If you’re coming alongside someone who is experiencing the painful loss of false comforts and pleasures for the sake of Christ, don’t miss her heart. Be careful not to minimize or dismiss the heartache because what she is feeling is real, even for misplaced desires.
Grief is a loaded word. It is something we all feel but rarely acknowledge. Sometimes we try to dictate what we should be allowed to grieve, like when a terminal diagnosis is given or a loved one dies.
But what about the grief we experience when we give up the things we love in order to turn to Christ in obedience? In other words, we experience the deep pain of loss of the things we love when we turn away from our sin in repentance. We experience grief even though we pursue holiness and obedience. This type of grief isn’t named very much in our Christian circles.
Maybe you’re grieving a gut-wrenching heartbreak as you walk away from an unholy relationship, or the pain of singleness as you refuse to run to other lovers, or technology to fill the void of your aloneness. Or the dream job you walked away from because traveling constantly threatened to jeopardize your marriage. Or the reality that, despite your best efforts, social media continues to be an unsafe place that breeds discontentment and jealousy for you.
It hurts to turn away from comforts and pleasures that have replaced Christ. It is godly, and it is absolutely what we are called to do, but it hurts to let go of our desires. Our flesh dies a slow death, and, in the process, we suffer. I mean, is death ever comfortable?
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Godly grief is characterized by repentance that causes us to turn back from selfish pursuits and live for God. Worldly grief leads to remorse brought about by what we lose from a worldly point of view.
Grief in the repentance process leads us either toward Jesus or away from him.
Worldly grief that leads away from Jesus threatens to bring us right back to the destructive things we are trying to walk away from. The pain leads us away from Jesus as we give way to the temptation to focus on what we have been called to forsake, give up, and run away from (1 Corinthians 6:18–20 and 10:13–14, 2 Timothy 2:2).
His comfort and compassion for us are real as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), putting to death what he died for on the cross. However, God never encourages us to focus on what we are giving up or letting go of; he knows this only exacerbates the spiritual pain associated with sin (Colossians 3:1–3).
In Matthew 19, we read about a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. After Jesus answers him, the man feels like he has kept all of the commands, yet wonders what he still lacks. Jesus tells him to go and sell all he owns and give it to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven. His response? “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). It appears that the cost was too much for him, and this man went away from Jesus because he couldn’t let go of his stuff.
Grief also has the ability to lead us towards Jesus, the one who bore all our afflictions, sorrows, grief, and pain, including spiritual sickness and pain, on the cross. Isaiah 53, commonly known as the Suffering Servant chapter, talks of our Savior as one who suffered and was pierced, crushed, afflicted. As he bore the judgement of our sins, Jesus’ physical agony in the Crucifixion was gruesome and intense, but his obedience to the Father is what counted.