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Posts tagged ‘Grief’

The Dark Night of the Soul (Sproul)

 

by R.C. Sproul

The dark night of the soul.  This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time.  It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears.  It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.”  It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him.  This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute.  We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates.  We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy.  Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness?  It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness.  A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head.  The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression.  The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

In writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, Paul commends to his readers the importance of preaching and of communicating the Gospel to people. But in the midst of that, he reminds the church that the treasure we have from God is a treasure that is contained not in vessels of gold and silver but in what the apostle calls “jars of clay.”  For this reason he says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  Immediately after this reminder, the apostle adds, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7­-10).

This passage indicates the limits of depression that we experience.  The depression may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal.  Notice that the apostle Paul describes our condition in a variety of ways.  He says that we are “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.” These are powerful images that describe the conflict that Christians must endure, but in every place that he describes this phenomenon, he describes at the same time its limits.  Afflicted, but not crushed.  Perplexed, but not in despair.  Persecuted, but not forsaken.  Struck down, but not destroyed.

So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us.  We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy. We think of the prophet Habakkuk, who in his misery remained confident that despite the setbacks he endured, God would give him feet like hind’s feet, feet that would enable him to walk in high places.

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives them the admonition to be “anxious for nothing,” telling them that the cure for anxiety is found on one’s knees, that it is the peace of God that calms our spirit and dissipates anxiety.  Again, we can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.

This coexistence of faith and spiritual depression is paralleled in other biblical statements of emotive conditions.  We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believers to suffer grief.  Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Though grief may reach to the roots of our souls, it must not result in bitterness.  Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.  In like manner, we see that it is a good thing to go to the house of mourning, but even in mourning, that low feeling must not give way to hatred.  The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light of the presence of God.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

Grief: Letting Go Of What We Can’t Keep

SOURCE:  John Townsend/Beyond Boundaries

 Grief: What It Is and What It Does for You

Grief helps us process the reality of loss. Simply put, grief is letting go of what you cannot keep. Grief requires accepting, both mentally and emotionally, that something you loved and valued is no more. There are many areas of life in which we can experience loss and for which we need to grieve:

• The dissolution of a marriage
• The end of a dating relationship
• Family ties that break down
• Friendships that end
• The death of a loved one
• Career opportunities that don’t materialize
• A relapse into addiction after years of sobriety
• Declining physical health
• Financial setbacks
• A trauma that forever mars an otherwise happy childhood

These represent important and life-changing experiences. However, just the fact that you have experienced losses doesn’t mean you can’t have a great and meaningful life. People endure great losses, like the ones mentioned earlier, and still have lives that are full and rich. The process of grieving losses is what helps you to deal with them and move on. This process is especially important when it comes to relational losses.

Grief helps you redirect your energies and focus on what you can have and what is good in your life. It provides a way to clear out regrets and hurts as a way to make room for the new. And grief converts a wound into a memory. That is, when you learn the process of letting go, the pain you feel in the present moves down your neurological pathways into your memory banks, where the past resides. In the memory banks, you can review the past, understand the past, and learn from the past.

Without grief, the wound never becomes a memory. You remain stuck in reexperiencing the hurt and hard times over and over again. Much like someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who fail to grieve experience a cycle of repeated thoughts and feelings, almost like flashbacks, that offer no relief. Grief ends this cycle and recalibrates your mind.

Six Components for Grieving a Lost Relationship

When it comes to the loss of a significant relationship, there are six essential components necessary for grief to do its work.

1. Acknowledge the Attachment
We get attached to people. That is the draw. And without an emotional attachment, there is nothing to grieve. This may seem obvious, but it is important to state it. The greater the grief you feel, the greater the love you have for the person you lost. And you can’t instantly undo the attachment. In the context of a relationship, you can’t simply stop feeling your feelings for someone just because the relationship is severed or changes. As we’ve noted before, the pain you feel is a good thing; it is a sign that you are alive inside.

2. Accept That You Can’t Control the Loss
Grief requires that you give up control of the other person’s decision and admit that you do not have the power to make him or her love you or move toward you. You are accepting a type of helplessness: “focused” helplessness, not the global helplessness of the victim position. It’s focused because you can choose to let go, choose to let your feelings out, choose to let other people in, and choose to even tell the person you don’t want the relationship to end. But in the end, you must accept that the other person is in the driver’s seat of his or her own life and path, toward you or away from you. You are, in that specific arena of life, helpless, because you don’t have permission or power to change the other person’s decisions.

This is a difficult area for most of us. No one wants to feel helpless. It renders us vulnerable and unable to make things happen the way we would like them to. I recently spoke with a woman on our radio program who described how her ex-husband had called her every day for the past four years — after the marriage had ended. He was unable to accept that the marriage was over. Some people think if they have one more talk with the other person and say the right thing at the right time, they can undo the alienation. Others think that if they become more lovable and attractive, that will work. The extreme cases engage in stalking behaviors. All of these behaviors are driven by a failure to accept the reality that one cannot control the loss of a relationship.

We resist helplessness when we don’t want to lose love. However, the sooner you can allow yourself to experience focused helplessness — to admit that you have no control over the other person’s decisions — the better off you will be.

Jesus allowed himself to experience focused helplessness by restraining his own power to make us love him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). It is a model for us: if the All-Powerful could restrain his might to let people go, we who are finite in power can do the same.

3. Name What You Valued
When you value someone, you affirm that he or she is important to you. When the connection is over, there are certain aspects of the person and the relationship that you miss the most. These are the values you have to grieve. Here are some examples:

• Warmth: he was accessible and moved toward you
• Vulnerability: she allowed her weaknesses and insecurities to emerge
• Structure: she could focus and get things done
• Intellect: he was smart and interesting to talk to
• Honesty: he could hear and tell the truth
• Spiritual values: she loved God and helped you become closer to God
• Acceptance: she could care about you even with your failings and imperfections
• Personal values: he had similar values about love, family, and relationship
• Culture: your backgrounds meshed well

Sometimes, the value you need to grieve is connected to specific memories as well. It could be a trip you took or a private joke you shared. It might be a time of deep intimacy in which you were very close. Perhaps it was good times with the family.

Why is it important to name the specific things you valued? Because you must say good-bye to the entire person, not simply the negative parts of the person. You cannot walk away from the things you disliked, which may be the things that ended the relationship, without also saying good-bye to the things you loved as well. A half grief is never a healing grief.

Here’s another way to think about it. Chances are you’ve been in a situation in which a friend is sad about a relational loss, and you want to help. So you do the most instinctual and protective thing, which is to trash the other person! You might say things like, “I never knew what you saw in him.” “You are better off without him.” “He doesn’t deserve you.” Such statements are well-meaning and probably encourage your friend for awhile. But it also distances her from what she needs to say good-bye to, which is what she valued.

Moreover, it sets her back. The ungrieved “good parts” stay inside her mind and heart and haunt her. That is why some people can’t get over a past relationship or why they find other people who aren’t so good for them but remind them of what they missed. It is better to help your friend say things like, “I know he was controlling, but I do miss the good times.” In that way, she is able to begin letting go of the whole person.

You need that as well. When your friends trash your ex, instead of feeling like a righteous victim, tell them, “I know she was all that, but I have been missing the good things, and I need you to let me talk about those too.” It might feel a little humiliating — how can you be so weak that you still have feelings for a person who mistreated you? Go ahead and push through the humiliation. It just means you were attached to someone with both strengths and weaknesses. And you are valuing the good so that you can say a complete farewell.

4. Surround Yourself with People Who Are Comforting
Grief is letting go of something we can’t keep, but nature abhors a vacuum. It is hard to let go of a relationship all by yourself, because there is a vacuum inside where the person used to be. In other words, you will continue reaching out and desiring the other person even though you know the relationship is over. Having people around you who have the capacity to comfort can help to fill the vacuum.

The process of comfort begins with God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). How do you know if someone has the capacity to comfort? By the degree to which they remain present with you when you grieve. Being present means they don’t try to give you advice, cheer you up, or change the topic. That’s what people who are anxious about their own losses do. But people who are familiar with loss know how to just be with you. They give you eye contact, are sometimes quiet, and sometimes are just empathic. Allowing yourself to be comforted by others not only salves your grief, it also greatly reduces the power of the vacuum.

You may have little experience with grief and letting go. I find that many business people, for example, will simply move on from a bad situation or relationship without feeling their sadness. It is important, however, to be intentional about grief and not skip over it. Otherwise, you run the risk of never being able to fully let go of a person or lost opportunity in your past.

