A letter to a mother grieving the loss of a child

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Here’s a letter John Piper wrote, which may be helpful to other Christian mothers out there. The letter was a response to a mom whose child was stillborn:

Dear _____,

This loss and sorrow is all so fresh. I hesitate to tread into the tender place and speak. But since you ask, I pray that God would help me say something helpful.

First, please know that I know I don’t know what it is like to give birth to a lifeless body. Only a small, sad band of mothers know that. I say “lifeless body” because, as you made clear, your son is not lifeless. He simply skipped earth. For now. But in the new heavens and the new earth, he will know the best of earth and all the joys earth can give without any of its sorrows.

I do not know what age — what level of maturity and development — he will have in that day. I don’t know what level of maturity and development I will have. Will the 25-year-old or the 35- or the 45- or the 55-year-old John Piper be the risen one? God knows what is optimal for the spiritual, glorified body. And so it will be for your son. But you will know him. God will see to that. And he you. And he will thank you for giving him life. He will thank you for enduring the loss that he might have the reward sooner.

God’s crucial word on grieving well is 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yours is a grieving with hope. Theirs is a grieving without hope. That is the key difference. There is no talk of not grieving. That would be like suggesting to a woman who just lost her arm that she not cry, because it would be put back on in the resurrection. It hurts! That’s why we cry. It hurts.

And amputation is a good analogy. Because unlike a bullet wound, when the amputation heals, the arm is still gone. So the hurt of grief is different from the hurt of other wounds. There is the pain of the severing, and then the relentless pain of the gone-ness. The countless might-have-beens. Those too hurt. Each new remembered one is a new blow on the tender place where the arm was. So grieving is like and unlike other pain.

There is a paradox in the way God is honored through hope-filled grief. One might think that the only way he could be honored would be to cry less or get over the ache more quickly. That might show that your confidence is in the good that God is and the good that he does. Yes. It might. And some people are wired emotionally to experience God that way. I would not join those who say, “O they are just in denial.”

But there is another way God is honored in our grieving. When we taste the loss so deeply because we loved so deeply and treasured God’s gift — and God in his gift — so passionately that the loss cuts the deeper and the longer, and yet in and through the depths and the lengths of sorrow we never let go of God, and feel him never letting go of us — in that longer sorrow he is also greatly honored, because the length of it reveals the magnitude of our sense of loss for which we do not forsake God. At every moment of the lengthening grief, we turn to him not away from him. And therefore the length of it is a way of showing him to be ever-present, enduringly sufficient.

So trust him deeply and let your heart be your guide whether you honor him one way or the other. Everyone is different. Beware of blaming your husband, or he you, for moving into or out of grief at different paces. It is so personal. And what you may find is that the one who seemed to recover more quickly will weep the more deeply in ten years. You just don’t know now, and it is good not to judge.

May God make your grieving a bittersweet experience of communion with Jesus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). So he knows what it is to go with you there.

We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize. He was tested in every way as we are — including loss.

Grace to you and peace.


Pastor John

John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org. He served for 32 years as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books. John and his wife Noël have five children and twelve grandchildren.

14 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Delight in Truth
    apr. 23, 2013 @ 16:08:42

    So touching… This man, John Piper has the Holy Spirit. Only He can inspire to write like this.

    • rodi
      apr. 23, 2013 @ 16:33:23

      there is so much for us to learn from Piper, he is so careful and deliberate even in his private thoughts and meditation on events- even one such as this one. He shepherds with love, genuine care, honesty and close attention to detail.

      Piper let’s the Holy Spirit guide him in everything! And although we do not put our faith in men, sometimes I feel honored to live in the same generation as this great man of God, and to be able to share his wisdom from his books, sermons, and conference messages.

  2. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 09:41:40

    So, one wonders if he is also led by the Spirit when swearing from the pulpit, which he has done on multiple occasions.

  3. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 12:42:49

    Rodi, not that one.
    It was a full sermon that Matt and I watched.

