How to Pray When Grief Makes Praying Hard
In loving memory of Katie Reid.
Few things can shake one’s faith like grief. The pain of losing a loved one can knock the very life out of a person. Though people say, “It gets better with time,” the ache lingers and steals your breath far longer than anyone warns. It is a heartbreak unlike any other and can rattle even the strongest prayer warriors.
Cultural Pressure to Put on a Face
Unfortunately, our society isn’t the greatest at holding sacred space for grief. We tend to fill up the first week with emotional visitations, memorial services, and trips down memory lane to commemorate the life of the one we lost. But once everyone returns to their normal routines, there’s frequently an expectation to pick up and carry on like your heart is still whole.
In the Church, this often presents itself as Christians braving a smile and assuring everyone they’re OK because of their hope in Christ. Well-meaning believers quote Scripture about the joy and peace of Christ in sincere attempts to encourage the hurting. But few are willing to discuss the gritty, ugly side that still comes with a grieving heart—even for those who believe. There’s rarely room for anger, fear, or depression to be expressed.
For example, what happens when grief makes praying hard? When prayers of surrender feel the sting of fear? When worry whispers, “But what if God takes them too?” When prayers of praise are layered with anger and disappointment underneath? When prayers that once flowed with ease now feel sucked dry and empty of words? When God’s peace once kept your heart at ease but now He suddenly feels absent and unreachable? When the weight of it all feels crushing but people expect you to be OK because you know Jesus? These are all feelings and questions with which the grieving often wrestle.
Please understand there is certainly nothing wrong with quoting Scripture or encouraging one another to cling to our hope in Jesus!
However, when we use religion as a means of suppressing the uncomfortable aspects of grief that we’d rather not talk about, we inadvertently leave the brokenhearted feeling alone and ashamed. When we only focus on reminding people of God’s eternal hope but fail to discuss the difficulties grief still delivers to the day-to-day walk, we miss a huge piece of the picture. Instead of providing a safe space for the grieving to process their loss, we create an environment that makes it even more difficult for them to truly come as they are to the feet of Jesus.
For those fighting to hold onto their faith, this pressure to suppress the darker side of grief can trigger enormous guilt. I’m a Christian—I’m not supposed to be afraid. I’m not supposed to doubt God’s provision. I’m supposed to be stronger than this! Heartbroken from loss and ashamed of wrestling spiritually, grief can make even genuine believers feel alone and separated from God.
If this is you today, you have my deepest empathy. Please know you are not alone. Coping with loss is inexplicably hard! If you find praying difficult in the presence of grief, may these words encourage you to let go of your guilt, take off your mask, and just breathe in the love of God for a moment. You don’t have to be perfect here. You just have to be real.
How to Pray Prayers that Let Your Grief Speak
Experiencing effects of grief in your spiritual life does not make you less of a Christian. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a symptom of a breaking heart. Everything you are feeling is warranted. The disappointment and heartache are incredibly painful. Your emotions are a natural response to a traumatic loss.
Don’t burry it all under cliché religious slogans. Don’t put on a show and pretend you’re fine. Find a safe place, and let it out.Let your grief speak.
Find a quality therapist. Meet with a pastor. Get coffee with a trustworthy friend. Journal. Choose whatever healthy ways work best for you! But allow the voice of your grief to be heard.
And tell every bit of it to God! Engage in an honest dialogue with the One who holds your heart. Pour out the gritty details to Him. Are you angry? Tell Him! Are you terrified? Tell Him! Are you heartbroken that He didn’t stop this storm from ever happening? Tell Him! God is big enough to handle it.
Praise and thanksgiving are wonderful—they even hold important places in grief-stricken prayers. But still be brutally honest about everything taking place in your heart! God already knows and sees it all. But it’s healing for your heart to let it out, and it opens the door for your relationship with God to begin healing as well. After all, authentic and intimate relationships with us are what God desires most. Invite Him into your pain and begin sharing your grief with Him today.
“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Psa 116:1-2 (NLT)
As you pour out your wounded heart in prayer, rest in the assurance that God does hear you! Not only does He hear you, but He weeps alongside you and suffers with you. He loves you more than our human hearts can understand. He placed himself at the center of human suffering and entered into our pain so that we would never be left to suffer alone.
Dr. Gregory A. Boyd in “Letters from a Skeptic” explained it this way:
“Jesus suffers with us in our suffering. That’s how He heals us of our suffering. One of His names in the New Testament is ‘Immanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’ However low we sink, God is with us. He’s there at the bottom waiting for us! He isn’t off on some distant planet, indifferent to our plight. He’s in the midst of all we go through.”
However deep our pain, however fierce our anger, however crippling our fear, and however numbing our grief may be—Jesus is right there. He’s in it. He’s moving through every wound, mending the brokenness in ways we can’t always see. When it feels like grief has ripped out the very life within us, He’s right there. Witnessing our sorrow, holding out His arms, and taking our pain upon himself. He never said we had to pretend everything was fine. Instead, He provided a way for us to bring our breaking hearts before the throne of God—free from judgment and embraced with love.
May we, as the Church, model the love of Christ for all who are grieving. May we encourage transparency, step into the mess, and hold safe space for the dark sides of grief to be brought into the light. May we encourage authentic dialogue with each other, and may we lay it all before our Heavenly Father. May we hold one another up, weep alongside the grieving, and look forward to the glorious day when love will triumph evil, life will triumph death, and sorrow will be no more.
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Kimberly Carroll is a military spouse, mother of two, and graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. She has a heart for the weary and broken-hearted, holds tightly to her eternal hope in Christ, and wants nothing more than for her life to be an outpouring of God's never-ending love to those around her. On her blog, Kimberly discusses mental illness, grief and the importance of never giving up. Follow her blog at https://kims88.