5. Allow the Sadness
The emotion of sadness encompasses both longing and mourning. When you are sad, your heart feels downcast. Tears may come. Even though you may have to wait for these emotions to come — you can’t manufacture them at will — there are things you can do that will help you access your sadness.

• Intentionally set aside time to step away from your busy routines and activities and settle into a quiet place.
– Think about the person you lost.
– Recall the negative aspects of the relationship, but don’t allow yourself to stay angry or to get sidetracked by an internal argument about how wrong it was.
– Remember the good aspects of the relationship and the warm times.
• Meet with a friend or counselor and tell him about the things you remember and your experiences with the other person.
• Ask a friend to play the part of your difficult person in a role-play conversation, in which you say what needs to be said: “I care about you, and even though it’s been hard,

I always will. Good-bye.” If you are going to talk to the person, this will help you experience the feelings and fears ahead of time. If you don’t have the opportunity to talk to the person, the role-play can still help you work through what you feel and resolve it.

Some combination of activities like these can help you get out of the doing mode and into the feeling mode. Then you will more readily access the sad emotions that must come. By welcoming your sadness, you allow your feelings to simply catch up with and ally with your thoughts about the reality of the loss.

6. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Time is like an oven. It takes all the raw ingredients of grief and loss that we’ve talked about so far and cooks them up into something new; it transforms them, creating a new way for you to experience your loss. You cannot microwave grief. However, you can speed up the process by taking time and devoting energy to working through this process. Alternatively, you can also prolong your grief, sometimes forever. You don’t want that for yourself. You want to get it done right so that you can move on.

I once worked with a couple whose adult son, Brian, was a drug addict. He had rejected their help and the relationship they wanted to have with him. He was determined to go his own way and saw no reason to involve them in his life.

Brian’s father mourned the loss of his son over a period of several months and eventually began to invest his energies into other pursuits and family relationships. Brian’s mother, however, hated the idea of sadness — it was uncomfortable, and she did not like the sense of being out of control. So she would allow herself to feel a little sadness and then go through periods of “getting herself together.” She would tell me, “I’m done with this grief stuff. I have accepted that Brian doesn’t want us in his life. That’s his choice, he’s a grown-up. It’s time to move on.” And every time, within a few weeks she became lethargic, had trouble concentrating, and felt weepy about her son. Then she would be a little bit sad again, followed by another round of being “done with it” again.

I felt bad for her. She had come from a professional family in which sadness was seen as a weakness, so the feelings caused a great deal of shame and self-condemnation within her. I told her, “Maybe you’re done, but I doubt it. This is the fourth time you have struggled with your sad feelings like this.” Then I turned to her husband and said, “Why don’t you tell her how you feel about her sad feelings about Brian?” He looked at her and said, “You’re the only other person in the world who understands what we are going through. When you allow yourself to feel our sadness, it brings me closer to you and I feel hope for us.” When she heard that, she began to soften. She was able to stay with her sadness and slowly did make steady progress — instead of the false starts and stops — in letting Brian go.

While some people such as Brian’s mom resist their grief, others can get frozen in a permanent state of grief. They access their sadness, but something breaks down, and they cannot move on. So they continue years of living in loss and have difficulty being happy. Sometimes the breakdown is due to isolation and not having enough safe people with whom to process their loss. Sometimes it is because they idealize the person they lost and can’t imagine anyone could replace them; they build a mental shrine to that person. People whose spouses or parents have died often suffer from this. Making another attachment seems disloyal to the other person’s memory, so they sacrifice their opportunities for a good life in the future on the altar of the life they can no longer have.

If you think you may be frozen in this way, it will help to make a list of the positive and negative qualities of the person and reflect on them. This is not dishonoring to the individual. It is simply a way to allow you to say good-bye to the real person, so that you don’t stay stuck in seeing only the good parts.

These six components have an order and a structure to them. They work. But remember that grief has its own pace as well. One part may take more or less time than you expected. Don’t attempt to force or control your grief process. Give yourself margin within the components. In time, you will be able to let go of the relationship and move on.

Grieving a Living Person

Letting go of a relationship when the individual has passed away is no easy task. However, it can be even harder in some ways when the person is still alive. This was the case with Brian, whose parents had to grieve the loss of their relationship with him. As the saying goes, where there is life, there is hope, and if you know the person is still breathing, it is easy to imagine scenarios, conversations, and tactics that could return and restore the relationship. We all have hope somewhere inside us, the anticipation of a future good. We need hope, because it helps us endure a difficult present, knowing that the future will be an improvement. However, when that capacity for hope attaches to a person simply because he or she is alive — not for any sound reason that makes sense — it is a vain hope.

If this is your situation, you don’t want to waste any more time on vain hope. The only thing it does is slow down your ability to move beyond boundaries and into great relationships. You may need to focus on this issue. Here are a few ideas that might help:

• Tell yourself that you still have a death to deal with: the person is not dead, but the relationship is.
• Write down the evidence you have of the loss and reflect on it: the divorce paper, the person has another relationship, there is no change in the person’s toxicity.
• Ask a friend to tell you why he or she thinks the relationship is over and listen to it from his or her perspective.

Giving up vain hope doesn’t mean that relational miracles don’t occur. I have seen many dead connections resurrected. So be open to the possibility. But let go. You can enter sadness and still leave a door open at the same time. It sounds like it can’t be done, but it can in this way: you are putting your energy and focus into the next steps and the next relationships. But you are not God, and if God miraculously changes the situation, you can respond to that. Move ahead, but let God be God.

But what do you do if the relationship is not over? For example, say you are married, and it is a hard marriage, but you want to keep the commitment and repair whatever is broken, even though it is painful. Is this a matter of grief? Yes, it still is. It is not about letting go and saying good-bye to the person or the relationship; they are still in the picture. But you do have a loss: the loss of the good that was there.

There were good days and times of connection and happiness before things began to go wrong. It may sound strange to grieve the lost, good parts of your relationship and still relate to or even live with the person, but the idea still holds: you have suffered a loss, and it must be grieved. Don’t prevent yourself from grieving just because you are still in the relationship. The loss is still real and important to you.

If the relationship never had a good season, how do you grieve that? For whatever reason, character issues, disconnection, control, manipulations, addictions, and even abuse could have been the norm from the beginning of the relationship. Obviously, you can’t grieve that — there is nothing in the relationship to grieve. That is, except for one thing: the hope. That is, the hope of what you wanted to happen. You grieve your dreams and desires for love, connection, success, partnership, acceptance, or support.

We generally begin a friendship, a family relationship, a business relationship, or a courtship with some sort of hope of a good outcome. Why else would we try to connect in the first place? If you are in a situation in which you feel there is nothing good about the relationship to grieve, you can grieve your lost hopes and what did not happen. Again, I need to say that I have seen relationships that were stillborn and never fulfilling that, with work, began to thrive in health and intimacy. So if the structure of the relationship still exists, I encourage you to continue working for a better future, while at the same time saying good-bye to your dreams of the past.

You Have Nothing to Fear from Grief

Allow me to add a bit of perspective here, especially if concentrating on grief and understanding its nature are new to you. Grief doesn’t have to control or consume your life. Depending on the situation, it can take days or it can take years. How long it takes all depends on how important the relationship was to you, whom you choose to help you along, and how focused you are in the process. But don’t be afraid of your grief. You can have a good life and still let go of that which is no longer yours. Take it from wise King Solomon, “A sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Grief is like the weather; it’s always changing and often unpredictable. It is more organic than systematic. So while you are in the season of letting go of the relationship or a part of the relationship, allow yourself to engage in it and embrace it. Your grief will subside, and you can regain joy and positive feelings. Then another wave of grief will likely return. But the process works in such a way that each time you engage in grief, the bottom — the lowest part of the sadness — should be a little less severe and a little less dark. And in time, you will be yourself, actually more than yourself — because you have integrated and metabolized the loss of the relationship and learned from it.

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Townsend, J. (2011). Beyond boundaries: learning to trust again in relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

SOURCE:  Rick Warren/American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

“Your illness is not your identity,” Pastor Rick Warren shared this week. “Your chemistry is not your character. It’s not a sin to be sick.”

Returning to the pulpit for the first time since his son Matthew’s tragic suicide in April, Warren broke away from his notes to talk frankly about his grief and the challenge of living with his son’s mental illness.

According to USA Today, “Matthew Warren, after a lifetime of struggle with depression, shot and killed himself in what Warren at the time called ‘a momentary wave of despair.’ ”

“I was in shock for at least a month after Matthew took his life,” Warren said. In a world where many Christians often feel the pressure to “put on a happy face,” Pastor Warren’s honesty is refreshing.

“For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness,” Warren said. “It was the number one prayer of my life…And it didn’t make sense.”

