Saddleback church pastor Rick Warren has encouraged those struggling with grief to remember that while it is painful, it is also a healthy and helpful emotion that should be viewed as a gift from God.
The pastor and bestselling author made his comments during a recent devotional about grief based around Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, which states,"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens .... a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance."
Warren begins by emphasizing that God doesn't expect Christians to be happy all the time, as "sometimes the only appropriate, logical response to life is grief."
"The Bible says you are to grieve over your losses, including your disappointments, your sin, the suffering in the world, and your friends who are spiritually lost," the Purpose Driven Life author writes. However, God does want His people to "be intentional in your grief."
While grief is a painful emotion, it's also "a healthy and helpful emotion" and is a tool that God gives us to get through the transitions of life, Warren contends.
In order to truly move past old grievances and avoid dragging the past into your present life and relationships, the pastor said "you need to go back" and grieve. "Because if you don't grieve, you get stuck emotionally, and you spend the rest of your life reacting to something that happened a long time ago and taking it out on the people around you now."
While what happens to us is not our choice, we can choose to grieve and move forward: "You've got to let yourself mourn the losses of life so that you can move on with your life and receive God's blessing," Warren concludes.
Warren and his wife, Kay, have experienced grief firsthand: in 2013, the couple's youngest son, Matthew, took his own life after a lifelong battle with depression.
"I felt so alone," Kay admitted during a conference in London last year of the months following Matthew's death. "I lay awake at night filled with anxiety, grief, pain and agony. I was like 'Where is God? Where does my faith fit into this?'"
The Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough author and Saddleback co-founder often shares her struggle on social media, and many of her posts have been shared millions of times by people all over the world who identify with her journey as a mother grieving the loss of her son.
"It's been a very difficult process; I've been told to 'move on' by people. But we need to take 'at least' out of our vocabulary. 'At least you can have more children; at least you can remarry, at least you can get another job...' 'At least' minimizes a person's pain. It's taking someone's grief and putting it in a box so we can manage it," she said.
"We don't do grief well, perhaps particularly as Christians. But we need to be aware of it, and learn to deal compassionately with it."
Kay added that a particular verse of encouragement for her over the past several years has been 1 Corinthians 15:3, which says we are buried in weakness, but will be raised in strength.
"Following Matthew's death I felt like I was sitting on the edge of Hell. Romans 5 tells us that his hope does not disappoint us, well, I wasn't disappointed, I was crushed. It felt like my life had been reduced to ashes," she said.
"But God is not helpless among the ruins; he continues to work out his plan in love. Where there is ruining in your life, God rebuilds."