lives. One of the greatest battles that Jesus fought was in the Garden of Gethsemane. When He prayed the words “…nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” in Luke 22:42 he was literally accepting the purpose or calling of God upon His life. Not only was it necessary for our salvation but it was also an example for us to follow. It is God that has designed the master plan for all of creation. That means He has a master plan for all of our lives. It could be stated that the only way to fully realize all that God has for us is to willingly submit to His calling upon our lives. However, for those of us who endure grief and suffering, realizing all that God has for us seems irrelevant. All we want to do is get rid of the pain and suffering and restore the loss we have experienced. This is one of those areas where God wants us to act willingly. He has given us a free will to decide what we do with and how we react to His master plan. The only way to have victory over the pain and suffering in our lives is to willingly submit to the fact that it is a calling upon our lives. It is a hard task, yet it is a great calling. Luke 22:42
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God want us to accept the pain and suffering in our lives as a calling from God we can then move on to the next principle.
8. God wants us to embrace the object of our grief and pain. It could be the loss of a loved one, a physical disease, the destruction of a cherished relationship, a financial disaster or any number of other traumatic events that has resulted in great grief, pain and suffering in our lives. For many people, the way to cope is to ignore or even deny the event or the effect that is has had on us. We just don’t want to associate with that event because it is too painful. However, just as is the case with any problem, the situation won’t get better by ignoring it. Jesus stated that in order to follow Him we must take up our “cross”(Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34). He was not talking about salvation but rather following Him in fulfilling the calling upon God upon our lives. In Luke 9:23 Jesus made the same statement but added the word daily. Dealing with grief and pain as the result of loss is a lifelong task. The loss is not going return. Life will never be the same again. Just as Jesus was forced to carry His Cross on the road to Calvary we must carry our cross on the road to eternity. The are three very important aspects of the Cross of Christ that relate to our own personal “cross”. First, it was a focal point of His life. It was the purpose for which He came. Secondly it was the symbol of the darkest hour of His life. It was that single event that caused Him the most grief and pain. Thirdly, it was the door to His greatest victory. The same aspects are evident in the tragic events that we endure. The traumatic events that happen defiantly become the focal point of our lives. And even though they represent the darkest hours of life it is through these doors that we must travel if we are ever going to realize the victory that God has designed into His master plan for each one of His children. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God wants us to embrace the cause of our grief and pain we can then move on to the next principle.
9. God wants us to be thankful – not for “what” has happened to us but for the reason “why”. Once we manage to get through that door of our darkest hour we began a journey toward the opportunities that lie ahead. No one in their right mind can claim that they are thankful for the death of a loved one. If there was any way we could reverse what happened we would do it at almost any cost. But we can’t go back. Therefore we must look forward to what comes next, the opportunities that are created because of our suffering. God placed a very important phrase in II Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”. He did not say to be thankful for everything but in everything. Simply put, I could never be thankful for loosing a child. However, I can be thankful that God is right, that He is good and that He has a greater purpose for my life than just to suffer with pain and hurt. II Thessalonians 5:18
When we have securely grounded our faith in the truth that God wants us to be thankful while we are enduring pain and suffering we can then move on to the next principle.
10. God wants us to reach out to others that are experiencing grief, pain and suffering and offer a helping and understanding hand. Galatians 6:2 states, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Three verses later in verse 5 are these words, “For every man shall bear his own burden.” Is it possible that what God is trying to tell us is that before we can ever begin to cope with our own burdens we must first willingly help carry the burdens of others? This is the place where the heart of giving comes in. Luke 6:38 states, “Give and it shall be given to you…For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” That is a principle of giving established by God Himself. On the surface it appears that He may only be speaking about financial issues. However, the same principle applies to all areas of our life. This has been proven to be true throughout history. Anytime we give of anything it is in fact we ourselves that benefit. Therefore the only way that we can truly be victorious over the pain and suffering in our lives is to use that same pain and suffering to help others. In Luke 21:31-34 Jesus told Peter that he was going to deny Him three times that night. The key phrase to the entire statement is when Jesus said, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”. The denial of Christ would be Peter’s darkest hour, yet it would open the door through which he could then strengthen others for the time when they would meet their own darkest hour. If we are ever going to gain any victory over the pain and suffering we go through, we must come to the aid of others. We must use what we have experienced and what we have learned in order to help them. We have gone through that door, we have traveled down that road and we have endured the effects. Now it is our purpose in life to lead others as they are just beginning their own journey of pain and suffering. That is the only way to victory. Galatians 6:2,5 Luke 6:38
We do not always have a choice about what happens to us as we go throughout life. While there are many events in life that are a direct result of the choices we make there are many more events that occur over which we have no control. We do however have a choice as to how we react and what we do as a result. We can choose to get bitter at God, to become hateful towards friends and family and to be angry at even life itself. Or we can choose to take the “bad” and turn it in to “good”. No one can make that choice for us. When we come to that crossroads in life it is we alone that must choose. Others can help if we let them. They can bear the load with us. They can make it lighter. They can make the road a little smoother. They can make the pain somewhat easier and the suffering less severe. But we must choose for ourselves. No one can force us to travel the road to grief victory. We can choose to stop at any point along the way or to continue all the way through to the end. Then it is our choice to reach back for others that are having a hard time making it by themselves. We need others and others need us. Let’s decide to reach that point of victory together.