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Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Grief: Walking with Jesus" by Bob Kelleman (Book Review)

Every person you know is grieving right now or soon will be. Think about it. The experience of loss is universal–not a matter of if but of when. The real question is how we will process our grief when it inevitably arrives. Will we be crushed? Will we be comforted? Will we make good choices in our grief? Will we walk with Jesus through the dark valley of loss?

My friend Bob Kelleman has written an excellent 31 Day Devotional on this very topic in the brand new series from P&R Books on biblical counseling themes [on sale right now at WTSBooks]. In Grief: Walking with Jesus, Bob has created an unique resource for followers of Christ to process their grief in a biblically thoughtful way. The daily readings are each substantive yet short enough to read in a brief sitting even with the brain fog that often descends in times of heartbreak.

Bob’s book on grief was full of good surprises. I expected a book about comfort, but what I found was a book about Jesus. This was, of course, very comforting–but also very challenging. Bob crafted the book as a study of the life of Jesus progressing from His preexistence in eternity past to His glorious return in the future with a particular application of Jesus’ life to the experience of grief. This unique approach led to many unexpected places, not only for me but even apparently for the author!

For example, there was an emphasis on sacrificially loving other people while experiencing loss. On Day 11, Bob writes:
Time after time, Jesus refused to stop at comforting hope. He kept pushing me not only toward comforting others, not only toward loving others, but toward forgiving and loving those who caused my grief! Consistently, directly in the context of grief and loss, Jesus gazed on my soul and through his Word said, ‘Bob, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you' (Luke 6:27–28).’ Remember, these verses come just five verses after Jesus tells us, ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh’ (Luke 6:21). In the context of mourning and weeping, Jesus calls us to a life of forgiving and loving. That's costly discipleship.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised because that’s exactly how Jesus loved even as He suffered, but it helped me that Bob was pointing it out.

Another surprise was pondering the emotional life of our Lord–especially in some of the raw emotions that come with grief. I expected to read about how Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (and that’s in there), but I didn’t foresee thinking about what Kelleman calls Jesus’ holy disappointment when His friends let Him down when He needed them most. On Day 26, Bob leads us to the Garden of Gethsamane saying:
Jesus models holy disappointment. He asked Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to watch with him. He wanted and needed them to be on emotional sentry duty with him. But they went emotionally AWOL. And it disappointed Jesus. ‘He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour?’‘ (Matt. 26:40). Can you hear the emotional disappointment? Can you feel the emotional fatigue? Jesus does not lash out, but neither does he minimize or deny the reality that they have let him down. 
We have said previously that shared sorrow is endurable sorrow. We’ve painted pictures of climbing in the grief casket with each other. Jesus longed for his disciples to climb into his casket of sorrow, but they fell asleep on their watch. And it hurt Jesus.
Insightful! That was really helpful to me because it helps me to think about how negative emotions can be processed in God-glorifying ways such as confrontation and lament. If Jesus could do “holy disappointment,” so can (and should!) we.

Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty of comfort in these pages, too, especially as we watch the Man of Sorrows grieve Himself and as we contemplate our hope that is still to come. But this book offers hidden depths and not just the usual tried and truisms. Each daily entry also ends with a few prompts for personal reflection. Someone who is hurting could go through it profitably several times in a row.

I will be buying Grief: Walking with Jesus by the caseload to give out liberally alongside Grieving with Hope by Samuel Hodges and Kathy Leonard as a invariably helpful resource for those who are experiencing loss. In fact, I’m ordering one this minute to send to a friend whose mom died yesterday.

Loss is unavoidable in this life, but Jesus has gone through it before us and promises to walk with us every painful step of the way.

[Read the first chapter at Bob's blog and his reasons for writing it at the Biblical Counseling Coalition.]