He’s in a better place. Time heals all wounds. Don’t worry; you’re young enough to start over; God works all things for good; Rejoice in his homegoing!
Maybe you’ve heard some of these well-intended statements that either fell flat or stung. Before your spouse died, you might have thought or verbalized them yourself in response to the news of death. These statements are part of worldview, a collection of beliefs representing an individual or group perspective about the world and how it works. Grief wasn’t part of the equation.
When we lose a spouse, that old worldview gets tested in a crucible of pain. What we may hear from the world and from within ourselves amounts to “Don’t cry. Look on the bright side. Get well soon.” But healing doesn’t happen that way.
The acute pain of grief is the pain of a wound that we can only see through a worldview that acknowledges the problem of death in a personal way. Believers in Christ know that the Christian worldview rests on the Hope of resurrection and eternal life. What we sometimes miss is the part in between—the suffering.
There’s no way around it. We can get stuck—or we can find a path through it. Scripture gives us the map. And you may be surprised by how closely the biblical worldview for death and the hope that follows tracks with a widow’s life.
Losing Part of Our Identity
As a wife, you may have formed a great system with your husband around spending and saving money based on your values. Maybe you conferred on child-rearing. You shared a standard of living. You probably chose a place of worship together and developed a community of family and friends as a couple. You likely dreamed about your future together. Then one moment of shock changed everything.
Perhaps a diagnosis jumpstarted the long agony of illness. Your grief process may have begun before the final loss. Or an unexpected death struck you with a spiritual 2×4, the total effect beginning only after the shock wore off. Either way, widowhood closed the door from one reality and bumped you into another. It separated you from who you were—friend, wife, and lover to who you are now, widow.
An identity crisis can happen at any stage of life, but it most certainly occurs when everything we know changes. Life seems to stop making sense. That’s when looking at worldview helps.
The Book of Genesis describes a world-altering event. Most are aware of the story of Adam and Eve, but few think about the emotional implications of what happened. The force of Eden’s slamming gates thrust Eve to the precipice of a terrifying wilderness. She and her husband experienced the fundamental reality of death—separation from perfect unity with one another and with God (Gen 2:7-8;3:16).
While Eve did not become a widow at that moment—she shares much of what the new widow experiences today. Once whimsical and perfect, Eve’s world became a frightful, lonely place of pain and toil.
Relational, spiritual, economic, cultural, and physical corruption sprang from that fateful day and changed everything, including their identity as perfect representatives of God’s image. And physical death became a reality for humankind. Your husband’s death changed reality in ways you could only begin to count, wrapped in a package called “widow.”
The Fellowship of Suffering
If God had left Eve in that state, we’d be walking hopelessly in her footsteps. But God is a Hero who redeems our worldview from hopelessness and gloom to promise. The promise to Eve was a Son (Genesis 3:15) who would conquer evil and eventually put death to death (Revelation 21;1-7).
That promise to us is that same Son, Jesus. We stand on the other side of what He did, realizing the full reality of the Hope we have in Him. Hope shapes our tomorrow. You may have known Jesus as your Savior who died for your sins. Now your grief opens a new way to know Him—as a fellow sufferer.
Jesus, who came to die for our sins, is not only known as Messiah and King but also as the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53). Scripture tells us that He felt every temptation we feel, including despair. Facing death, He pleaded with God for another way to accomplish His work without the estrangement the cross would bring between Him and His Father. Yet, He willingly submitted to it for us. He experienced separation from God for the first time when He cried out in abandonment. Jesus knows, in a personal way, that death is separation.
He also knows your painful reality—and if you know Him as Savior, you will never know separation from God. Even in the temporal pain of separation from your departed spouse, you have the assurance that your relationship with God is forever secure through the victory of Christ’s suffering and grief on the cross.
Our identity with Christ as a fellow sufferer means we do not walk the path of suffering alone. It also gives us a countercultural worldview of suffering, perhaps even from that of our church circles.
The Practice of Lament
One hundred years ago, expressing grief was a cultural norm. Widows wore black clothing in both public and private settings. They didn’t struggle to explain their tears, brain fog, or distress because the expression of grief was a publicly acknowledged part of the culture until the mid-20th century.
When public grief went private, a healing form of expression and belonging was discarded. You may have been dissuaded from feeling grief by well-meaning Christians who lean so heavily on the “not yet” promises of Scripture that they ignore the reality of now. But your pain is not lost to God.
Jesus knew He would resurrect his friend from the dead in mere moments. Yet He was deeply moved and troubled (John 11:33, 38) by the grief of his friends over the death of Lazarus. In fact, translators tell us that the original Greek says he felt furious indignation at death and the pain it brought to those He loved. If anyone had reason to say, “Don’t cry, it’s going to end well,” Jesus did. Instead, He wept (John 11:35).
Scripture is full of examples of men and women who openly expressed grief–the practice of lament. The Book of Job is a story of a man whose worldview was shattered by death and disaster. He endured judgment and misunderstanding from self-righteous friends. He wrestled with God and questioned Him in agony, searching for the reason for his losses.
King David wrote inspired words of lament in the Book of Psalms that expressed the agonies of Christ on the Cross: “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” Jeremiah wrote poignant expressions of suffering to God, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”
God is not shocked by the dark emotions of grief. In the introduction of a newer edition of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, American writer Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is a part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged. It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”
Growth happens when we wrestle with questions about worldview and identity and practice expressing sorrow. One of the best ways we can develop these skills is by engaging others who are willing to wrestle too. Whether these people exist in your social circles, you can always find fellow wrestlers in book and audio form.
- A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
- Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright
- Heaven by Randy Alcorn
- Reflections of a Grieving Spouse by H. Norman Wright
- The Scars That Have Shaped Me by Vaneetha Rendall Risner
- When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper