Understanding Grief, Mourning and Chronic Grief

Who has not questioned the reason for pain and suffering in the world? Certainly some people have become hardened by their losses, while others have become softened; God used their grief to cultivate in them tender, understanding hearts.

Only days before His own death, Jesus traveled to the grave of Lazarus to comfort his two sisters in their loss. Jesus was not only deeply moved in His Spirit, but He was also weeping with Mary and Martha. It may seem paradoxical that Jesus—the Son of God, the one who turned water into wine, the one who multiplied the loaves and the fishes, the one who raised Lazarus from the dead—could not avoid grief in His own life. But the prophet Isaiah foretold that Christ, the coming Messiah, would be a man who would understand grief well for, indeed, He was …

“A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV)

What is Grief?

  • Grief is the painful emotion of sorrow caused by the loss or impending loss of anyone or anything that has deep meaning to you.“Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.” (Psalm 31:9)
  • Grief begins in your heart as a natural response to a significant, unwanted loss.
  • Grief is a God-given emotion that increases with knowledge about the sorrows of life. The wiser you are about the grief that people experience, the more you yourself will grieve.“With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
  • In the New Testament, the Greek word lupe means “pain of body or mind.” When Jesus told His disciples He would soon be betrayed and killed, they were “filled with grief” (Matthew 17:23).

What is Mourning?

  • Mourning (also called grieving), is the process of working through the pain of sorrow that follows a significant loss.“Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.” (Lamentations 5:15)
  • Mourning is a normal, healthy process that lasts for a period of time. God uses mourning in order to produce the ultimate healing of deep distress and sorrow.“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11)
  • Mourning evokes compassion and expressions of comfort from others. When Lazarus died, Jesus and many others came to comfort Mary and Martha.“Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.” (John 11:19)

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word abal means “to mourn or lament.” Jacob’s favorite son was Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers told their father, Jacob, that his favored son had been killed by a ferocious animal, Jacob went into deep mourning for days and ultimately years.

“Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.” (Genesis 37:34)

What is Chronic Grief?

While we are grieving, a prevalent problem may be that we don’t want to talk about our grief or let others see our sadness. We don’t want to appear weak, so we mask our emotions! Yet if we delay sharing our sorrow, our healing will also be delayed. If we are going to be “authentically human,” we need to be able to share the truth about the heaviness in our hearts. If we have chronic grief, we are emotionally stuck, and we need to be set free. That is why Jesus’ words about truth are so freeing, even when applied to grieving.

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

  • Chronic grief (or incomplete grief) is an unresolved, emotional sorrow experienced over a long period of time as the result of not accepting a significant loss or not experiencing closure of that loss.“The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” (Psalm 25:17)
  • Chronic grief can also be an unresolved, deep sorrow experienced over a long period of time and characterized by misconceptions that result in a failure to move through the grief process.

Misconceptions and Corrections


MISCONCEPTION: “My grief will never end.”

CORRECTION: You will mourn for a season, and then your grief will end.

“[There is] a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)


MISCONCEPTION: “If I cry, I’m not strong.”

CORRECTION: Jesus was strong, yet He wept after Lazarus died.

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

King David was strong, yet he and his men wept after Saul and Jonathan died.

“They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan.” (2 Samuel 1:12)


MISCONCEPTION: “If I feel deep sorrow, I must not be trusting God.”

CORRECTION: Christ, the Messiah, never failed to trust God, the Father, yet He was called “a man of sorrows.”

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Article Used by Permission from Hope for the Heart©
Scripture, unless otherwise indicated, taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

June Hunt

June Hunt

June Hunt, M.A. Criswell College, is a biblical counselor whose award-winning radio program "Hope For The Heart" is heard on 900 radio outlets around the world. For more than 25 years, she has counseled people, offering them hope for today's problems. June has helped many people with emotional, relational, and spiritual problems experience God's love through biblical hope and practical help. Click here to find out more about Hope for the Heart.

Hope For The Heart Board of Reference

Dr. Henry Blackaby (Blackaby Ministries International), Dr. Rick Warren (Saddleback Church), Dr. Tony Evans (The Urban Alternative), Joni Eareckson Tada (Joni and Friends), Kay Arthur (Precept Ministries International), Dr. David Jeremiah (Turning Point), Dr. Tim Clinton (American Association of Christian Counselors), Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Bruce Wilkinson Ministries), Dr. Chip Ingram (Living on the Edge), Roger Staubach (SRS Real Estate Partners), Steve Arterburn (New Life Ministries), Vonette Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ), Dr. Charles Stanley (In Touch Ministries), Zig Ziglar (Ziglar Training Systems)

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