This is not breaking news, but it’s a good reminder: Every one of us will walk through hard seasons and grief before our time on earth is up. But what can we do? When life is hard try this.
How Do You Stop the the Pain of Grief?
When people grieve, the pain can seem so overwhelming that every other normal or mundane task now seems insurmountable. From cooking to putting on clothes to even thinking, everyday activities turn into distant objects that now seem purposeless and distracting. When the heart hurts so heavily and the body feels the weight of deep, dark emotions, how can we have the energy to pursue anything other than digging out of this pit we’ve now found ourselves in? When we grieve, we’re in triage. There is no time for everyday concerns.
Perhaps in triage is where we realize that the heaviest thing to hold onto is the Bible. It claims to bring life (John 12:50) when we seem to be experiencing decay. It claims to quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger (Isaiah 55) when we are completely void of any satisfaction. It claims to promise truth (John 17:17) when the harshness of our present reality shouts more loudly than the words off the pages of this book that now seems so indifferent to us.
Why is Life so Hard?
Though I wish hard seasons upon no one, they are inevitable for everyone. All of us will lose something in our lives at least one time that will cause us to grieve. We may grieve the death of a loved one, the death of a relationship as we’ve come to know it, and maybe even the death of opportunities or a future that is no longer possible. We may even hurt for moments and places and situations that no longer exist as they once did in our lives.
Where is God When Life is hard?
It is natural in these moments of death and disappointment to feel an immediate disconnect from God. We may even emote this disconnect toward God with anger, sadness, confusion and so many other feelings. Grief is the offspring of a sinful world, but we do not serve a sinful God. So while we become enveloped in these dark seasons of a fallen world, it can feel and appear as though God has no part with us.
In our moments of weakness, we begin to believe lies about God’s nature because they are easier to grasp and hold onto than His truth. These lies may sound like the following: Because He is sinless, surely He doesn’t understand. Because He is not fallen, surely He is too lofty to approach with my pain. Because He is perfect, surely He is not willing to meet me in this pit of despair.
God is With Us in Our Pain and Grief
But if we choose to press into Scripture even in the middle of our pain, we will surely see that God is with us in the pain. In fact, I imagine that He is calling us to the pain so that we may heal through Him. We see in the story of Noah in Genesis chapter 6 that God was sorrowful (oftentimes translated as regret) and grieved that His creation no longer lived and flourished in the way He intended for them.
Psalms 34:18 tells us that God is near the brokenhearted.
Matthew 26:38 tells us that as Jesus was anticipating His death, his soul was deeply grieved, overwhelming His body to the point of death. In the footnotes section of my Bible, the word for grieve from Jesus equates to “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow.” There are more scenes of grief throughout Scripture, and what we see is that God never negates grief or disconnects from those enduring it. Instead, He meets them right in the thick of the pain.
How to Read the Bible When Life is Hard in 4 Easy Steps
Knowing this, and knowing that our primary means of communication with God today is through Scripture, how can we begin to pick up our Bibles and pursue Him in and with our grief? For me personally, just 24 hours before I entered a hard season, I was knee-deep in Bible study with pages of notes and mountains of Bibles and books to thumb through. And yet a day later, I was on the floor weeping in my bedroom, with no words to suffice and no hope to cling to. The Bible was too heavy for me, and God knew that. His faithfulness and compassion met me with small steps over time to get me back to a point where I could pick up my Bible again.
Below is a brief description of how my journey unfolded when pressed up against a hard season, and I hope that you might be able to take a few hopeful and practical ideas with you.
1. Start tiny and work your way up.
In the beginning weeks and even months, I could not fathom how I could read Scripture in the middle of all my pain. When I realized I didn’t have the strength, I decided to start tiny and would have the word spoken or read to me.
I started using Bible apps on my phone more consistently. In the early days, my lifeline was to check out the devotional of the day. In this format, the Scripture is made digestible in tiny chunks and the heavy lifting of encouragement is done for me.
Eventually I moved my way up to plans on the Bible apps. I would look into brief plans, about a week or less in length, that were tailored to my situation. These words of Scripture and of others who have gone before in my pain were life-giving.
