There are many many Christian books and booklets on grieving. Some are more helpful than others. I was given seven to review. Having read them I’ve ended with the four below. These are my thoughts.
Reviewing them is difficult because grieving is such an individual thing but most of us are going to go through this process sooner or later to some degree or another. There is no getting round that. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that the grieving person needs friends that know them well. This came out in one of the books:
“After my tragedy, a lot of people wanted to minister to me, and in some cases they were people I didn’t know well. But this just isn’t the time to be making new friends. It’s a time you want to be surrounded by the people you are already close with.” For All Who Grieve, p. 89 & 90.
Booklets can be quite helpful, especially if you don’t know what to say. They let us express our sorrow for the grieving person without having to say anything. Just don’t keep asking them if they’ve read the one you gave them as if it’s the most important one of all. It isn’t. They might never read it but they’ll still appreciate it and remember the kindness.
People mean well. But they don’t always say or do helpful things. Booklets are the same. They won’t all be suitable for everyone and it may be that a combination of books or booklets will be most helpful. No one book can say it all. If you are going to give someone that’s grieving a book then make sure you read it first. For example, I’d appreciate the kindness, but giving me something that was full of things I didn’t believe wouldn’t be helpful, I’d only find it annoying. But then, it might provoke useful thought. There you go. Is there a right or wrong – no idea. Just try not to batter people.
The reality of church life means there will be Christians at various stages of grief. That is true of any church and is true where I’m a member. Death doesn’t come in a neat packaged order. You don’t have to be old to ‘go the way of all the earth’ as Joshua said and is shown so well in ‘For All Who Grieve.’ So there is wisdom in preparing for what all of us will eventually experience. Nothing, apart from God himself, can prepare us for it. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it and just stoically get on with life. No, we are Christians, so we can and should prepare as best we can with the resources God has given us. These, and books like them can help us. There’s a lot of doctrine in the following books. So don’t let anyone tell you doctrine is of no practical use! Here are the four books then, in no particular order.
‘How Can I Grieve to God’s Glory?’ by Ryan M. McGraw, Reformation Heritage Books, 2019. (£2.50) This little booklet of 28 pages is based on Lamentations ch 3 where the sin of Israel has brought judgement. Because of Adam’s sin, and our own sin, we live in a fallen world. But on page 4 it’s not clear if it’s a specific personal sin that causes the death of a loved one. This could, I think, have been phrased differently. It was unhelpful and I nearly didn’t read on. However, by the end I thought the booklet had many good points and in several places is very helpful. For example,
‘Like him (Jeremiah) Christians must walk by faith in their grief (Lam. 3:19-38). We are thinking and believing Christians, and how we think and what we meditate on during our trials largely determines how we bear them by faith in Christ.’ p.9.
Another good point is that the author doesn’t shy away from God’s Sovereignty. If The Lord is truly Lord of all, He’s Lord of what’s happening to us, including the death of our loved ones. This is an important point. The booklet is doctrinally correct but some might think it lacks warmth. That said, it is very well worth reading. There’s a lot in this that we need to hear but in the wrong hands it could be used as a cudgel.
The grieving believer needs these truths but like some medicines they need to be administered with care. I would recommend reading this, but with caution. Would I give it to someone in the depths of grief? I’m not sure.
‘Grief: Finding Hope Again’ by Paul David Tripp, New Growth Press, 2010. (£3.99) This booklet by Paul Tripp is helpful and is the shortest at 24 pages. And short can be really helpful. I would have no problem giving this to a Christian. He’s quite straight, but is perhaps a little more compassionate. For example, this sort of honesty is good to bear in mind,
‘Whether death results from a sudden accident or a long illness, it catches us unprepared. Death is so deeply emotional and stunningly final that there is nothing you can do ahead of time to sail through your moment of loss.’ p. 5.
There are some good, but brief, strategies for dealing with the peculiar temptations grief brings with it. It doesn’t go into much depth, so that alone could be helpful when your grief-stricken brain isn’t working correctly. This booklet is a good place to start.
‘Grief: Walking with Jesus’, Bob Kellemen, P & R Publishing, 2018. (£7.99) This is a 31 day devotional reading plan.
I struggled at first with this book but then I warmed to it. I wasn’t overly keen on some aspects but by the end I was personally glad to have read it, and thought how useful it could be. It’s real and warm but also challenging. I could see it helping to maintain or establish a regular time in the scriptures. I would have no problem giving this away. The three studies each on Lazarus and Gethsemane for example were excellent. At the end of each reading there are items for reflection or things to do. For some, in the midst of raw grief, giving them stuff to do too soon might not be helpful. But then, for others, maybe they need to stop for a few minutes to reflect. It really helps to know the person.
‘Grief is a journey. But you and I know that it’s not a straight line from one point to another. The messy, mixed-up journey of grief that zigs and zags from hills to valleys, from valleys to hills, is not a nice, neat process.’ P.17.
This is the sort of honesty that is so helpful because there isn’t a magic bullet that suddenly makes everything well. There just isn’t. But The Lord Jesus is with us in it. No matter how messy it gets.
One reading was on justice and at first it seemed strange for that to be in here. But if the death of your loved one came about through medical incompetence or violence or a myriad of other issues the desire for justice is understandably going to be very strong. And it might be just to peruse it. The author doesn’t by-pass these emotions but we are helped and challenged to deal with them by bringing them to the Lord.
When is the best time to give it to someone in the midst of their grief? I don’t know. It wouldn’t do any harm even if they didn’t get round to reading it until some time later.
One other use for this could be to read it through as a group or even as a church.
‘For All Who Grieve: Navigating the Valley of Sorrow and Loss’ by Colin S. Smith, 10 Publishing, 2020. (£9.99) Hardback 140 pages. This last one is the longest and looked formidable. Would I have tackled it in the midst of grief? I don’t know. But the text is easy to read with breaks and headings and text boxes that keep it from becoming just a wall of text. I opened it with a bit of trepidation and I was hooked. I didn’t want to put it down.
This book is also based on the book of Lamentations. He (the author) was called out to a couple whose son was suddenly killed and from this he started a group that met to discuss together their grief – some from 18 years previous. The book is made up of shared experiences (testimonies) of (mainly) couples from the group with comments and exposition after each testimony by the author.
The six chapter titles are TEARS, TALK, GUILT, GRIEVANCE, HOPE & HEALING with a Postscript and an Appendix on ‘Children who die in infancy. (The testimonies are mostly about the death of children – one of 27 days.) After each chapter there’s a page of ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion.’ Scary. There is raw honesty here. We don’t get all our questions answered and even after many years the grief is still painful. I found it helpful. The testimony to the love and faithfulness of God is wonderful. Christ really is the answer. But it’s through many many tears. The chapter on ‘Grievance’ is actually about having a grievance with God. The care of God is unbelievable. So amazing!
‘Why did God breathe out a book filled with complaints and grievances against Himself? Surely it is because He wants us to bring our grievance to Him’ p. 76.
One section in the Grievance chapter is on ‘Did God Cause This or Did He Just Let it Happen?’ The book tackles hard questions.
Would a ‘sharing’ group like this work in every church? I don’t know. Would it work in our church in the UK? Again, I don’t know. I do think ministers and elders should read it though. Or if you want to try and understand grief then you should read it. I found it refreshing and encouraging.
It’s a book with great heartache and sadness but it’s not a gloomy book. There’s grief and there’s hope together.
I highly recommend this book.
There are some topics that are interesting to read but may have little relevance to our lives. Death and grieving isn’t one of them. Frankly, it could do us all a lot of good to read books like these in order to further prepare us and our churches for the difficult days ahead that will surely come.