Grace in Grief

November 4th, 2011

Last month two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died in a sudden, horrible 15-car crash during the IZOD IndyCar World Championships at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. IndyCar drivers race at average speeds as high as 175 miles per hour and often exceed 200. During the 11th lap around the 1.5-mile track, a small error by one driver caused two cars to touch. In Indy racing, more so than in NASCAR, the smallest bump can create chaos. The track in Las Vegas has particularly steep banks on the turns and that small contact led to a 15-car accident. Four drivers were taken to the hospital. Eleven others were treated at the speedway.

Even in a sport as fast and as potentially dangerous as auto racing, serious injuries and deaths are rare. So the accident, the resulting injuries, and Wheldon’s death were unanticipated and especially tragic. Wheldon is survived by his wife two young children, fellow drivers, and countless fans who continue to grieve.

Guidance in Grief

Grieving is something that we all do, even if everyone grieves differently. Some grieve by withdrawing from family and friends; some mourn by trying to restore normalcy and routine in their lives.

We see grief throughout Scripture. David cried when he learned about the death of his son, Absalom, even though Absalom had become a political rival and an enemy on the battlefield (see 2 Samuel 18:19-33). When Job learned that his children, servants, and livestock had been destroyed, he cursed the day he was born and cried, “Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25, NRSV). And when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept (see John 11:35).

What makes our God so amazing is that there is resurrection after death, and there is hope beyond grief. We don’t have to mourn and cry forever. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4, NRSV). Paul says that, because of our faith in Christ, we “won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Grief is real and necessary. But we serve a God who not only comforts us when we mourn but who also has experienced grief and sadness firsthand. And God doesn’t ask us to suppress our emotions or to hold back tough questions that arise when we grieve.

This Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday, the day of the Christian year when we remember those who have died in the previous year. (All Saints’ Day falls on November 1 each year. The following Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday.) While this Sunday can be painful, it is an important reminder that we are resurrection people. We have hope in new life.

Growing Through Grief

In today’s instant, on-demand world, we are often asked to push aside our emotions and be ready for what comes next. Sometimes it’s difficult to slow down, especially when something sad, hurtful, or scary happens to us. But grief must be honored. All people should be free to mourn and to cry out.

Some teens have experienced tragedy beyond what is expected: the death of a parent or sibling, a suicide attempt, or rape. But we must also honor youth who are grieving in other circumstances: Parental divorce, separation from friends due to moving or changing schools, or scholarship-ending athletic injuries are all reasons young people may grieve. If they are not allowed to express their emotion, this pain can linger and have a negative effect for years to come. We are called to work together to find faithful ways to grieve, following the examples of the saints before us so that we can remember the grace of God even in the midst of sadness.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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