Responding to Grief: Suffering and Consolation

Do you long to come alongside others who are suffering, but aren’t sure how best to do that?

Do you regularly work with people who are suffering and want to deepen your reflection and practice?

Are you an individual or church seeking to grow in compassion and caring?

For all these reasons, I recommend When Grief Descends: Suffering, Consolation, and the Book of Job by Anne Mackie Morelli (As You Wish Publishing, 2020).

The book sets out three goals for its readers:

  • to begin developing a Christian theology of suffering,
  • to understand loss and grief,
  • and to learn how better to console others in their suffering.

When Grief Descends beautifully succeeds in all three areas by offering a careful study of the book of Job, including the author’s own deep experiences of loss, and drawing on the expertise of others. This excellent resource is biblically grounded, well-researched, and wise, with plenty of practical examples, plus exercises for readers to try for themselves.

Thank you, Anne, for writing such a helpful book, and for this guest post on Job, suffering, and coming alongside others who are suffering.

Suffering, Consolation, and the Book of Job

by Anne Mackie Morelli

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to face rapid change. We are walking on unfamiliar paths, in uncharted territory, as we navigate and process our own loss and grief and provide consolation to others.

When Grief Descends

Having previously walked through an arduous winter season of loss and grief, I learned that even though I knew about loss and grief and how to console others, I did not understand it. I quickly discovered how ill-equipped I was to process my own suffering through the lens of my Christian faith. But then, I providentially stumbled into the Book of Job.

As I spent time with Job and his companions, I became a quiet witness as he mourned the incomprehensible loss of his ten children, his vast estate, his job, his health, his reputation, purpose, social connections, and the future as he had envisioned it.  My heart ached as Job mourned and lamented and searched for God in his misery. I eavesdropped on Job’s conversations with his companions, and followed their misguided attempts to console Job and find answers for why Job had to face such adversity. In the epilogue, I became mesmerized when God entered into their conversations and spoke.

A Framework for Understanding
Loss and Grief

I subsequently wrote When Grief Descends: Suffering, Consolation, and The Book of Job, which addresses the challenges of these winter seasons. The book introduces a framework for understanding loss and grief, ways to come alongside others in their sorrow, and build a theology of suffering.

While the Book of Job reveals many universal, timeless, cross-cultural truths about human suffering and providing consolation, it is also true that suffering is a uniquely personal experience. Grieving is not a sequential, linear process. It is complex. Grief cycles around, loops back and forth. Grief is lonely and isolating. Because grieving is grinding emotional, physical, and spiritual work, there will be a wide range of grief reactions and wild swings of emotions that include weariness, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair. We can feel lost or confused about our own capacity to cope or how to provide consolation to others.

Lessons from Job:
How to Come Alongside Someone
Who Is Grieving

Job’s narrative helps teach us about how—and how not—to come alongside someone who is grieving. We see that when Job’s companions learned about his adversity, they visited him and offered consolation. Initially, they came alongside Job in beautiful and supportive ways. They showed up, they openly expressed their grief, and they mourned in traditional, appropriate ways. They threw dust on their heads, ripped their robes, and cried out (Job 2:11-13). The companions then entered into Job’s grief and quietly sat with him for seven days. Their physical presence provided Job solace and a much-needed social connection. Remaining silent ensured that he initially had the grace-filled space to determine the pace and direction of his healing.

Lessons from Job:
How Not to Come Alongside Someone
Who Is Grieving

But eventually, Job’s companions’ efforts grew so misguided that they ended up contributing to his distress and complicating his grieving. Their insistence on fitting Job’s suffering into their reward and retribution theology led them to rebuke, advise, and criticize Job. They lectured him about how they thought he should behave and how he could return to prosperity. Rather than provide consolation, their wretched attempts minimized Job’s pain and grief reactions. Job begged them to stop talking and called them miserable comforters and worthless physicians.

These conversations reveal how sufferers need the safe spaces to engage in essential aspects of the grieving process, such as questioning, challenging, weeping, and lamenting, without the fear of censure or judgement. God emphasized the value of these spaces when he twice commended Job’s lament, by declaring:

My wrath is kindled against you
and against your two friends:
for you have not spoken of me what is right,
as my servant Job has. –  Job 42:7

Through the companions’ misguided efforts, we also learn the importance of simply listening and reflecting back what we have heard or observed. Their adherence to their theology and their use of God’s word to defend their bias, illuminates how harmful it is when we remain stuck, push our viewpoints, control the conversation, or give advice. Consolation is about the timely and sensitive sharing of prayer, Scripture, and our perspectives.

God’s Reassurance

In the epilogue, God enters the conversations and speaks. His speeches reveal his passion in creating and his abiding love for everything he creates. The epilogue provides a glimpse of God’s grandeur, beauty, power, and sovereignty that continues to reassure me in my suffering and this new winter season. For though I may never understand everything about God, get the answers I desire about why life has to unfold as it does, and why much of life remains a mystery, I now rest in the certainty that God is always good, is constantly with us, and has positive intentions for each one of us.

 

Anne Mackie Morelli is a former Canadian National and Olympic Track and Field Champion, educator, registered clinical counsellor, and pastor who is now devoting her time to writing and speaking.

When Grief Descends: Suffering, Consolation, and The Book of Job is her first solo book and available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is recommended for anyone seeking to learn more about loss and grief and how to offer consolation to others. It is a wonderful resource for individual and small group study, bereavement groups, and care and compassion teams. Reflection questions and application exercises for journaling and discussion appear at the end of every chapter and in the appendices.
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For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better:

Author: April Yamasaki

Embracing the writing life in all its delight and challenge: I currently serve as resident author with a liturgical worship community, write online and in print publications, and often speak in churches and other settings. Publications: On the Way with Jesus, Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. Websites: AprilYamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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