As Christian counselors, we must remember the daily challenges facing family members of an individual who struggles with depression, addiction, an eating disorder, or other mental health concerns.

“How proud I was of Amy and Josh, who for 27 years loved their younger brother,” Warren said. “They talked him off the ledge time after time. They are really my heroes.”

As churches and communities we need to rally around and provide support, care and a listening ear to those who live with the daily reality of mental illness, reminding them, as Warren said, that their illness is not their identity.

“It’s not a sin to take meds. It’s not a sin to get help. You don’t need to be ashamed.” This message needs to reverberate through churches all across our nation, where misunderstandings about mental illness and false theology that “faith is enough” often results in unnecessary suffering.

In Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s MissionAmy Simpson points out, “Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. Too often, we reduce people with mental illness to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist.”

“They do exist, however. Statistics suggest that one in every four people suffers from some kind of mental illness—from depression to schizophrenia and beyond.

Many of these people, and the family and friends who love them, are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence.”

Simpson reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors—our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to love them and care for them.

What can churches do to help advocate on behalf of mental illness? Simpson offers several starting points:

  • Get help if you’re struggling. Break the silence by telling your story.
  • Get educated about the issues—read, learn and seek to truly understand.
  • Talk about mental illness and address common stigmas—in the pulpit, small groups, etc.
  • Build genuine relationships—don’t just help as a “project.”
  • Ask families living with mental illness how you can help with practical needs.
  • Accept people unconditionally—look past their diagnosis and see the real person God created and loves.
  • Start support groups for families living with mental illness.
  • Collaborate with local mental health professionals.

“There are people with mental illnesses in every church, whether this is known or not,” one church leader writes. “Jesus came to love and serve everyone. He feared no one. All churches can learn to serve the Lord better in caring for His people.”

In the midst of unspeakable grief, Pastor Warren shared, “God wants to take your greatest sorrow and turn it into your life’s greatest message.”

How does God want to use you to help those struggling with mental illness and their families?

Christian counseling is far more than a career…it’s a calling to minister and offer hope to those who need it most.

Loss: Downsized or Fired?

SOURCE:   Living Free

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” 

Psalm 139:13-18 NLT

In these days of industrial downsizing, as many as 3.5 million workers are laid off or fired each year. Loss of a job can produce anger, guilt, grief and fear.

If you have recently lost your job, you might be feeling like a complete failure. It is vital for you to understand that your worth is not measured by what other people think of you—it is measured by God’s love for you. And his love is unlimited and unconditional.

While it is important to evaluate your own job performance and learn from any mistakes you might have made, it is also important to remember that you are precious to God and he wants to help you through this loss.

Remember—you are special. Not because of what you have or haven’t done. Because God made you and his workmanship is marvelous! His thoughts about you are precious. When you wake up each morning, he will still be with you!

Evaluate what has happened, learn from it, forgive if you’ve been treated unfairly … then move on, trusting God for his plan for you, his help, his love and his strength.

Father, help me to remember that my worth is not determined by what I’ve done or not done … it’s not determined by what other people think of me … but it’s determined by the fact that you designed me, and you loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me. Thank you for loving me … thank you for caring … thank you that with your help, I can move one with hope. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

DEATH Hurts, But It’s Not The END!

You Are Not Alone

SOURCE:  Taken from a devotion by Living Free Ministry

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 NLT

Thoughts for Today

If you are recently widowed, you might be finding it almost impossible to move beyond the mourning period, especially if your marriage was a long and fulfilling one. Beginning each new day may seem like an overwhelming task. The loneliness may seem unbearable at times.

It is important to remember that you are never really alone. God is there with you. Nothing can separate you from his love. Open your heart to Jesus. Let him love you and fill you with his peace. Your new road may still be difficult, but with Jesus it will be possible.

 Consider this …

God can make this a time of growth and renewed intimacy with him—if you want him to. But you have a choice. As time moves on, you can choose to dwell on your loss and on what might have been. Or you can choose life … appreciating the time you had with your spouse, but beginning to move on, praising God for the many blessings you still have. And remember that the Lord isn’t finished with you. Choose to rise each morning, asking him to help you accomplish the purpose of that day’s journey.

Even with positive choices, recovery will take time.

Learn to take one step at a time, trusting Jesus and basking in his comfort and love.

Prayer

Father, I thank you so much that I can trust in your presence and your love. I need your help to get through this. I take great comfort in your promise that nothing can separate me from your love. In Jesus’ name …

“Bring it here unto ME”

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow/Deejay O’Flaherty

Take Our Sorrows to Him

“Bring him here to Me.”  Matthew 17:17

In your moment of disappointment and despair, Jesus meets you with the gracious words, “Bring it here unto Me.”

And now your spirit revives, your heart bounds, at the words, and you exclaim, “Behold, Lord, I come!”

Jesus says, “Bring your sorrows to Me!” Never did the soul find so powerful a magnet, attracting to itself affliction in every form, and sorrow in every shade — as Jesus.

Standing as in the center of a world of woe — He invites every [son and] daughter of sorrow, of sin, of grief to repair to Him for support, sympathy, and healing.

As the High Priest of His Church for whom alone He suffered, and wept, and sobbed — He unveils a bosom capacious enough and loving enough, and sympathizing enough — to embrace every sufferer, and to pillow every grief.

Accept, then, His compassionate invitation, and bring your grief to the soothing, sustaining, sanctifying grace of His heart!

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Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), also know as “The Pilgrim’s Companion,” stood out as a one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century.

Raw and Desperate: Prayers From The EDGE Will Be Heard

SOURCE:  Larry Libby/Discipleship Journal

Most visitors to the city of Portland, Oregon, have no idea that 100 to 150 years ago it was known as “the most dangerous port in the world.” When Portland’s working men or visitors stepped out of the rain into a bar, opium den, or brothel, they were in grave danger of never walking out again.

This was because of a practice known as the “Shanghaiing Trade,” a crude but effective method of supplementing the crews of undermanned freighters bound for the Far East. Thugs in league with shady ship captains would drug or knock unconscious able-bodied sailors, loggers, cowboys, sheepherders, ranch hands, and construction workers. Then, through secret basement passageways or trapdoors, they lowered the victims into a maze of tunnels beneath the streets and carried them to ships docked in the harbor. (The tunnels, now known as the Portland Underground, are still there. You can take spooky tours through the musty passages.) Once the men were on the ship, they stayed on board for years, and there wasn’t much they could do about it except grab a mop and start swabbing the decks.

Try to imagine it. One minute you are strolling down Burnside Avenue on your way to a late dinner, and then you wake up…where? In the bilge-filled bowels of some rusty steamship rolling on the Pacific waves, your head splitting, your stomach heaving.

One minute you are sitting on a stool in a warm, smoky tavern, sipping cheap whiskey, and then…your whole world changes.

Shanghaied

Has something similar ever happened to you? Have you ever opened your eyes in an alien land—a place you never, never thought you would be?

• You suddenly realize you’re about 10 minutes from entering a sexual affair and betraying your spouse. How in the world did you end up here?

• Your smooth ride through the Christian life lurches off the familiar rails, plunging you into unbelief. Gone are the calm assurances of childhood. You’re perilously close to abandoning your faith.

• You’ve come from the fresh grave of a spouse or child, and all your plans and dreams have suddenly been wiped off the hard drive. Where there used to be data, digital photos, to-do lists, and full calendar boxes, there is now only a blank screen and a mindless electrical hum, and you don’t know what to do.

• You’re sitting in your car in the parking lot of the medical clinic, staring without seeing at the traffic on the street. The word cancer is still ringing in your ears.

Whatever the cause, you’re standing on the edge of a sinkhole that has opened before you, into which everything dear and familiar slides: your job, your health, your family, your security, your reputation, your career. The entire structure of your life is about to slip into the chasm. And you can’t go back to the way things were. Not ever.

When you pray—if you pray—your prayers are not going to sound the same or feel the same or be the same.

Prayers from the edge know nothing of stained glass reveries or kneeling at the bedside with soft shafts of morning light stealing through slats of half-opened blinds. These prayers do not spring from forest strolls on pine-needled paths or cool twilight walks by the river.

These aren’t the prayers you learned in Sunday school, at your mother’s knee, or in Bible college. These prayers come from different regions. These prayers don’t associate with music or laughter or peace. They tie more closely to anger, rage, despair, raw fear, and nausea.

A prayer from the edge will sound like a sob. An angry challenge. A burst of frustration. A sigh of loneliness. A cry of anguish torn from the marrow of your bones.

Hear my cry!

