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David's Grief Observed

By adulthood most of us have experience with grieving the loss of someone we love.

David has just learned that his best friend, Jonathan and King Saul, Jonathan's father have been killed in battle.

What we read is David's response to his grief?his lament.

There are some very interesting features to his lament.

The first is that it is totally a masculine response. When he speaks of Jonathan and Saul, he speaks about them by what they do, not their connections with each other or his to them, except at the very end of the lament.

Both die as soldiers on the battle-field and David's imagery is the imagery of fallen warriors. He even expresses his sorrow picturing their scattered weapons and armor lying unattended . . .

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

By adulthood most of us have experience with grieving the loss of someone we love.

David has just learned that his best friend, Jonathan and King Saul, Jonathan's father have been killed in battle.

What we read is David's response to his grief?his lament.

There are some very interesting features to his lament.

The first is that it is totally a masculine response. When he speaks of Jonathan and Saul, he speaks about them by what they do, not their connections with each other or his to them, except at the very end of the lament.

Both die as soldiers on the battle-field and David's imagery is the imagery of fallen warriors. He even expresses his sorrow picturing their scattered weapons and armor lying unattended on the battlefield.

Another is his lack of anger toward Saul in death. David was Saul's nemesis, and on many occasions tried to kill him.

What is also interesting is how David responds to his grief. His grief does not initially come as sorrow.

?No one ever told me how much grief felt like fear?1 C.S. Lewis was surprised by his physical response to the death of his wife. He was not prepared for what he experienced.

1. Grief often feels like something else I wonder how many of us are ready for our own response to loss. I suspect that if we could interview David, he might tell us that it often feels like anger. In his grief he curses the real estate where his friend Jonathan and his father Saul died.

Many a funeral director and minister know too well that anger can be the first reaction of a grieving person. And you know that grief can mask as any number of feelings. We know this with our head, but when we are caught up in it, we may feel lost and confused about our emotions or the emotions of others.

William Worden2, an author on grieving describes a number of ways people experience grief: (These are not the only ways we might experience grief, and we may experience many of these feelings together or separately during the course of grieving)

Sadness Anger Guilt and self-reproach Anxiety Loneliness Fatigue Helplessness Shock Yearning Emancipation Relief Numbness Besides anger, I wonder how many of these feelings we can identify in David's Lament. I think I can see sadness, yearning and loneliness.

When my wife died, I went into shock which lasted the better part of a year.. For a good part of that time I was completely numb. One of my initial emotions was anger directed at an undeserving funeral director. I told Valerie I plan to talk about this and she is totally supportive?which is very helpful to a person who grieves. And by the way, grieving isn't necessarily something that happens and then is done. We may grieve bits and pieces years later?even when we have healed and reintegrated our lives. In a way, our grief and pain is one way we keep a connection with the person we have lost.

David's response is interesting and I think we can see ourselves in it.

2. Grief is a time for releasing.

Funerals and eulogies are not normally a time when we mention the deceased person's greatest faults. I think that when mourners are secure in their relationship with the deceased and one another, openess and frankness can be refreshing.

But death is a time of releasing. I think this is one of the reasons why some people feel relief and emancipation as part of their grieving.

David does not mention in his lament that Saul considered himself David's bitter enemy. In fact Saul repeatedly tried to kill David.

David avoids saying anything negative at all about him. Some might think David is glossing over Saul's faults, but I think his feelings are honest. To begin with, Saul was his father-in-law. Remember when David took on Goliath?

Word went around that whoever killed the giant could have the princess's hand in marriage. David killed him and married Michal, Saul's daughter.

While Saul was trying to kill him, David never once spoke ill of Saul, or tried to harm him in return. Remember, David was not averse to killing his opponents?and was very efficient as a warrior. Saul was king, though and David had respect for that fact and would not retaliate.

Now in death, David is gracious. I do not believe he is harboring resentment. It seems from his words, that he has let go of anything he might have held against the king.

Some people experience relief, even emancipation following a death. Not everyone does.

Some hold onto hurts and grievances even beyond the grave.

When you visit Westminster Abbey in London, you can tour the resting places of many of Britain's monarchs. One sarcophagus holds the remains of both Elizabeth I, and her rival Mary. During their lives, Britain was torn apart with the struggle to control the throne. There they lie--one Protestant and one Catholic. In their time, much blood was shed over who would control and which church would win out.

The good people of that island did for them in death what they could not do in life?unite them. And so you pass by the place where their remains rest in one coffin?a fitting benediction to a bloody history.

Death is the great equalizer, and it should be the final resting place of hostilities. Unfortunately it is not always. In the past week's news was a story of how two historic enemies'the Hatfields and the McCoys had finally decided to formally let bygones be bygones.

A study by the automobile insurance industry discovered that people who settle claims early heal faster from their injuries than those who do not. Now they have a vested interest in this outcome, but I think this is not a surprise.

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray ?forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us?. David did not let his hurts live beyond Saul's grave. It is a good model for us.

3. Grief is for feeling and expressing Pickles are good when bottled up, but grief is not.

Regardless of how David expressed his grief, the important thing is that he did. He wrote a lament. Many people find journaling a good release. I found that writing poetry helped me express what I was having difficulty saying.

You may not be able to write a lament or a song, but you can talk it through with someone. I was fortunate having good and skilled friends who let me ramble.

The big problem with grieving folks is that they can become intense, and that intensity can be uncomfortable for others.

An author who is unfortunately out of print, Dr. Conrad Baars, wrote a book called Healing and Feeling Your Emotions. In it, he reminds us that God gave us emotions for the purpose of making us take action when necessary.

Grief is a task and the best way to complete the task is to allow yourself to feel the hurt and then to express it.

When you feel lonely, set aside some time to feel the loneliness, then some time to spend time with others. Find someone who will listen, and then talk about your pain.

If you are the listening friend, remember Job's three friends. For three days, they did nothing but sit quietly with their friend. Often its our anxiety about hearing another person's pain that short-circuits our listening skills. There is no need to offer solutions?just listen. Remember that grief is often masked by a variety of other emotions, so it's important to suspend our judgement about what we hear. Just listen. That may be the greatest gift you can give.

Conclusion Grief, like pain is one of God's good gifts. Pain motivates us to take action. Grief is the emotion of pain when we experience a loss. The Russian poet, Leo Tolstoy says:

Only people who are capable of loving strongly are capable of great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counter act the grief and heals them.

Sometimes it is our pain that is our final connection with our loved one. I know the good news that in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory, but one of my fears was that I might forget. I, like you, know that we can consign our loved ones to the faithful hands of our Heavenly Father, knowing they and our memories are safely kept until we all are united, face to face.

Preached By Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1 C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, Bantam Books, 2002

2. J William Worden. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Springer Publishing, 1991 Other sources consulted

1 & 2 Samuel, Ronald E. Youngblood, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 3, Zondervan 1992.

David, When Only God's Grace Will Do, A series of sermons by Rev. Norman Archer, Victoria, British Columbia.

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