  4. gabebogdan
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 13:24:24

    Eh… he used the word c…p in order to make a point about the prosperity gospel…if we use the same standard, we would not listen to Spurgeon , Tozer, Ravenhill etc. ..can Manuela Faith and Hope tell us a good preacher we should listen to? Or a good church to go to?

  5. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 13:50:34

    Rodi, this is an ‘apology’ Piper issued following swearing while speaking at a Passion07 conference.

    Gabi knows about the sermon 🙂


    • rodi
      apr. 24, 2013 @ 14:07:42

      I understand your point, Piper said that when God disciplines us sometimes he kicks our a**. I know it is very offensive to many of us to hear such a statement, but taken in context, where he was speaking to young people in a breakout session of the conference, he felt he was speaking to young people who need to be shaken out of their blissful ignorance, I can see how Piper could have slipped in that word. The thing is that he apologized for it, and I don’t think it undercuts his position or the fact that the Holy Spirit does speak powerfully through him to our generation.

  6. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 16:41:40


    I actually don’t think you understand my point, but I think you have made it for me which I appreciate. To be clear the incident we actually watched was a women’s conference (not youth), speaking from a pulpit and it was neither a ‘c’ word or an ‘a’ word, but rather a ‘d’ word contained multiple times in a quote he used, then laughed about and praised.

    The point I am making is that Piper seems to inspire a lot of people to idolize him. As you said, you feel honored to live in his generation. That’s a very high pedestal to put him on, and you are not alone in that. The problem is that when we put someone on that pedestal and actually believe that he is guided by the Holy Spirit in everything it creates a situation where instead of evaluating the teaching in light of God’s Word we start evaluating God’s Word in light of the teaching.

    For example, as GabeBogdan has point out on another blog (not too positively as I recall), Piper has supported Christian rappers and recently spoke at a conference with Jesus Culture. When he does this there will be a lot of people who will suddenly think this is the guiding of the Holy Spirit because he is guided by the Holy Spirit in everything. This IS the speaking he is doing in this generation.

    Speaking to youth is probably the worst place to use foul language. The youth, especially today, need to see elders who are different from the world, not using the methods/language of the world to ‘shock’ them. How many parents did Piper undermine the authority of when he did that? How many kids went home to parents who don’t allow that language in their home and said the godliest man on earth talks this way and so can I.

    I’m not saying that Piper doesn’t say and do some good things. We would probably agree with Piper on many points of belief, and certainly none of us is perfect. I’m not attacking him for not being perfect. My point is that when people praise a man so highly and put him on such a high pedestal they find themselves trying to justify why it’s okay for him swear at their children while supposedly teaching them about God.

    • rodi
      apr. 24, 2013 @ 16:55:37

      it is best to have links to things we point out when we say them, because it is only fair to the person talked about, especially when they are an elder.

      Appreciating men of God is very different from idolatry. There are dozens of men of God whose sermons I listen to on a regular basis. I pray for these men, and I wish them to run the race and finish well, and I thank God for their selfless service. And, yes, I thank God for these men living in my generation and helping me in my walk with God through their messages and books.

  7. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 17:39:09

    Here’s the link to the sermon I mentioned. The quote I referenced is around 13:16.


    for the other one I’ve already provided the link to Piper’s apology.
    If you agree that the language is appropriate for a pastor, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree. 🙂

  8. gabebogdan
    apr. 24, 2013 @ 20:49:10

    Manuela Faith and Hope still didn’t answer my questions…. still waiting
    You could disagree with anyone in certain issues, and I do… but if they are right on essentials we can agree to disagree.. if we are mature Christians..

  9. Manuela ~faith-hope-love~
    apr. 25, 2013 @ 12:48:19

    I didn’t answer your questions because I’m not interested in your straw man. Frankly, I’m disappointed you would suggest that I am creating some standard around Piper using the word c–p from the pulpit, when you already know that he has said things far more offensive. You also know that his usage of c–p is not what I was talking about.

    As an aside, if you can produce sermons by people like Ravenhill, Tozer, and Spurgeon in which they are swearing (and I mean swearing in context of the language in use in their times), feel free to pass them along.

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