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How Long Does Grief Last?

Losing a loved one feels a little bit different for each person, and grief is always a messy journey. But how long does grief last? How can we help a grieving person on their journey? Here is what you need to know.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Anyone who has experienced the anguish of loss knows that the clock doesn’t tick the same after entering deep heartache. While traveling through the dark valley of grief, one moment to the next may feel like an eternity. How long does grief last? The answer is simple but profound. Grief doesn’t play by the rules of time and space.

What Does the Bible Tell Us about Grief?

Although we can’t put a timeline on grief, scripture assures us that our deepest pain won’t last indefinitely. The Bible tells us that even though our weeping may linger, joy will be restored in time (Psalm 30:5). If you’re grieving right now and can’t imagine a time when you’ll ever experience joy again, please know that mourning lasts only for a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, Luke 6:21). And our earthly seasons are but a moment compared to eternity. There will be a day when the Lord will wipe away every tear, and no one in Him will ever have to endure the grip of grief again (Revelation 21:4).

God has equipped us with promises and provision from His word and the comfort of His Holy Spirit so that while we’re in the midst of earthly grief, we can bear our temporal sorrow and find hope. He promises that He will guide us through our journey of grief. (Psalm 23:4). None of our tears ever go unnoticed by God because He’s there with us (Psalm 56). When we’re brokenhearted, He draws us close to Himself. He revives our crushed spirits (Psalm 34:18) and heals our wounded souls (Psalm 147:3). 

Even in our darkest moments of anguish, we are never alone. He sees, knows, and cares about our grief (Matthew 28:20, Matthew 11:28-30). His very near presence has the power to cast out all fear (1 John 4:18, Psalm 23:4). When we feel frail and weak, He holds us up with His strong and righteous right hand. He sings over us in the night, and His mercies are new each morning. (Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17, Lamentations 3:22-23, Galatians 3:7-9). 

God promises to comfort, sustain, and provide for us during our grief (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Psalm 55:22). He is our refuge, shelter, and hiding place (Psalm 27:5).

Does God Want Us to Grieve?

We serve a God who is well acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). When Jesus walked the earth, He experienced more sorrow than any of us can imagine. Our Lord suffered betrayal, He lost loved ones, people treated him harshly and unjustly, and He endured unspeakable abuse to his body, mind, and soul. On top of it all, Jesus bore an unfathomable measure of grief when He took on the full weight of our sin, guilt, and shame on the cross.

During His earthly moments of agony, the Son of Man didn’t hesitate to grieve. He wept over Lazarus’ passing. He travailed in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He lamented over Israel’s waywardness. H cried out to God while on the cross. 

None of the time Jesus spent grieving was wasted. We know that He did nothing apart from the express will of the Father (John 5:19). His seasons of grief were a God-ordained, unavoidable part of His earthly existence. And they’re part of ours too. 

What Is Healthy and Unhealthy Grieving?

Grief is our soul’s reaction to humanity’s age-old sin debt. There’s nothing natural about death. When sin came into the world, it severed our lifeline to our Heavenly Father. Death and suffering entered a realm where they never belonged (Romans 5:12). So, when we encounter death, everything in us recoils. That’s a good thing; our innermost being agrees with God that something is wrong. 

That’s why Jesus came. That’s why He died—to pay our sin debt, restore our relationship with our Father, and secure eternal life for all who Believe. As long as we live in this sin-fallen world, we will experience death and grieve over it. But because Jesus lives, death has been swallowed up in victory, the stinger of hopelessness has been removed from death, and we no longer have to live in utter despair over an eternal separation from our loved ones who died in Him. Because we know we’ll see them again (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Even though Jesus removed the stinger of hopelessness from death, and we know we’ll be reunited with our loved ones in Heaven, grief hurts—terribly. 

At best, anyone who tries to tell you that suffering has no place in the Christian life is unfamiliar with the truth of God’s Word. At worst, they’re hocking a false gospel. 

The suffering associated with grief drives us to a spiritual fork in the road. When we find ourselves at that intersection, we have a choice to press into our Father’s loving provision. Or, out of self-preservation, confusion, bitterness, or disillusionment, we can turn from God and try to isolate ourselves from His presence. One road will lead to healthy grief; the other will lead to unhealthy grief.  

Practically speaking, when we embrace healthy grief, that doesn’t mean we hide our tears from our brothers and sisters in Christ or suppress our sadness to accommodate a Christian witness.

