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Praying Through Grief

Elisabeth Elliot was barely 29 years old with a 10-month-old daughter when her husband, Jim, was murdered by the Auca Indians in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador in 1956.

Years later, when writing about grief, she said, “Sooner or later, many of us experience the greatest desolation of all: he or she is gone. The one who made life what it was for us — who was, in fact, our life. And we were not ready. Not really prepared at all. We felt, when the fact stared us in the face, ‘No. Not yet.’ For however bravely we may have looked at the possibilities (if we had any warning at all), however calmly we may have talked about them with the one who was about to die, we are caught short. If we had another week, perhaps, to brace ourselves … a few more days to say what we wanted to say, to do or undo some things, wouldn’t it have been better, easier? But silent, swift, and implacable the Scythe has swept by, and he is gone, and we are left.”

How do we explain the pain of grief? C. S. Lewis, in describing the emptiness he felt after his wife died, said, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” If we live long enough, we will all experience grief. And, like Elisabeth Elliot, we will all feel “we were not ready. Not really prepared at all. We felt, when the fact stared us in the face, ‘No. Not yet.’ “

As Christians, we are assured that we do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13); because we are assured of a resurrection. We learn that in our grief we are like Jesus who was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). We are also promised relief from the dull, persistent pain of grief; because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). At some point in our future, we will find comfort from grief because Jesus guarantees it. 

King David once faced the unbearable grief of the loss of a child. As a result, he turned to God in prayer; and he serves as a wounded model for all of us. 

After David was advised that his infant son would die, in his grief he “sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16). The word “sought” comes from a Hebrew verb that describes prayer as a desperate request. David also fasted, which is an expression of humility, further illustrated by the picture of a King praying in the dirt. 


If we follow a King’s example, we can pray through our grief even though we are passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In the disruptive agony of loss, we can disregard, for a time, the polite conventions of prayer and instead throw our ravaged emotions onto the ground in humility before God. If that sounds too disrespectful, it’s likely because we’ve momentarily forgotten our ultimate example and our better King. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was “deeply grieved to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). He “fell facedown and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). Do we pray with tempered emotions because we assume God expects more decorum in prayer? Have we forgotten how “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7)? If the emotion seems overwhelming when you pray through your own Gethsemane seasons, don’t worry; you’re in the company of Kings.


Grief is not an event – it’s a process that takes time. King David laid on the ground praying through his intense grief, fasting and praying, for a week (2 Samuel 12:16-20)! When we’re praying though grief, we should ignore artificial requirements of how long it “should” take us to heal and just keep praying. 

In July 2008 Christopher Laurie, the son of California pastor, author, and evangelist Greg Laurie and his wife Cathe, died in an automobile accident. On the 15th anniversary of that sad day, Greg Laurie described his grief: “I thought ‘this is a dream. It’s a nightmare. And I’m going to wake up from it. I know I will.’ But I didn’t. 15 years. That’s how long it has been since I saw my oldest son, Christopher. 15 years since I heard his voice, saw him laugh, or held him close. And today, July 24th, 2023, marks that date. That’s a long time to be separated from someone you love.” 

Can any of us read the words Greg Laurie wrote 15 years after his son’s death and imagine that somehow one day grief simply stops? It doesn’t. But, Greg Laurie didn’t suffer alone – he prayed: “Strangely, in this dark place, God was there with me, and I sensed his presence. I said to God, ‘You gave him to us, and I give him back to you.'” When you are praying through your grief, don’t worry about how long it takes. God has plenty of time for you.


Near my house, a piece of heavy equipment is digging a massive trench for new construction. Grief does to our inner world what that equipment does to earth. Grief excavates us. Grief exposes us to the realization that all our tomorrows will be different than all our yesterdays. But we can pray and like David; we can testify about our loved ones already in heaven “…I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). There is hope of resurrection and reunion; and, in prayer, we live with the certainty that “we will see them again.”

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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