The Healing Power of Mourning
by Tom Holladay
I was recently preparing a funeral message for a family who had lost their young mom in heartbreaking circumstances and was searching my mind for how to express God’s hope to them. As I was considering what to say, I felt God impressing me to not talk to them about hope, but to encourage them to mourn. Jesus taught us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Our mourning brings the gift of God’s comfort, a gift that often comes only through our mourning. By not taking the time to mourn, we are missing out on the comfort our Father wants to give.
One of the most important things to learn about mourning is that we all grieve in different ways. Some need to talk; some need to be quiet. Some have a flood of tears; others feel a dearth of emotion. I have learned that our grief is one of the most individual things about us. Grief is like our fingerprints—unique to every one of us. Some who don’t understand this are reluctant to mourn because they feel pressed to mourn like others, in a way that doesn’t fit their unique personality. Let me say clearly from the beginning that I’m not telling you how to mourn; I’m simply encouraging you to take the time to mourn in a way that fits you.
With our different expressions of mourning in mind, there are some things that we can learn from others about how to mourn. The word for “mourning” in the Hebrew language is abal. It carries the idea of showing emotion, expressing it both audibly and visibly. We need models of how to mourn, and they are found throughout the Old Testament.
“Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her” (Genesis 23:2).
“Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34).
“When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father” (Genesis 50:10).
“When the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days” (Numbers 20:29).
“The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deuteronomy 34:8).
“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4:1).
“At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks” (Daniel 10:2).
I give these examples because we need some new models for how we mourn. Our culture is not good at mourning. I know that, as a product of that culture, I’m not good at mourning. I want to mourn too fast and too clean. I want to get back to work as a way to calm the pain instead of taking the time to mourn to begin to heal the pain.
The mourning in these examples is not hidden; it’s loud. Putting on sackcloth made it evident to all that they were grieving. Their mourning was not pretty. Mordecai of the book of Esther is a mentor for all mourners. He saw what began in mourning save a nation. His mourning was not dignified, but it was honest. It came with the rough texture of sackcloth and the black streaks of bitter tears running through the ashes that covered his face.
You see examples in the Old Testament of mourning that lasted seven days (Genesis 50:10), thirty days (Numbers 20:29) and even seventy days (Genesis 50:3–4). It takes time to mourn. You can’t do it in an instant.
Mourning expresses honest grief over what has been lost. Seeing the opportunity in any problem begins by being able to say there is a problem. There is a form of Christian denial that wants to skip this step. Some Christians pretend that because God works within their problems, there is no loss in them. It’s a shortcut that short-circuits the work God needs to do in our souls if we are to truly rebuild our hope.
Is there a hurt or a loss you’ve never taken the time to mourn? You may have faced this hurt many years ago, or you may be facing it right now. There are huge hurts of life and the day-by-day hurts of life, and with both of them, you need to take time to mourn.
Have you taken the time to mourn the loss of that important relationship? Or are you hiding from the hurt in your hurry?
You may be getting older and don’t have the physical energy you used to have. Have you taken time to mourn that loss? Or are you just sort of irritated about it all the time?
Here’s why this is so important: If you don’t take the time to mourn, you can’t see what God may have next, because you will never see past the hurt. What is it that you need to take the time to mourn?
Tom Holladay is the senior teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. His passion in ministry is to help people discover a love for the Bible and an understanding of God’s truth that changes the way they live. He also assists Rick Warren in teaching Purpose-Driven Church conferences to Christian leaders all over the world. In addition to Putting It Together Again When It’s All Fallen Apart, Holladay has written The Relationship Principles of Jesus, Love-Powered Parenting and Foundations: 11 Core Truths to Build Your Life On. He also teaches DriveTime Devotions, a daily ten-minute podcast with more than 26 million downloads. He and his wife, Chaundel, have three children and six grandchildren. Learn more at tomholladay.com and drivetimedevotions.com.
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