How Long Does Grieving Take?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

Psalm 13:1–2

Loss is not always sudden, like it was for Job (Job 1:13–19). Sometimes it is gradual. Sometimes it comes in stages. The same goes for grief.

Years ago, soon after my mom died within three hours after a brain hemorrhage, a friend described it to me this way: “Paul, your loss was sudden, instant, unexpected. Ours was gradual. Dementia stole our dad from us little by little. It felt like we said a thousand goodbyes before he physically left us.”

This difference is important to recognize, because, just as loss can take place over the space of time, so can your grief. Grief is common to all, but also unique. Certainly, there are similarities, but no two people grieve in exactly the same way, or according to the same timetable. Rarely, if ever, does the process look the same. Perhaps a friend seems to have gotten over his grief more quickly than you. If so, be careful. Comparing your grief to that of others won’t make yours more bearable. Or perhaps, you are “getting past” your grief more easily than others. If so, be careful. Resist judging them. Be patient. Be faithful to walk through their valley with them. Remember, grieving often takes longer than you expect.

How quickly you heal is not important. What is important is that you live by faith in the promises of God, resulting in more love for God and for others. As you do, often imperceptibly, you are moving forward each day—from grief and pain, toward acceptance and joy—and you are helping others to do the same. When grief turns inward, and remains there, it becomes self-pity. Self-pity, when nursed, can easily turn your hurt into an idol. You know this has happened when your hurt, or fear of future pain, becomes a reason for not obeying God’s two great commands to love him and others (Matthew 22:36–40).

“Time heals all wounds,” so they say. But is that really true? Yes, time gradually enables you to distance yourself from the initial cause of pain. But time—in and of itself—does not heal. God is your healer (Exodus 15:26). By his Spirit and through his Word, the Lord will minister to your heart in his own time and his own way. Some losses are felt for a lifetime. Some tears will not be wiped away until we get to heaven.

His healing grace typically flows like a steady stream, not a flash flood. So, take your pain to him like the psalmist did. Take your longing to him. Ask him, “How long?” Honestly express your loneliness: “How long will you hide your face from me?” Talk to the Lord about your sorrow. He invites you to lament. He will always be faithful. He will make “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Read Psalm 13. Write a personalized version of it in the light of your own suffering and God’s certain victory in your life.

[This meditation is taken from my new 50-day devotional, A Small Book for the Hurting Heart: Meditations on Loss, Grief, and Healing.]

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