 Healthy grieving doesn’t require we forfeit the aid of a good counselor, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll spend less time in the valley, and it doesn’t promise we’ll be immune to depression. What healthy grief buys us is a pathway to hope. When our strength fails, we can cling to the God of hope and allow Him to give us a type of peace that makes no earthly sense. (Romans 15:13, Philippians 4:6). Conversely, unhealthy grief leads us down a cyclical path away from restoration and healing.

How Can We Help Someone Grieve?

Our Westernized culture doesn’t generally do death and grief well. Even though statistics show that over half the U.S. population is actively grieving, most Americans hesitate to communicate with each other about grief. But believers are called to a higher standard.

Those of us who have received God’s gift of comfort, healing, and hope, have the responsibility to regift those treasures when He brings a fellow mourner across our path. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 

There’s an art to accomplishing the ministry of comfort well. The ancient Jewish custom of mourning, called Shiva, illustrates this ministry beautifully. When Jewish mourners receive condolence visits, their guests follow a set of rules. Here are just a few of those guidelines that Christians today can glean from while ministering to those who mourn:  

Be proactive—During Shiva, Jewish people set aside seven days for formal mourning. They understand that grief will continue after Shiva. Still, during those designated days, the mourner’s home is traditionally left unlocked to anticipate condolence visits from family and friends. 

When someone we know loses a loved one, Christians should proactively reach out to the mourner and not wait for an invitation to partake in their grief. This act of love and sign of courtesy is the default for our older generations, but the art of proactive empathy seems to be waning in younger generations. The very best gift we can give someone grieving is our presence. No one likes to feel alone when they’re hurting. God comforts us in our grief with the promise that He will never leave nor forsake us, and He calls Christians to forsake our own schedules for the sake of others who need a tangible expression of His love. 

Wash your hands—Jewish tradition prescribes that during Shiva, friends and family who enter the mourner’s home must first ritually wash their hands using a pitcher of water and basin provided near the front door. 

Before God can use us as a minister of comfort, we must first go before His throne of grace and surrender ourselves to that purpose. When we try to comfort someone with our own words and efforts, the results yield little to no fruit. But when washed by the blood of Jesus and in the water of His Word, God can use us as a vessel to minister to those grieving in ways that make a lasting difference. 

Sit low, listen well, and show instead of tell—It’s customary during the Shiva period for close guests of the mourner to sit on low stools, boxes, or cushions to visibly show their commiseration. Guests never utter a word until after the mourner speaks, and once that happens, guests rarely offer more than a sincere expression of sympathy. They know that Shiva is a time for the mourner to remember their loved ones and to reminisce if they wish. The guest’s job is to listen well and provide non-verbal affirmation and support when needed. 

Grieving people rarely need our words. In fact, offering the wrong words to a mourner can do more harm than good (James 1:19). Often, harmful sentiments of comfort are born out of a loving desire to fix the broken heart of the mourner. But that’s not what those who are grieving need. 

What they need is our ear and willingness to help carry their burden of grief. Words are a poor substitute for a shoulder to cry on, a hot meal, a well-timed hug, or any act of service that shows the mourner God’s continued love and care. 

For more help with effectively navigating grief, check out these resources:

Scripture: “While grief can affect each of us differently, we can each find comfort and peace through the words of hope and love in the Bible. These Bible verses about grief can remind you of God’s faithfulness in our pain.”  25 Bible Verses About Grief for Finding Comfort in Sorrow and Loss

Prayer: “Prayer lifts the burden of sorrow and allows us an opportunity to draw upon God’s strength and comfort.” 10 Prayers for Grief and the Heart Heavy with Loss

Music: “Regardless of the life circumstance, it is good to be able to reflect upon some great Christian songs for comfort during grief or tragedy.”—Pamela Rose Williams, 15 Comforting Christian Songs For A Death Or Tragedy

Godly advice from a counselor: “God is the giver of emotions, and he designed healthy ways to deal with grief.” — Jolene Underwood, 7 Healthy Ways Christians Can Deal with Grief

Share your burden with other believers: “If you are in the throes of grief, you don’t have to be there alone. Invite others into your grief with you. Those safe and trusted friends that God has brought into your life can be just what you need during your darkest hours.”— Bobbie Schaeperkoetter,  5 Unexpected Ways to Share Your Grief with Friends

Special thanks to Tina Yeager, LMHC, Award-Winning Author and Life Coach, for contributing her professional thoughts about the grief process for this article.

For further reading:

What Is the Significance of ‘Jesus Wept’ in the Face of Death?

How to Survive the First Year of Grieving a Loved One

6 Loving Things You Should Say to Someone Who Is Grieving

What Is the Importance of Having a Spiritual Family?

Prayers for Comfort: Pray for Peace and Strength

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes

Annette GriffinAnnette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.