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May 3, 2018, 11:20 AM

The Marathon of Grief and the Promise of Easter

Easter is often seen as a joyous and celebratory time in the church year, and indeed, we do have much to celebrate: Christ’s victory over sin and death is something that gives us the “complete joy” that Jesus speaks of in John 15:11.  And yet, even as there are signs of spring and new life bursting forth around us, I am also mindful of the recent deaths of loved ones in our congregation as well as the way in which Holy Week and the Easter season can remind us of deaths and losses in our pasts.

Indeed, there is no simple way to just “get over the grief” nor is that really an advisable thing to do. If we try to suppress emotions like grief, they have a way of coming out in other ways in our relationships and interactions with others.  Sadness can easily become anger.  Pain can become isolating.  But it doesn’t have to—because even amid grief, there is grace. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (NRSV).  Grief reminds us we are not in control of our lives, and that we “cannot save ourselves” as our Confession & Forgiveness in worship regularly reminds us.  But we have a Savior in Jesus Christ who can save us.  Indeed, he already has.

So as we continue in the fifty days of this Easter season, I treasure the language of abiding that we hear in John 15 over the 5th and 6th Sundays of Easter.  Jesus spoke these words on Maundy Thursday evening, and I think Jesus was using them not only as preparation for dealing with the emotional roller-coaster of fear and grief and joy that the disciples would soon experience with his death and resurrection, but also as a way to understand how to deal with grief and loss over time.  It’s as though Jesus is preparing his disciples for a spiritual marathon, and the best way to do that is to abide…to remain in his love and keep his commandment to love one another (John 15:9).   

Jan Borgman, a grief counselor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says, “Dealing with grief is a lot like training for a marathon. No matter how hard the journey is, it begins with a single step. Some days you may feel that you can handle whatever the course presents and other days it takes all you have just to get out of bed. Along the way there will be celebrations for how far you have come and there will be frustration that you are not further along than you think you should be…. There will be peaks and valleys, paved and unpaved paths along the way. What works for one person on the grief journey will not be helpful for someone else. It takes a lot of hard work to establish a new routine and to figure out the best way to deal with your grief. It’s important that you not compare yourself to someone else on the journey but to keep your own pace and rhythm.”[1]

To extend her metaphor, I like to think of the Easter season as a whole as a refreshment station in the marathon of grief. And attending regular worship is like the crowd cheering the runners along the way. It’s the support of the community that helps the runners keep going and not give up when they think they cannot go another mile.  Ask any marathon runner and they’ll tell you—there is always a wall when you think you cannot keep going, when you want to just give in, but it’s the crowd and/or the other runners who encourage them onward.  A marathon runner cannot “go it alone.”  And neither can someone who is grieving.

Borgman continues with some lessons we can learn from marathoners when dealing with grief, which are worth our consideration.  She writes:

1) Don’t force yourself to go too fast. If you force yourself to get through the grief experience, you may overlook or deny some of the issues related to your grief.

2) Reflect on your experience. Take the time you need to deal with your grief. Notice the mile-markers or the accomplishments you have made in order to see how far you have come.

3) It is important to refresh yourself along the way. Take a break from your grief. Give yourself permission to enjoy life and to find pleasure in things you use to enjoy.

4) Allow others to help and support you. You can’t do this alone. Reach out to others and let your needs be known.

5) At times the journey of grief can be lonely and isolating. As time passes, you might find that those who initially supported you are no longer there for you. During those times, be aware of your feelings and the challenges you are facing. Remember that the course is long but you need to keep going. Slow and steady wins the race.

6) There will be new joys and hopes along the way. You will find new meaning in your life as you learn to live your life. Each step along the way will lead you to a new experience, if you can be open to it. It will take time and at some point you will look back and wonder how you made it through your most difficult day.[2]

This Easter, I encourage you to continue “running the marathon” or as Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Because one day, the marathon will come to an end, and grief and sorrow and pain will be no more.  Then we will find ourselves with Jesus and those who have gone before us—celebrating before the throne of God.  And just imagine what a complete joy that will be.


[1] Jan Borgman, “Dealing with Grief: the Marathon of a Lifetime.” Accessed online at:

[2] ibid.

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