Emily Dickinson once wrote, “I can wade grief, whole pools of it, I’m used to that.” On one hand, I can relate as I have been literally wading grief my entire life. I lost my birth mother at two years old and just lost my adoptive mom a year ago. It’s been a constant, lifelong journey—subconscious at times, palpable at others. Yet on the other hand, I can’t quite relate to the last part because grief is not something you get used to in this life. It is ever present—yes—but it is never normalized. Even in the ubiquity of tragedy, we wrestle and reckon with it, but never actually come to grips with it. The hurting and aching following loss will always remain in our hearts on this side of glory. Through the grieving process I’ve found comfort in Scripture and in songs, but I’ve also found it in great books.
So if you’re feeling wrecked and ruined by the tragedy of loss, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to wade through it alone. Many have walked this path before. Many walk alongside you. And thankfully, many have not only lived with and processed grief, but have written down their thoughts in a way that gives voice to our feelings and guidance to our contemplation. Their words are like guardrails that can shore up the emotional mess of our lives bringing real hope and teaching us to grieve well. Here are some resources that have brought me real comfort and hope in the midst of continued grief—
1. Christ and Calamity by Harold Senkbeil
“No matter the circumstances, Christians who plant their hope in God can harvest genuine joy in the rocky soil of adversity or in the deepest, darkest valley of pain.”
This short booklet is surprisingly brimming with help and hope for desperate and despondent souls. Harold Senkbeil is the quintessence of a pastor/shepherd. He writes with his heart as much as with his mind. It is clear that he cares deeply for people and has spent much time with them. His writing is saturated with a profound knowledge of the Scriptures and understanding of the human heart. He takes time to show how Christ and calamity go together—that it’s in the darkest valleys that our need for him becomes most apparent and his presence becomes most evident. This booklet offers real comfort by delineating the unique ways that Christ ministers to us in the storms of life. If you’re looking for hope, this is a great place to start.
2. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
“Lament is the language of a people who believe in God’s sovereignty but live in a world with tragedy.”
With the persistent nature of grief, you might not know what to do with the unrelenting, overwhelming negative emotions and you might fall prey to debilitating despair. In your heart you have a pent up concoction of intense sadness, fear, anger, and confusion all boiling and building up pressure. This book helps give voice to your emotions by discovering the grace of lament. Lament is a staple genre found throughout the pages of Scripture that faces grief head on. Pain and anger are expressed in the inspired words of the text. Lament is counterintuitive because it seems to express anger toward God—even hopelessness—yet in the big picture it is the cry of faith and hope. Lament doesn’t seek clear-cut answers or practical solutions, but it is an honest, heart-wrenching wrestling with tragedy. It provides you with an outlet to vocalize your pain and frustration, but in the context of worship and trust. I believe that understanding lament is a crucial part of the grief process and this is your go-to reference on it.
3. Suffering by Paul Tripp
“Suffering is a deeply theological and profoundly spiritual experience.”
The confusing nature of grief can bring out the worst in your heart—fear, anger, depression, denial. And Tripp is the master of applying the Gospel of grace to our internal and external lives. In this book, he shares his personal struggle with suffering and shows how it dismantles our illusion of independence and self-sufficiency—the fundamental posture of our hearts. He insightfully shows that suffering is never neutral. The way we suffer reflects what we believe in our hearts. He exegetes our hearts during times of pressure and warns against various potential traps that we face as our hearts are more deceitful than you realize. He then walks us through various aspects of the Gospel bringing comfort and encouragement. This was an eye-opening book.
4. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges
“If there is a single event in all of the universe that can occur outside of God’s sovereign control, then we cannot trust him.”
With the overwhelming nature of grief, you might be pulled down into major disorientation. Maybe you’ve lost your bearings or lost sight of the truth. Maybe you’ve questioned everything you believe, even the goodness and presence of God. In a very compelling, Bridges brings comfort from the providence and sovereignty of God. With a perfect balance of theology and practice, he seeks to reorient us with the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. God can be trusted—even in life’s darkest and most painful times— because he is perfectly sovereign, infinitely wise, and completely good. I believe I have given this book out more than any other and the recipients have always returned to express their thankfulness as they found it to be a valuable, paradigm-shifting resource.
5. A Death in the Family by James Agee
“It’s kind of a test and it’s the only kind that amounts to anything. When something rotten like this happens. Then you have your choice. You start to really be alive, or you start to die. That’s all.”
James Agee is a prolific writer. His other work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is more familiar, but this personal memoir is an eerie reflection on the death of his father when he was a young boy. I was drawn to this title because of my love for realism and the uncanny similarities between the death of his father and the death of my birth mother—both ripped from us in a moment through automobile accidents. This is some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read and I found comfort in the elegance and transparency, as well as the haunting childhood frame of reference.
6. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
“When suffering and death come for you—and it will—you want to be in a place where you know, and are known.”
With grief comes reflection and even regret. There is a real need to look back and try to make sense of the past as you learn to move forward with your life. This is a vital part of the grieving process. I first came across this title as it was referenced in Michael Horton’s book Ordinary. The subtitle says it all—A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret to a Good Life. This is a insightful reflection on the life of his sister, their volatile relationship, her struggle with cancer, the circumstances surrounding her death, and the importance of community. He lets us into the intricate and intimate dynamics of familial relationships in a way that most would be uncomfortable with. I couldn’t put this one down and found it to be strangely tragic and delightful from cover to cover. It is raw, beautifully written, and deeply moving. Not only did he help me process death, he helped me process life and my current relationships before death knocks again.
7. Seasons of Sorrow by Tim Challies
“One of the realities of grieving as a Christian is the coexistence of heights of joy alongside depths of sorrow.”
This brand new resource is a cross between diary, memoir, and devotional. It is a heartbreaking reflection of a grieving parent who is “deeply wounded, deeply scarred, deeply broken.” Suddenly and shockingly, Challies lost his son, Nick, in 2020 at just 20 years old. There was no warning beforehand nor was there any real explanation after—except that God had called him home. The sections of the book lead us through the seasons of grief in a single year as he wrestled with pain and fought to find hope and joy. His faith and trust are clearly unwavering, yet he poured his heart our on these pages in a vulnerable way. He shows how the sovereignty of God is equally terrifying as it is comforting. I found it very relatable, moving, and comforting as he shared his inner turmoil. Grief is often miserable and messy and he shows that it’s okay not to be okay.
These writers have helped me wade through grief as life is hard and remains hard. They have been my friends, companions, confidants, and counselors. I commend their works to you. May you find the same comfort and encouragement I have in their words.
Thank you for writing reviews on these books. I’ve read 2 listed and look forward to reading the others. Often times I’ve seen people (including myself) handle grief and tragedy in unhealthy ways but for the Christian we have hope in Christ… but we must learn this…we must learn how to lament and live in this broken world till Jesus calls us home.