David had been shanghaied. One minute the young son of Jesse had been a national hero eating royal dainties off platters of beaten gold, a close companion of King Saul, married to the king’s daughter, best buds with Prince Jonathan. And then, such a short time later, he found himself crouching in the dark depths of a limestone cave, hiding from Saul’s death squads. He was on the run—a wanted man and a fugitive—for the next 15 years.

Hungry, thirsty, cold, and gripped with fear, David pleaded, “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need” (Ps. 142:6). Or as The Message renders it, “Oh listen, please listen; I’ve never been this low.”

David yelled his fears. He made demands. He warned God to act quickly, because he was walking on the ragged edge of sanity, and the dirt under his feet was beginning to crumble.

Most likely in those same terrible days, he scratched graffiti like this on the walls of his cave: “You’d better listen to me and listen to me now. I’m like a match flame in a gust of wind, and if You don’t do something fast I’m done. Get with it, God. Help. Come. Don’t step away from me now. I’m on the edge and I’m losing my balance.”

I know how he felt.

The loss of my wife four years ago brought me to the brink of a similar sinkhole. I’d never been that close to the edge in all of my 51 years. I saw death reach into a sun-filled hospital room and take the dearest and best. With my world reeling, I found I didn’t have the faith I thought I had. I wasn’t the man I thought I was.

And I couldn’t pray the way I used to pray.

I still believed in God. Still believed in His goodness. But I just couldn’t trust Him. I was too wounded. Too hurt that He’d heard my cries for mercy and healing, He’d seen my tears…and He’d taken my wife anyway.

Even so, I kept the phone line open with Him, and He with me. Cutting through the pain and fear and disorientation, I heard the Spirit’s whisper: Trust Me. And I usually replied, “Not yet. I want to, but not yet.” Still, the line stayed open.

An Inch at a Time

Here’s the most important thing about the edge you’re on, whatever it is: You need to inch back toward God. Make some kind of movement in His direction, even if it’s only a glance. A sigh. A tear. A groan. A muffled cry in the night.

Start in your mistrust and disbelief. Start in your dryness. Start in your doubt. Start in your despair. Start in your anger and grief. I remember lying on the floor in the living room, too crushed to lift my head, and having the sense that God was lying there with me listening to the words I couldn’t form or say.

That’s what it can be like on the edge—and you do what you’re able to do. If you can’t raise your hands, you move your little finger one centimeter toward the living Christ. If you can’t speak, you move your lips. If you can’t move your lips, you form the words in your mind. If you can’t form words, you just turn your thoughts toward Jesus, even for a moment.

Don’t wait until you’re in a better mood. Don’t wait until you’ve cleaned up your thoughts. Don’t wait until you’ve escaped the sickening undertow of temptation. Don’t wait until your anger and bitterness abate. Don’t wait until your nerves stop jangling. Don’t wait until you’ve straightened out your theology and banished your doubt.

Why? Because walking on the edge might soon put you over the edge—and you may not have such a Godward inclination again.

Anything at All

In the book of Isaiah, the Lord says, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (65:2).

What would God have responded to as He stood all day with His hands outstretched? Do you think He required a formal prayer? Do you suppose He waited for a carefully worded confession, a perfectly offered sacrifice, someone bowing low, someone on his knees in a pool of sunshine?

I think God would have responded to the tiniest, most imperceptible movement. I think He watched and watched and waited and waited for the most infinitesimal stirring toward Him. And He would have responded like the father of the prodigal, running down the dirt road to embrace a son slouching home from the far country.

The main thing is this: Get away from the edge. Don’t worry about protocol or formalities. Call, yell, reach, lunge, turn your thoughts and your will even one degree toward heaven. Although your movement is small, God’s mercy is mighty. When He runs toward you, very, very big things can happen.

Singing in the Pain

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Jim Chew

Issues: The Bible gives such good reasons for rejoicing in the midst of our hardships that we can consider suffering to be a true privilege.

The opening portion of Peter’s first epistle is one of the most exuberant passages in the Bible. It begins with “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3), and ends with “You believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).

Clearly, the apostle could hardly contain his joy as he wrote to his scattered flock.

We can easily identify with such high spirits if, like Peter, we review all the blessings we have in Christ. Joy is normal to the Christian. But in this same passage Peter reminds his readers that they “have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).

How strange! Sufferings, grief, and trials are hardly compatible with rejoicing. It is one thing to endure trials and sufferings because we love Christ, but quite another to rejoice in the midst of them.

Yet this unusual response to difficult times is not an isolated teaching in the Bible. Again and again we are exhorted to find joy in our affliction. In the opening verses of Romans 5, for example, the apostle Paul wrote about the joy of being justified in Christ, and then added, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.”

What do these inspired writers mean?

GRIT YOUR TEETH?

Let’s look first at Paul’s exhortation in Romans 5. I don’t think he is asking us to grit our teeth and be stoical about suffering. Neither is he saying that afflictions, in themselves, should be enjoyed. Rather, we are asked to rejoice in what sufferings can produce. Paul explains that we rejoice in our sufferings “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). Suffering produces endurance and a Christlike character.

We can translate the Greek word for “suffering” in this passage with a more common and modern term: pressure. The pressures of life have a way of developing endurance in us, and this endurance can be exercised only when we are placed under pressure. The very trials we dread are thus used by God to strengthen us.

Therefore the followers of Christ can view sufferings as opportunities, as training situations in which our inner reserves of strength and tenacity are developed. And how we need these qualities if we are to maintain godly, righteous lives in the complex, highly pressurized societies in which we live!

SHARPENED SENSES

We’ve already noted the apparent contradiction in Peter’s first letter—the great burst of joy at the beginning, coupled with the reminder that he was writing to churches facing fierce persecution. Indeed, suffering is one of the major themes of the letter.

What gave Peter such a confident belief that trials and afflictions are occasions for rejoicing?

First, I think he understood the value of faith, which he said was “of greater worth than gold” (Romans 1:7). He could welcome and rejoice in sufferings because he knew they were the crucible in which his faith would be tested and proven, and that they would authenticate and strengthen his trust in God.

Peter also saw that our afflictions are opportunities to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Romans 4:12–14). Through afflictions we learn more deeply “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,” as Paul put it (Philippians 3:10). We are brought closer to the heart of our Lord. His presence becomes a reality. With a sharpened sense we learn to discern between things of eternal value and those that are merely passing away. We realize afresh that we are but pilgrims in the world. We become more like Christ.

But without sharing in his sufferings, we cannot hope to grow closer to him and to become more like him. Christ suffered; we are Christ’s, so we suffer too.

Only the person who thus identifies with Christ can really rejoice. The more we suffer, the more we share in his sufferings; therefore, the more we suffer, the more we can rejoice.

So it is that the apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake (Acts 5:40–42). They did not mope or complain, but kept on teaching and preaching Christ. And Peter was one of them.

Peter knew as well that we learn how to suffer from our Lord. Christ’s suffering is our example, that we “should follow in his steps” (Acts 2:21). He suffered undeservingly, yet submitted to his persecutors and to the will of God. We can learn to do the same.

Submission is not a sign of weakness in the Bible’s point of view. On the contrary, a submissive attitude has powerful effects. With it, Christian wives can win their husbands to the Lord (Acts 3:1–2), and Christian citizens can silence their critics in society who are ignorant and foolish (Acts 2:13–15).

And let us never forget that Christ’s life of submission made salvation possible for all mankind. Howard Hendricks wrote, “You will never learn to suffer with the right attitudes if you have never learned to submit at every level, and you will never learn to submit if you do not have a deep appreciation of the salvation with which you were saved.”

A CERTAIN FACT

Suffering is painful, but submission to it always leads to victory. I remember visiting a close Christian friend who was dying of cancer. He was enduring great pain, and his body was so emaciated I could hardly recognize him. Yet his response was one of thanksgiving to God. Doctors and other patients were influenced by his radiant testimony, and visitors who came to comfort him were instead comforted by him. His last words to me were, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.”

I can recall clearly a time in my experience as an overseas missionary when I was adjusting to a foreign culture and also assuming more and more responsibilities. With burdens and problems mounting, I was tempted to give up.

Again and again I turned to Scriptures that talk of trials and sufferings. It dawned on me that, compared to the difficulties experienced by many of God’s servants in the Bible, my problems were minimal!

The Lord then allowed a series of personal testings through which I experienced the reality of his grace and strength. I learned that God’s presence in the midst of suffering is a certain fact.

No wonder Peter tells us, “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14).

Are you in the midst of trials and perplexities? Happy are you! Celebrate this privilege, because the Spirit of glory and of God is resting on you!

Where Is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?

SOURCE:  an article by J. Budziszewski/Focus on the Family

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself?

