I grew up in the age of rock ballads, sad love songs, and Bollywood’s obsession with broken hearts. The songs of my generation celebrated the intertwining of grief and love.

Today, global pop star Dua Lipa, who visited India in December 2023, describes her music as “dance crying”—sad songs, set to happy music. It perfectly captures the spirit of our age: desperately sorrowful and easily distracted.

Why Are Songs So Effective at Tapping Into the Heart of Our Grief?

In a podcast I am listening to, Curt Thompson describes music as one of the few things that activate both hemispheres of the brain. Music is poetry and mathematics, he says. It’s poetry, in the sense that lyrics engage the creative side of the brain. But it’s also mathematics, in that its timed, rhythmic, structured beats engage the logical side of the brain.

Listening to the right song with the right story at the right time can fully captivate our inner being and provide a transcendent experience. The sorrow someone else sings about can feel like it’s yours. They give voice to your words and worth to your story. Though you are listening to them, it feels like they are listening to you.

Why are Love and Grief So Deeply Intertwined?

The desire for true love comes with the risk of real grief. Anyone who has felt the euphoric force of true love knows the stabbing pain of real grief. Deep sorrow is what remains when what you love is no longer there. Whether it’s a partner, parent, or someone simply precious to you, the greater the love, the deeper the grief.

Often, we are ashamed to admit our grief because it feels like weakness—something to be concealed from everyone, not revealed to anyone. Unexpressed grief is dangerous. It can harden and turn into anger, outrage, and rebellion. Soft, sad love songs can transform into harsh, heavy metal. Broken hearts turn into hard hearts when deep grief turns into frozen anger.

Sad Love Songs Are Like Proxies for Our Real Grief

We need fictional stories to serve as proxies for our real grief. Artists courageously take responsibility to do what we cannot do, by saying what we will not say, so we can feel a little less alone, knowing someone else feels as we do.

The Psalms are the Soundtrack to the Christian Life

For reasons I do not fully understand, my heart is sensitive to grief. Yet, with joy I cannot adequately describe, Jesus meets me in my grief. Often it is through music. In the Bible, he has given us a songbook. He wrote these songs, prayed them, applied them, and ultimately fulfilled them in his life, death, and resurrection.

The Psalms are the musical soundtrack to the Christian life. In times of deep, overwhelming grief, this songbook of prayer has provided words for feelings I could not name and a voice for grief I could not describe. It has turned anxious stress into joyful rest and fearful feelings into joyful confidence.

These are not simply songs that make us feel known. They are songs that lead us to the only one who truly knows us and rejoices over us with singing (Ps. 139:1-6, Zeph. 3:17).

The songs of the world can name the grief we feel, invite us into the mind of the songwriter, and fill us with a fleeting sense of companionship with someone we do not know. But the songs of the living Word can heal the grief we feel, show us the heart of the songwriter, and lead us into a forever fellowship of eternal encouragement with the Shepherd of our souls (2 Thess. 2:16, 1 Pet. 2:25).