How to Cling to Hope in Loss with Your Spouse

Editor’s Note: We love to celebrate when our bloggers have a book releasing! Read to the end of this post to enter to win one of three copies of Sarah’s new book (written with her husband, Jeff!), Together through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts

When loss comes, grief is often not far behind. Though the shock of pain or the adrenaline of the survival instinct may make us appear strong for a time, grief—“the inward desolation that follows losing something or someone we loved”1—will eventually find its way into every fiber of our being.

Grief follows the great losses that some of us walk through (death, infertility, abuse, a wayward child, and so on), and it follows the smaller yet still painful losses (financial issues, missed opportunities, disappointments). All are hard to navigate in a marriage.

Consider Job, the account of a righteous man who knew loss more than most of us ever will. He lost everything—his livestock, servants, and every one of his children. In one fell swoop, his wealth, security, and family were stripped away. Yet, in response to unfathomable affliction, Job does something equally unfathomable: he shaves his head, falls to the ground, and worships the Lord.

This is unfathomable. It is so different from the way most of us, including Christians, respond to trials.

In Western culture, we’re often uncomfortable with grief, doing our best to avoid the reality that death and decay (of people and things) is evidence that this world is wasting away. Instead, we strive to appear strong, think positive, and fill our lives with whatever will help mask the pain. Or, many avoid facing brokenness head on by relieving the deep ache with whatever will dull the pain, instead of allowing grief and loss to drive them to a greater hope. Sometimes as Christians we do grieve, but we think that while we grieve we can be excused from worshipping God—we’ll start living for Him again once we feel better and the grief has faded.

Grief Is Not a Sign of Unbelief

Don’t think that Job’s worship was in place of his grief, or that those who believe do not feel grief at all. As the pastor and author John Piper points out:

The sobs of grief and pain are not the sign of unbelief. Job knows nothing of a flippant, insensitive, superficial “Praise God anyhow” response to suffering. The magnificence of his worship is because it was in grief, not because it replaced grief. Let your tears flow freely when your calamity comes. And let the rest of us weep with those who weep.2

It’s natural and right to grieve the losses and pain we experience in this life. Grief and tears are not a sign of weak faith, but a normal and healthy response to the brokenness of this world and the painful effects that it has upon our lives. The Bible tells us that this fallen world is not the place we were designed for. The place we were made for is coming, but it is not here yet. Until then, we have to learn to live in a land between—grieving but hoping, unsettled in the pain but at peace in Christ’s presence, worshiping in our pain.

Having hope doesn’t mean we won’t grieve. Having hope means we grieve with the confidence that Christ “will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Walking in Grief with Your Spouse

Not long ago, as I was experiencing another wave of grief over trials that have plagued our family for years, I felt myself pulling away from my husband, Jeff. I felt lonely and resentful. It felt to me that he seemed completely untouched by all that was going on, while I was battling fresh heartache. One day, after believing the lies that he didn’t care and was detached from the circumstances that felt (and still feel) so devastating to me, the dam of resentment I’d allowed to build up broke. I told him forthrightly how I was feeling.

His response was calmer than my outburst, thankfully. He explained how he was struggling in his own way. It was a much-needed reminder that we are both grieving, but the face of our grief often varies. As I’ve reflected on that conversation, I’ve taken away three things I need to remember:

1. People grieve differently.

Couples tend to grieve differently than each other, just as Jeff and I do. One of you may express grief through frequent bouts of tears and will need to talk things through; one of you may show little emotion at all, and you cope by distracting yourself with anything that will keep your mind elsewhere. One of you may feel as though you have to hold it together, and then months or years later your own grief suddenly and unexpectedly begins to surface. Recognize these differences and be patient with one another—and communicate with each other. One of the enemy’s powerful attacks on a marriage is the words that should be, but never are, spoken. When a husband and wife do not communicate their grief and let each other into their wrestling with God at the appropriate time, the “one flesh” can feel as though it has split into two.

2. Your spouse isn’t Christ.

Remember to bring your grief first and foremost to Christ, for He alone is the source of your hope and strength. If you expect your spouse to be able to provide all the comfort you need or to understand you fully and completely and respond with wisdom and just the right encouragement, you’ll be disappointed and they’ll be crushed, and you’ll both grow resentful.

3. Your spouse is your spouse.

Yes, your spouse is not your Savior, but they can share both your joy and pain in ways that others can’t and weren’t meant to. If we begin to think independently from each other, and we are unwilling to let our spouse into our heartache because we think they won’t understand or may say the wrong thing, it’s bound to leave us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. In the end, our silence robs us of the opportunity and privilege to walk and grow alongside each other, to know more of Christ together, and to grow more in love with each other through suffering.

What Is Most Precious Has Not Been Lost

How was Job able to respond in worship? Not because he was not grieving his awful losses, but because he knew that he had not lost what was most precious to him and never could. If you know Jesus, you too can lose precious things yet still worship. Grief can refocus us on the value of Christ and the security we have in him. This is why grief and joy can co-exist and even grow together. Experiencing that alongside our spouse is a gift we will only know if we’re willing to let each other into the ups and downs of our grief and extend grace to the other as they navigate the ups and downs—as messy and unpredictable as that can be.

Friends, it’s OK to grieve, but don’t grieve alone. Let Christ into it and know the joy he has for you. And let your spouse into it and know the closeness which that can bring. Unexpected blessings are found as we walk side by side on the path where joy and sorrow meet.

1 J.I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 9.

2 “Job: Reverent in Suffering,” Desiring God, accessed Apr 22, 2020, DesiringGod.org/messages/job-reverent-in-suffering.

This article has been adapted with permission from a chapter in Sarah and Jeff Walton’s book, Together through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts (Charlotte, NC: The Good Book Company, 2020).

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