Many weeks in, I decided to begin listening to passages of Scripture using the audio feature. This allowed me to see more of the context of what I was learning, but I was simply listening to the story and still allowing the heavy lifting to be done outside of myself. Sometimes I would listen to a passage multiple times or over multiple days until something would finally resonate in the middle of my brokenness.
When possible, I eventually began to participate in plans on these apps with others.
This allowed me the opportunity to process my learning (and even grief) outside of my own mind and within the company of safe, trusted friends.
Throughout all this time, I also began to listen to related music, podcasts and videos that could impart the wisdom of God to me in different ways. Some days I was hungry for the Word and ready; others days I was swallowed up in pain. But little by little, the words of God began to sprinkle moments of hope and life that it had promised to do.
2. Be aware of the “popping pills” coping strategy.
It can be very tempting and easy to approach the Bible as a quick fix to a temporary ailment, whether we’re in a hard season or not. But especially when we’re grieving, our emotions can override our critical thinking and we can get caught up in Biblical “prescriptions” rather than Biblical truth. The Bible is the story of God and His pursuit of His people. Anytime we take one or two verses out of the story and try to make them our specific story, we can do more damage than good.
But when we’re holding up the heavy weight of grief and pain, we oftentimes don’t possess the strength to also hold up the energy to dig into the entire context of Scripture. I understand this because I’ve been there.
So what’s a good way to approach Scripture when this is our reality?
For me, repetition and lingering were key. When normally I would zip through Scripture and study every word with rapid note-taking and verse-by-verse breakdown, now I was spending time meditating on each verse, slowly but surely. I would read and re-read and read again each verse and passage and ask God to let the truth sink deep over time, healing me over time.
Sometimes I didn’t understand what I was reading, but I didn’t have the capacity to do the research. When this happened, I would simply jot down the verse or passage, list my questions, and linger. Sometimes I would go back to those Scriptures. Sometimes I moved on. The goal of this repetition and lingering during this time was not to comprehend every detail.
Instead, I was practicing the habit of listening to God again and taking time to be in His presence. Some days I left feeling enlightened and equipped. Other days I left feeling more confused than before. Either way, God was meeting me and communing with me and healing me in both the enlightenment and the confusion.
3. Ask God to give you the capacity to seek His word.
Grief is perhaps the quickest way for us to realize that we can be stripped of strength and perseverance at any moment, and that we alone don’t have the capacity to summon enough strength to continue on. This is the beauty of our God and His relationship with us. He sees our weakness and delights in giving us what we can’t give ourselves.
As you come to the realization that you can’t give yourself what you need to pursue God’s word, ask Him to do the pursuit for you in your moments of weakness. Below are three Scriptures that you can memorize and pray as you approach your time with the Bible.
Psalm 119:25 “My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.”
Psalm 119:28 “I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.”
Psalm 119:107 “I am severely afflicted; Lord, give me life according to Your word.”
4. Worship your Savior who has met you in the pain.
While this may seem impossible in the middle of a hard season, there is nothing more miraculous than to say “I do not understand, yet I will trust my God and I will make time to worship Him.” In my lowest moments of hard seasons, when I could barely utter a word, God would lift up my face and meet me in music. Whether you take a moment to simply listen to the lyrics of a song, or you blast the track as loud as you possibly can and sing loud, you may just find that redirecting your attention to your Creator for even a moment can provide the healing you need to get you through the next few minutes, hours or days.
This is not an exhaustive list that answers all questions on reading the Bible in hard seasons, but my aim is that it might bring hope to you in even the smallest of ways.
Finally, I cannot help but encourage you to seek care and counsel if you’re in a heavy season of grief – don’t go it alone. The Bible has been a fountain of life for me in my grief, but the Bible also makes known to us that God partners with humans (not beyond them) through the Spirit to bring restoration to His creation. There are many gifted resources and counselors who are partnering with God in their gifts to help others process, learn from and heal in their grief, and it’s never too late to seek out their help and find hope today!