Connections 07.01.2018: Journeying through Grief

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

“Grief Is Complicated.” My first thought when I read the title for this lesson was Well, that’s an understatement! Anyone who has experienced grief—no matter the cause—knows that it is more than complicated. It comes all of a sudden and hits you hard. Or it builds slowly and stretches out for weeks. Or it seems to have passed and then crashes upon you in violent waves when you encounter a reminder of whatever you lost. It’s a roller coaster you never wanted to get on, and it is truly never ending.

My grandfather died in 1993 when I was fifteen. The grief I feel over his loss has changed. Back then, I was struck by the hole his absence left in our large, close-knit family. Now, I realize what it was like for my grandmother to watch her spouse suffer and die from lung cancer complications, losing him at an age that seems younger and younger the older I get.

My grandmother died suddenly in 2012 of a brain hemorrhage. She was so active and involved and busy that her death was quite unexpected and shocking. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the idea that my mother became an orphan at age sixty. Even though most adults lose their parents at some point, my heart can barely tolerate the thought of a world without my own mother in it.

There are other losses that still grieve me. Precious children who battled cancer and finally went to be with God. Friends who have moved away and no longer share daily life with me. Broken church families. Aspects of marriage that weren’t what I expected them to be. The innocence of my children. Half a dozen beloved dogs.

There are tragedies in the wider world that break my heart anew every time I think of them. School shootings. Racial strife and oppression. Sexual exploitation. Maltreatment of immigrants. Hungry children. Cycles of poverty. Economic disparity. Gender inequality. War-torn nations. Homophobia. And yes, the list could go on.

One night, I wept to my husband and began to wonder about the point of life when there’s so much grief. I felt like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who asked, “What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” (1:3). Sometimes it really does seem like everything we try to do is in vain. But then I read a story like David’s. He was a man who rode the roller coaster of grief—both inflicted by others and by himself—and still found reason for hope. He could mourn his beloved friend Jonathan and even his enemy Saul (2 Sam 1). He could also trust in the presence and actions of the Lord (2 Sam 7:18-29). He led people mightily, and he failed at life miserably. He was strikingly human, just like all of us.

Grief is a lifelong journey, but it is a result of loving deeply and caring passionately. Sometimes it seems that we love and care in vain. After forty years of life, though, I truly do believe that living as fully as we can—allowing ourselves to love and care and feel—is worth any risk.

Discussion

1. What losses have you experienced, and how have they affected you?
2. How is grief complicated for you?
3. Whom have you watched walk through grief in a grace-filled way, and how has that person influenced the way you face tragedy and loss?
4. Do you sometimes wonder what is the point of life? If so, how do you find the strength to continue loving deeply and caring passionately in spite of the risk?
5. Take some time to read the full story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. What can we admire about him? What can we learn from him? How does his humanity influence his decisions? What kind of relationship did he have with God?

Reference Shelf

Lamenting the Loss of a Friend and His Father, 1:17-27

David’s elegy for Saul and Jonathan probably derived from another ancient source and was inserted here to give added poignancy to the grief already expressed in vv. 11-12. The traditional view is that the dirge reflects the actual words of David, who was famed as the author of many psalms, and there is no particular reason to question the attribution. To that extent, it offers the modern reader an open window into David’s mind and heart.

The first stanza expresses deep resentment of the Philistines (v. 20) and of Mount Gilboa (v. 21), while saluting the admirable qualities of Saul and Jonathan (vv. 21-23) and calling upon the women of Israel to weep for those who had enriched their lives (v. 24). The “daughters of the Philistines” in v. 20 are nicely balanced by the “daughters of Israel” in v. 24. This serves as an effective inclusion, further marking vv. 20-24 as a unit.

David’s elegy makes it clear that the deaths of Saul and Jonathan were a blow to the entire nation, an event that warranted great mourning. “How the mighty have fallen!” is a cry from the heart, intended to express personal grief and to appeal to the hearts of others.

Saul’s popularity in Israel was not as evident as Jonathan’s, but David could safely speak of the leaders as being beloved by the people. David also praised their beauty; ancient kings were commonly praised for their appearances (1 Sam 9:2; 10:23-24). A quality that set Saul and Jonathan apart was their loyalty to each other. Jonathan loved David and swore his life in covenant to him, but he never defected from his father’s camp. Despite the tension between them (see 1 Sam 20:30, 33; 22:8), he remained faithful to his father, even to the point of death.

Tony W. Cartledge, 1 & 2 Samuel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001) 354, 357-58.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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