by Collette Broady Grund
Though I never would’ve believed it when my 46-year-old husband died suddenly three years ago, grief has blessings to offer. This is not to say that the things we grieve are necessary to our spiritual growth, that everything happens for a reason or any other such nonsense. Platitudes like those are harmful to say and harmful to hear. God did not intend my husband’s death, nor did God need it for any higher spiritual purpose. Instead, God grieves his death alongside me, drawing close to me and drawing me closer to them.
One of the first images of God I found comforting after Marrett’s death was a clear vision of Jesus weeping with me, as he did with the sisters of Lazarus in John chapter 11. It came to me in the shower, one of the only private places to weep with abandon when you’re the mother of small children. As I sat on the tiled floor, I felt the presence of Jesus wash over me with the shower spray, mixing our grief and tears. I felt seen. I felt held. In those early days, as I struggled with the reality of death, the constant accompanying presence of Jesus sustained me. While I couldn’t be sure of much, I knew that Christ was beside me, grieving just as I was.
That accompaniment by God is what I think Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). None of the beatitudes from that first sermon in Matthew make much sense on the surface. We can spend a lot of time resisting the idea that God can bring blessings through difficult things. In early grief, it is normal and perfectly appropriate to refuse to be comforted, to cry out in rage and pain against the terrible things that befall us. We need time to process our disbelief when tragedy strikes.
But if we look closely at the categories of people Jesus calls blessed in the beatitudes, we notice that they are exactly the kind of people God accompanies through Scripture. God consistently chooses to work through just those Jesus lists: the poor (in reality or in spirit), the hungry and thirsty (in body and for righteousness), the meek, the persecuted, the pure, and the peacemakers.
God has always chosen the most fragile of human moments to speak. Their greatest promises have been true in my grief. I believe this is because God knows how much we need to hear and believe such promises when we are hurting; God loves us too much to let us suffer alone. God surrounds us with Their presence, and very often through the presence of God’s people. The Holy One’s care bears witness that we are not alone, that this death is not the end, and that somehow there will be a way forward together. All of this is a blessing.
And as God told Abram, we are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). The blessedness of grief extends beyond ourselves when we become storytellers, sharing how God met us when and where we needed it. We bless others when we bear witness to God’s willingness to come and suffer with us and lead us through that suffering toward resurrection and new life. When we speak aloud the ways we were met and comforted while mourning, we comfort others with the consolation we have received from God.
It is a tender and complicated thing to receive the blessings that grief offers because we would rather the circumstances causing us to grieve would never have happened. I am sure God and Jesus felt the same about Jesus’ death on the cross. Yet we know there was never a moment where God abandoned Themselves in suffering or death. God stayed present in and to the pain of crucifixion. God laid Themselves alongside death in the tomb. God accompanied Themselves to hell and back to show us that accompaniment is what God does, no matter what. The blessing of grief comes the same way; through the sure and certain hope which comes from knowing that God is by our side and on our side through even the worst this world has to offer. Blessed are you who mourn, for God is right there beside you.
1. What blessings have come in the midst of your grief experience?
2. How have you experienced God accompanying you through your hardest times?
God of blessings, thank you for walking with us through our valleys of grief, and for staying present to our pain and your own. Thank you for surrounding us with your people when we need it most. Teach us to use what we have learned in your presence to bless others. Amen.
Collette Broady Grund is a pastor and mission developer, a mom and stepmom, a widow and a writer. She lives in Mankato, Minnesota where she is the co-director of Connections Ministry, an ecumenical homeless shelter, and one of the founding pastors of the synodically authorized worshipping community called Shelter Church. She also recently published The Grief Lectionary, a six session resource using Scripture to access and process grief. The resource and her writing is available at www.collettebroadygrund.com