If you hurt enough to ask such questions, you deserve an answer.Trouble suffocates me. Worry entangles me. By night I can’t sleep, by day I can’t rest. The burden of suffering is intolerable. Where is God? Does He know, or are my prayers heard only by the wall? Is He near, or somewhere distant, only watching?

Some people think that you don’t. You’re sick, you’re dying, you’ve been deserted, you’ve lost a child, you’re innocent but accused of wrongdoing — and they try to shush you. Their intentions may be good, but they are hard to bear. “Don’t question God’s ways; He might hear you.” In my cry of anguish, don’t I want Him to hear me? “It’s probably for your own good.” If I’m to be tormented for my own good, don’t I get a say in the matter? “I’m sure there’s a good reason.” No doubt there is, but did I ask for a philosophical explanation? What I asked is “Where is God?”

Some Comforters

Even worse are the people who say, “You’re being unfair to God. It isn’t His fault. If He could have kept your trouble from happening, He would have, but He couldn’t. God is just as helpless as you are, and He weeps to see your sorrow.” No. If God is really God, then He could have stopped it; if I’m suffering, then He could have stopped it but didn’t. I may be baffled by Him, I may be frustrated by Him, but the God I want to hear from is the God who rules the world. I’m not interested in a God who is “not responsible.”

Some Comforters, Some Religion

Has God forgotten me? Does He hate me? Why does He seem to hide Himself? I am weary of my comforters, tired of His defenders. I want God to answer me in person. If only I could state my case before Him and hear His answer!

There was once a man who did that. His name was Job. He too was plagued with so-called comforters and defenders of God, but he demanded a hearing from God Himself, and God answered him. The history of the incident is told in great detail in the Bible.

Job is blameless and upright, a man of such integrity that even God likes to show him off. If anyone deserves blessings, Job does. Yet one day God puts him to the test. Job”s life falls to pieces; calamity of every kind descends upon him. Raiders sweep his fields; his livestock are captured or destroyed; his servants are put to the sword; a house collapses on his sons and daughters and kills them all. Disease strikes him, and he is covered with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In all this, he submits patiently to God, only to be mocked by his wife, who tells him to “curse God and die!”(Job 2:9) Friends arrive, and still he is patient. For days they sit with him in silence, seeing how greatly he suffers.

A Torrent of Grief

Finally Job can contain himself no longer. In a torrent of grief and protest, he cries, wishing that he had never lived. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day he was born. The terrible curse demeans all the previous good in his life; it implies that his joy, his home, his peace, and the lives of his children had never meant a thing, just because now they are gone.

This is too much for Job’s friends, and they rebuke him. On and on they lecture him; they cannot scold enough. Suffering, they say, is punishment for sin. The greater the sin, the greater the suffering. Since Job is in agony, he must have done something terrible to deserve it. Obviously, then, he is covering up. He only pretends to be just; he is really a hypocrite. If only he would confess and take his punishment, God would forgive him and relent — but instead, like a fool, he complains.

To hear these accusations is unbearable to Job. He rages in grief, defending himself and denouncing his friends. Against God, his complaints are even more bitter — and inconsistent. One moment he wants God to leave him alone, the next moment he wants Him to listen. One moment he declares himself guiltless, the next moment he admits that no man is. Yet through it all, he insists that his suffering is undeserved, and he demands that God give him a hearing.

Answer in a Whirlwind

In the end, Job gets his hearing. God answers from the heart of the whirlwind. He doesn’t pull His punches, and the encounter is overpowering. Meeting God turns out to be nothing like just hearing about Him. But Job is satisfied.

There are two amazing things about this face-off. The first is that God never explains to Job the reason for his suffering. In other words, it isn’t because God answers Job’s questions that Job is finally satisfied. In fact God asks questions of His own: Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Can he bind the stars of the constellations? Job has challenged the Creator of the mind, but does he comprehend even the mind of the ostrich? Job confesses, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”(Job 42:3).

The second amazing thing is that God does not side with Job’s friends. He sides with Job. It seems impossible. Wasn’t Job God’s accuser? Weren”t his friends God’s defenders? But there cannot be any mistake. Even though God humbles Job, not once does He express anger toward him. Yet toward his friends, God declares that His anger blazes out. He says that He will not forgive them until Job has prayed for them. And why? Because they have not spoken the truth about Him, “as my servant Job has”! (Job 42:7-8)

What truth could Job have spoken? Didn’t he just admit that he hadn’t known what he was talking about?

Not All Suffering Is Our Fault

Yes, but about one thing Job was right: He didn’t deserve what was happening. Not all suffering is our fault. We do bring some suffering upon ourselves: Adulterers destroy their homes, drunks their livers, wasters their wealth. Yet the innocent suffer too. Dreadful things happen, things we don’t deserve, things that seem to be senseless. This is why God sides with the sufferer, even in preference to those so-called defenders who merely “explain away” the pain.

In His justice, God understands that this will seem unjust to us. He does not even try to give us “answers” that we could not understand. Instead, He visits us, as He visited Job. Is He not God? He is a better answer than the “answers” would have been. Indeed, He is the only possible answer. Though we find ourselves buried in a deeper dark than night, from the midst of the whirlwind, He speaks.

You may object, “What good is it for God to visit me? He’s not the one drowning in troubles; I am. You say God sides with the sufferer,” but these words are meaningless. God can’t suffer with me. He only watches.”

But there is more. The story of Job is not God’s last word. Nor is it His last deed.

Human Wrecks

Let’s face it. In all our thoughts about suffering, we have sidestepped the main issue and focused on the secondary issue. To be frank, we human beings are wrecks. The external troubles that we blame on God are the least of our suffering. Something worse is wrong with us, and it is wrong with us inside.

One writer describes the problem as a “deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.” What we want to do, we don’t. What we don’t want to do, we do. We not only do wrong, but call it right. Even the good things in us become polluted. We may long to love purely, but our desires turn into idols that control us. We may long to be “blameless” like Job, but our righteousness turns into a self-righteousness that rules us. We may long to be reconciled with God, but we can’t stop wanting to be the center of the universe ourselves.

Can’t Repair Ourselves

Not only are we broken, but we can’t repair ourselves. Could you perform surgery on your own eyes? How could you see to do it? Suppose you tore off both hands; could you sew them back on? Without hands, how could you hold the instruments? Our sin-sickness is something like that. Many philosophies teach about right and wrong with pretty fair accuracy. What they can’t do is heal the sin-sickness. However true, no mere philosophy can do that. Our cancer requires more than a philosophy. What it requires is the divine surgeon, God Himself, and the name of His surgery is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was God Himself in human flesh — fully God, but fully man. Most people have heard that He taught, performed miracles, healed the sick. Most people have heard that He was executed on a Cross and rose again. What is less well known is what this was all about.

Did someone say God doesn’t suffer? In Jesus, God suffered. That was why He became one of us — to suffer for us.

Even though He had no sin of His own, Jesus identified with us so completely that He took the burden of our inward brokenness — our sin and sin-sickness — upon Himself. He understands it all, because He bore it all — the whole weight of it, all for us. By dying, He took it to death; by rising, He opened for us a way, through Him, to life.

There was no other way for God to help us. He bore real agony, bled real blood, died real death. On the Cross, even He felt alone. When He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it was for us (Matthew 27:46). All this He saw coming from afar, and He accepted it on our behalf. He paid the price that we cannot pay, He bore the burden that we cannot bear. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He says, “and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28).

This is not a fable; it actually happened, and it is really true. If we trust Him as our price-payer, as our sin-bearer, then through Him we give up our broken life and receive His own life in its place. Then no suffering can be meaningless, because it is lifted up into His own suffering and redeemed.

Did you read the catch? “If we trust Him.” Can you do that? Can you do it utterly, without reserve? Can you give up the ownership of yourself, and transfer the title to Him? If something in your heart is an obstacle — some fear, some pain, some pride — can you at least ask Him to remove it?

Though He had 77 questions for Job, for you He has only one. Will you come?

The Darkness Of Night Is Followed By The Morning

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Charles Stanley

Just as Christ once rested in the stern of a boat through a raging storm, He rested in the tomb as storms raged within His disciples. A day after Jesus’ death, fear, doubt, and grief must have cycled endlessly through their minds. Memories of their lives with Him must have played there too: how it felt to stand upon a rolling sea, to feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, or to see Lazarus’ burial clothes heaped in the dirt. No doubt their hearts grew sick with confusion as they contemplated these things.

The disciples’ feeble faith shouldn’t surprise us, because if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves. The “little of faith,” as Jesus often called them, failed to believe or remember things the Lord said of Himself—that He’d lay down His life and take it up again. Had His followers faithfully held these things in their hearts, that Sabbath day might have been a time of joyful anticipation.

At times in our lives, God may seem absent, but ultimately we know that He will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). And unlike the disciples, we’ll never experience the dark prospect of a failed Savior. But many times we forget the promises of God. In the face of uncertainty, how frequently do we turn to a “do-it-yourself” Christianity to fix our problems?

Too often we look no further than our own solutions, when what we need is the wonder-working power of Christ’s resurrection and a posture of humility as we wait on Him. If we are willing to wait through the darkness of night, we can rest in knowing that morning will surely come.

Steps To Helping One Through Grief And Loss

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

                                                        Be Patient

  • Encourage the person to give himself whatever time that it takes to heal emotionally.
  • Encourage the person to keep a routine, get lots of rest, and not try to attempt too much but to direct his energies toward healing.

Maintain Friendships

  • Encourage the person to let others comfort and share in the journey toward healing.
  • Encourage one not to become isolated but rather to seek meaningful connection with others.
  • Make a list of friends to call.
  • Locate a grief support group.

Feel the Pain

  • Help the person understand that the intensity of the pain is normal and that eventually it will begin to subside. The pain will probably never disappear completely, but it will become bearable.
  • Trying to avoid the “terrible pain” only prolongs the grief.
  • Trying to avoid a loss by hiding the feelings will only cause problems in other areas — emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
  • Dealing with loss in a healthy manner can be a major avenue to growth and life-transforming change.
  • The person must move forward by experiencing the grief, while at the same time rejoining the living through acts of giving and receiving.

We are healed of grief only when we express it to the full. —Charles R. Swindoll

“Normalize” the Feelings of Grief

  • Grief encompasses a number of changes. It appears differently at various times, and it comes and goes in people’s lives.
  • It is a normal, predictable, expected, and healthy reaction to a loss.
  • Grief is each individual’s personal journey and his manner of dealing with any kind of loss — no matter how minor or severe it may appear to others — must be respected. It should be gently challenged only when prolonged in a manner that is detrimental to the person and his relationships.

Healing

  • Help the grieving person process any felt guilt and anger.
  • Help the person redirect his energies from excessive “if onlys” and wishing that things could be different to instead focusing on healing.

Biblical Insights

Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son. 2 Samuel 1:17

Expressing sorrow is a healthy response to grief. David poured out his sorrow in words that honored the anointed king and his son.

Putting grief into words is a healthy way to handle the pain and honor those who have died.

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3, 4

Isaiah’s words communicate the suffering of the One who loved us and died for us.

In our deepest moments of grief and loss, we need only look to Him on the Cross and realize that He understands. He alone can heal the wounded heart.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25, 26

Because of sin, death comes to all (Romans 5:12–14). Many try to ignore death, not wanting to think or talk about it. But feared or embraced, expected or not, death still occurs.

In every pang that rends the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part. —Michael Bruce

Jesus experienced those emotions at the death of His good friend Lazarus. Jesus knows the pain of loss and uncontrollable sorrow. He knows the incredible power of death.

It is natural to feel sad and mourn the death of a loved one. But in our times of sorrow, we can let Jesus hold us in His compassionate arms, knowing that He understands.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14

The Thessalonian believers wondered what was happening to their fellow believers who had died.

Believers have the ultimate assurance. We believe that Jesus died, rose again, ascended, and is coming again; and we also believe that He will bring with Him those who have died.

One day, all believers will be reunited in the grandest reunion ever seen!

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Revelation describes a better time and a better place, however, where grief and loss will not exist: heaven.

No matter what we experience here, God promises a perfect future with Him. Through the hard times of today, we can trust this hope for the future.

Where Have I Really Put My Faith?

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Security means different things to different people. Some people feel secure if their health is good, many experience security if their finances are strong, and others if they’re surrounded by a loving family. But depending on people or things for your ongoing and complete security will eventually result in disappointment, as all the things of this world are limited and fallible.

Suppose you work for a company many years, building up a healthy retirement fund that you are depending on for security in later life. Soon after your 60th birthday, the company falters and the retirement fund is no more. If your faith has been in that retirement plan for your security, you are devastated and will now experience fear and anxiety as you face the future.

But if you recognize that God, not the retirement fund, is the real source for all your needs, you can rest in the assurance that He has a plan … and that He will take care of you. Nothing takes God by surprise. You might not see His plan, but you can be confident that He has everything under control.

The same principle applies when you lose a job, a friend moves, you get a scary diagnosis, your child has a special issue … really, when any part of your agenda doesn’t go as you planned. If your confidence, your security, and thus, your faith is in the job … friend … health … agenda, you will lose hope. Or at the very least, you’ll have a fragile hope.

But when your faith is in Jesus, you know that He never changes. Nothing can separate you from His love. And He will provide a way as He promises. Often times, He provides through a way that is foreign to me to “prove” that He is at work in my life. That is why we need to keep our eyes open throughout the day. Peace and other provisions from God may come in ways we are not expecting.

Today, examine what you fear losing. It’s ok if you would feel sadness for that loss. But if you would have fear, anxiety, or lose sleep if it were taken away from you, then you are probably depending on that particular element too much to meet some of your needs. Ask God to show you how He will meet that need and lessen your grip on that thing you fear losing. He is your rock, so rest on and build your life on Him. He will be the solid foundation on which to build all the elements of your life.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the times I have depended on other people and things, and then lost hope when they let me down. Help me to use the knowledge and truth of Your word to utilize the blessings You have provided me, but not to become dependent on them. Help me to remember that You are my ultimate source of comfort and provision, and that You are unchanging and totally trustworthy. Thank You for supplying all my needs. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who died for my biggest need, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

Ageing, Loss, And Change

SOURCE:  Adapted from  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Transformational Thought

Aging may bring the loss of mobility, hearing, sight, sex, independence, cognitive ability, friends, loved ones, and other cherished abilities and treasures. Each one of us chooses how we will react to these losses.

We might choose depression, an overwhelming sense of uselessness, or even worse, becoming a burden to others. We might choose anger and resentment because of the loss of control and independence. However, if we choose to dwell on what we no longer have or no longer can do, then we will miss the great opportunities still open to us.

Although it is normal to grieve our losses, it is easy to have this grief become the main lens through which we view ourselves, our future, and especially God. This distorted viewpoint will dramatically affect our functioning and decision-making. Instead, we need to choose to concentrate on the relationships, abilities, and opportunities that are still ours. To view life and God through truthful lenses, and not emotionally-distorted lenses.

These words from Paul can be an encouragement to us as we go through the aging process ourselves or care for our parents: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

You might think, “I’m not old, so this doesn’t apply to me, but I’ll pass it to an old person I know.” Well, the way you handle getting older is determined by how you “practice” handling loss during your life between the ages of 10 and 55.  Focus on thankfulness for what you do have. Concentrate on Jesus, knowing that He will enable us (or our aging parents) to serve Him in and through the adversity … and to bless others.

Prayer

Dear Father God, help me to dwell on the positive in this season of my life … the good, not the bad; what I can do … not what I am unable to do. Guide all aging parents to focus on the positives in their lives, and guide us younger ones to practice these skills now. I thank You that we can pray in the name of and do all things through Jesus;  AMEN!

The Truth

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious-the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Philippians 4:8

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. Thisis the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:19,20

When Bad Things Happen

(by Billy Graham Rapid Response Team)

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and the remaining devastation, many people ask, “Where was God?” Through life, there are many of our own personal “earthquakes” and other disasters, whether it be the death of a loved one, an unwanted divorce, a wayward child, or a terminal illness, to name a few. Read below for some of the most commonly-asked questions about life’s challenges and get biblical answers.

What does the Bible say about why we suffer? God created us because He loves us. God never intended for tragedy and prejudice, wars and hatred, lust and greed, jealousy and pride. God meant for Earth to be a paradise, a place where here would be no death.

But a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. This act of rebellion said, “I don’t need you, God. I can build my world without you.” As a result, mankind must suffer and die. Physical death is just the death of the body, but the spirit lives on. If your spirit is separated from God for eternity, it will be lost forever.

God has provided a rescue in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Gen 3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Psalms 46:1-2

Is God angry with me?
No, God is not angry with you. In John 3:16, the Bible says that He loves everyone. However, because we live in an imperfect world, we all deal with good and bad. God is aware of everything that happens and has the ability to take what was intended for evil and use for good. The evil in this world does not render God powerless. It is quite the opposite. He promises to not only be with us but, if we are willing to live life as He created it to be lived: in relationship with Him, to guide us into a life where we can have peace and live without fear.

John 3:16-17; Romans 8:28; James 1:1-4; John 10:10

Why me?
It often feels like difficult circumstances are directed at us. We live in an imperfect world, and the Bible says that it rains on the just and the unjust. We all live through painful and uncomfortable things. Who are we trusting when those things happen to us? Are we self-reliant or do we rely on God? If we reach out to God in time of need, then we are accessing the One who created the universe. The Bible says that He is waiting for our response. He has already made the invitation through His Son Jesus. Why you? Because He loves you. He wants you to look to Him so He can rescue you and bring you peace.

Romans 5:8; John 11:1-44

What good can come out of this?
There are no easy answers, just simple ones: growth and glory. We grow because when life hurts, we pay attention and we find out what is real and whom we can trust. In the Bible, in James 1:1- 4 tells us when we face trials, we can see it as a positive thing in our life because ultimately we are going to grow from it. That’s hard to realize when our pain is all we can see and feel. But, after you’ve experienced life as a follower of Jesus, and you’ve experienced His faithfulness, then you know it’s true.

The other answer is a bit more complicated, and it is found in a Bible story about a blind man that Jesus heals in John 9. The man didn’t do anything to deserve to be blind, and when asked why the man was blind, Jesus answered, “So you can see who I am.” He healed the blind man so that the blind man and everyone around him would be amazed by the supernatural power of Jesus and know that He is Who He say He is. It was the best gift He could give them, and us. We are attracted to greatness. God is the greatest of them all and He desires to be with us.

James 1:1-4; John 9; Romans 8:28

How do I recover spiritually from this?
The natural response is to deny that you are affected by the crisis. The truth is that crisis affects everybody it touches, but it affects each person differently. David, in Psalms, tells his soul to praise the Lord. He was in a dark place emotionally, but he knew that praising God was necessary and that calling on Him could effect the outcome of the situation. Psalm 42 and Psalm 88 are Psalms of lament. The writers were despondent, yet they sought God in spite of feelings. Counselors will tell you that feeling will follow fact. So, there are some things that we should do to recover:

” Acknowledge your need for God.
” Read God’s Word, the Bible (or listen to it on tape or DVD. Psalms is a good place to start).
” See if there are others who will pray with you.
” Look for ways to serve others.
” Stay connected with a body of Christ followers (small group, activity group, service group, church).
” Find small ways to be thankful and ways to express that to God and others.

Psalm 9:10; 34:17; 50:15; 145:18-19; James 5:13-16

How can I be strong when my life is falling apart?
When life is difficult, we look to God and find out that He has grace. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Bible tell us that His grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness. First, we must give our situation and life to God; this is the hardest part, because we feel more secure of we think we are in control of things. Once we give these things over to Him, He is going to give us the ability to stand up and endure.

It is hard to admit weakness. That is what it takes to act in humility and allow God to take control of your situation. Acknowledge to God that He needs to bear your burdens because you can’t anymore. Jesus longs for you to come to Him and know Him personally.

Matthew 11:28-29; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Peter 5:7

Depression: Lamenting Our Losses to God

by Bob Kellemen, Ph.D.
 
When experiencing grief, sorrow, or depression, one of the most important responses is to face our suffering face-to-face with God. To do this deeply, we need to understand and practice biblical lament.

The biblical genre of lament expresses frankness about the reality of life that seems inconsistent with the character of God. Lament is an act of truth-telling faith, not unfaith. Lament is a rehearsal of the bad allowed by the Good. Lament is vulnerable frankness about life to God in which I express my pain and confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering.

When we lament, we live in the real world honestly, refusing to ignore what is occurring. Lament is our expression of our radical trust in God’s reliability in the midst of real life.

According to Psalm 62:8, if we truly trust God, then we’ll share everything with God. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Drawing Near to God

Psalm 73 is a prime example of Lament. Asaph begins, “Surely God is good to Israel” (73:1). He then continues with a litany of apparent evidence to the contrary, such as the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the godly (73:2-15). When he tries to make sense of all this, it’s oppressive to him (73:16). He then verbalizes to God the fact that his heart is grieved and his spirit embittered (73:21).

His lament, his complaint, drew him nearer to God. It did not push him away from God. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand” (73:23). He concludes, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.” (73:28).

It was Asaph’s intense relationship with God that enlightened him to the goodness of God even during the badness of life. “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. . . . As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O LORD, you will despise them as a fantasy” (73:17, 20). Spiritual friendship with God results in 20/20 spiritual vision from God.

Asaph illustrates that in lament we come to God with a sense of abandonment and confusion (Isaiah 49:14; Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20). We then exercise a courageous, yet humble cross-examination. Not a cross-examination of God, but a cross-examination and a refuting of earth-bound reality with spiritual reality.

Being Real and Raw

That’s exactly what occurs in Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20; and Psalm 88:18. In all three passages, it appears by reason alone that life is bad and so is God. Yet in each passage, God responds positively to a believer’s rehearsal of life’s inconsistencies.

In Job 3, and much of Job for that matter, Job forcefully and even violently expresses his complaint.

What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.

In Job 42:7-8, God honors Job’s complaint saying that Job spoke right of life and right of God. God prizes lament and rejects all deceiving denial and simplistic closure, preferring candid complexity.

You Are Never Alone

Depression, by its very nature, causes us to feel alone, separated, alienated. Lament, by its very nature, helps us to feel connected, in relationship, in communion—with God. Never suffer alone. Never battle depression without God. Lament to God. Tell Him your painful external circumstances and your internal hurts and agony. God invites you to make use of your suffering, to admit your need for Him in your pain, and to rehearse your feelings of depression (external and internal) before Him.

Psalm 72:12 assures us, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out” (KJV—when he crieth). Psalm 34 reminds us, “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). God’s good heart goes out, especially, to the humble needy. When crushed in Spirit, turn to the Holy Spirit. When battling depression and feeling comfortless, lament to the Comforter.

The Movements of Grief as a Healing Journey

C.S. Lewis wrote, in A Grief Observed, following the death of his wife, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I loathe the slightest effort. Not only writing but even reading a letter is too much. Even shaving. What does it matter now whether my cheek is rough or smooth?” From intense mental anguish to acute sorrow and deep remorse, grief is a unique human suffering. It has been described as an amputation of the heart, a never-ending pain that reaches to the marrow of one’s soul, a sorrow that leaves no part of the bereaved life untouched.

Jeremiah was a man deeply touched with such pain (Lamen. 3:1- 5). “I am the man who has seen affliction; He has made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely he has turned his hand against me, He has aged my skin and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe; You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.”

While grieving is unavoidable, healing in and through grief is optional. We must learn to grieve, to prepare for grief, and accept-if not welcome-it into our lives for a season. The intensity of our grief depends on a combination of three variables: (1) our attachment to the person or loss (how close we were to them), (2) the way the loss came about, and (3) whether it was sudden, premature, or violent. Anyone who has lost a loved one may recall the harsh announcement of death, hitting like an avalanche, with heartache, shock, numbness, and disbelief.

Not long ago I (Tim) had to tell my children, Megan and Zachary, that one of their beloved ‘papas’ (Julie’s dad) had died of cancer. Oh, the hurt that sliced through them. There are few blows to the human spirit so great as this. At no other time in life are we so acutely aware of how fragile life is and having to put one foot in front of the other in order to get through the day. Life can move in an extremely painful slow motion and can feel like a horrifying nightmare from which we do not awaken.

Grieving involves sorrow, anguish, anger, regret, longing, fear, and deprivation. Physically it produces exhaustion, emptiness, tension, sleeplessness, or loss of appetite. If we fail to express our grief at the time of loss, the pain can remain constant, because it takes so much energy to manage our feelings. In order to begin healing, we must come to accept grief as normal, inevitable, unavoidable. As Barbara Baumgartner put it, “Grief is a statement -a statement that you loved someone.” When we allow ourselves to share our grief with God and others, we release our pain, fears, and heartache. As this occurs, our pain begins to subside. From time to time, grief will wash over us-sometimes surprise and catch us in tears of sorrow, but the healing has begun.

Dispelling Myths

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35 is the shortest and one of the most powerful verses in the Bible, for it reveals that Jesus grieved-He was well acquainted with it, in fact (Is. 53:4-6). Too many of us, however, hang on to various myths that block the healing process.

Myth #1: Don’t grieve. An especially harmful belief is that God doesn’t want us to grieve, or has saved us in order that we might avoid grievous suffering. We are led to believe that it’s morbid or even offensive to sorrow in loss or to talk about death, and therefore it should be an avoidable subject. Public displays of emotion are not considered appropriate in our society, nor is loss of composure. Although few people say it directly, many tend to think that we are to simply let go and move on quickly. This is contrary to our God-given need to express our emotions, and when we fail to do this it causes further stress.

Myth #2: Grief harms our faith. Another lie is that grieving and working through the loss of a loved one damages our Christian testimony, and diminishes our faith. It is a sign of weakness for those who falsely believe that they must always be strong, or at least look strong. Quite to the contrary, sharing with, giving our heartache to the Lord will build a deeper, sweeter, and more intimate relationship with Him. Our weakness becomes His strength (Phil. 4:13). Honest grieving that seeks and leans on God nearly always helps our faith to grow as we depend on Him to heal our brokenness.

Myth #3: Always be positive. Another Christian myth is that we should only express joy and positive emotions. But who better than our Father in heaven knows the anguish of losing a loved one. Jesus Himself was prophetically revealed as ‘a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).

Myth #4: God is absent. If you grieve, Where is God? Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain. Some think they experience, however, a door slammed shut and the sound of bolting locks-after that, silence. What can this mean? Why is He so present as God in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? Not all who mourn feel this type of aloneness. Some individuals report a stronger sense of God’s presence following their loved one’s death. This clearly reveals that the grieving process -a lamentation of the soul in five movements-is as unique and individual as the person experiencing it.

The First Movement: Joining

Some people think God allots pain and suffering that He Himself doesn’t know or understand. The Bible provides a different view. Genesis 6:6 reveals that God was grieved in His heart. Pain and grief are found on the eve of our Savior’s crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then again later at the cross. Anyone who has lost a loved one has felt the same excruciating sorrow and pain as Jesus when He said to His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And who in the midst of loss hasn’t begged our Father in Heaven, as Jesus did, “My Father, if it is possible may this cup be taken from me.” In our darkest hour, as we stood at the grave of a child, parent, or spouse, who hasn’t cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

If Jesus is our supreme example- the One who shows us best how to grieve-we must then trust that sharing our innermost pain and sorrow will bring us healing, as well as a deeper intimacy with God. Hiding or denying our feelings only suppresses our ability to heal and oppresses our spirits. It is completely normal to long for those you love, and weep over their absence. It reveals our Christ-like nature of compassion, love, empathy and concern for others. When Jesus arrived in Bethany following Lazurus’ death, death, He wept (John 11:35). 

Ken Gire beautifully describes this scene in his book, Incredible Moments With the Savior: “Jesus approaches the gravesite with the full assurance that he will raise his friend from the dead. Why then does the sight of the tomb trouble him? Maybe the tomb in the garden is too graphic a reminder of Eden gone to seed. Of Paradise lost. And of the cold, dark tomb he would have to enter to regain it. In any case, it is remarkable that our plight could trouble his spirit; that our pain could summon his tears. The raising of Lazarus is the most daring and dramatic of all the Savior’s healings. He courageously went into a den where hostility raged against him to snatch a friend from the jaws of death. It was an incredible moment. It revealed that Jesus was who he said he was-the resurrection and the life. But it revealed something else. The tears of God.” And who’s to say which is more incredible -a man who raises the dead or a God who weeps.” A God who weeps, grieves, and knows sorrow is a God who loves us so much that He subjected Himself to the cross, to the worst pain that we endure. He did this so that He could be there to take us into His arms, cradle our weak and emotionally lifeless bodies, and nurture us back to spiritual health with the assurance that He loves us and will never forsake us.

In the worst cases, it may be necessary to seek medical care to work through this stage. Some do wallow in denial, reinforcing it-sometimes for years on end- with drugs, alcohol, and addictions of various sorts. Many people who enter counseling do so because they have become stuck in grief, even when they present something that may seem entirely unrelated. It is important, therefore, that counselors query about death and grief in the intake process. Helping someone finish grieving a death that happened years ago is a case formulation that it too often overlooked by helpers. Some individuals rationalize that their pain isn’t really all that intense. This denial is fairly straightforward-it seems honest to those who work hard at it. When asked, “How ya’ doin’?” the stock answer is, “Fine, thanks.” If a person denies and rationalizes too long, however, they begin to believe it, and will angrily defend it if challenged.

Idealizing the dead is an additional defense against the harsh reality of death. Any flaw of the deceased is denied or easily overlooked. A woman who lived with an abusive spouse might say, “Harold was a really good provider for all of us, and in his own way he really loved us.” Sometimes idealization is so extreme that the grieving person will not allow anyone else to say anything bad, or even make a realistic assessment. Others will vividly dream about the deceased, as what we cannot deal with while we are awake is worked through in our dreams as we sleep.

Another defense is regression. We avoid pain by retreating to a previous, more primitive and less mature way of behaving, feeling, and thinking. The child who has been potty-trained may wet their bed, or insist on having a bottle when they’ve been drinking from a cup. The teen-ager may sulk and throw tantrums like a ten-year-old. A sober adult may start drinking again. But if regression takes hold, the pain is not eliminated. It is simply locked away.  

Soul-prayer on joining

Be still, O my grieving, hurting soul. Be still and know that God is near. Be still to tell Him we want-we need-Him to come near. O God, come near to me and still my aching soul. Come and soothe my broken heart, heal the awful pain inside. Please God, let me embrace you-know your presence -as I confess that I cannot face this alone.

Second Movement: Normalizing Stormy Emotions.

 The world-renown psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, defined numerous stages through which the bereaved must travel through in order to resolve their loss. In some cases, not all stages are lived; in others, they are experienced in different order, cycled in different ways.

Shock and denial are often the first stages of grief. Like the shock of physical trauma, the shock of first knowing the death of a loved one assaults us from top to bottom. Our denial of death is described as a dazed numbness that embraces a refusal to accept the loss. “No, NO! That’s not true. It can’t be true!” Denial is a common companion to loss and comes in different shapes and forms.  Many people try to return to a normal routine and intellectualize the loss. Many know intellectually their loved one is gone, but emotionally they reject that it’s happened. Another variation of denial is admitting the loss and feeling it, but behaving as if it had never occurred.

Denial is normal-it is not initially bad. It is a way we work to lessen the initial impact of the loss. Experiencing loss all at once could overwhelm and consume us. Author Joyce Landorf agrees that denial has a divine purpose: “We need denial but we must not linger in it. We must recognize it as one of God’s most unique tools and use it. Denial is our special oxygen mask to use when the breathtaking news of death has sucked every ounce of air out of us….” Denial can be sweet for a short time-it can produce a numbness that acts like a pain-killing drug to a broken heart. Eventually, as reality intrudes and the numbness fades, the intense grief of this early stage may produce physical symptoms such as chest pains or a sense of suffocation.

Fear and anxiety sometimes takes hold and can overwhelm, thus preventing growth and recovery.  Recovery occurs when we face our loss and give ourselves permission to grieve. Denial may be a necessary short-term strategy that helps us ease into grief without being crushed by it. As a long-term strategy, however, it is deadly. As we grow out of denial, it is common for people to begin asking questions. We search for answers and want to know details. We often ask to see an autopsy or police reports. As we search for answers, we suddenly come face-to-face with stark reality-with the factual details of the death. We sometimes find ourselves consciously or unconsciously looking for our deceased loved one in a crowd or a location where we often spent time together. We see someone who looks like the deceased and we’re transfixed by a flood of emotion. This is all part of the process of coming to terms with our loss.

Anger is also a part of grieving. Mourners typically experience anger as they grieve. The early stage of anger often feels like hurt. Sometimes we’re sad, other times we’re disappointed, or frustrated, and still other times we’re depressed. Anger is a response to our pain and it’s often directed at God. When we suffer, it is not uncommon to believe that God has forsaken us and broken our trust in Him. When others tell us to ‘trust in God’ during this time, the words suddenly make no sense. They sometimes sound absurd, like a huge cosmic joke. How can we trust God when our hopes and dreams with our loved one have been unexpectedly shattered? How can we trust the One who took our loved one away? How do we trust someone with the very power of life and death in their hands? These are common questions-questions we must eventually take to God. At some point we will realize that God wants us to trust Him even when we don’t understand why.

Since God is the only One who can fix the problem, He often becomes the focus of our anger. The more intimate our relationship with God, the more betrayed we may feel by the One who was supposed to intervene in our hour of need. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, is an excellent example. She was angry at Jesus when He failed to prevent her brother’s death. “If you had been here,” she admonished Him, “my brother would not have died!” We assume that Mary’s trust in Jesus had definitely diminished. Death makes us feel small, vulnerable, insecure-we come face-to-face with our own mortality. Grieving the death of a loved one challenges us-to our very core-to believe and trust that God’s eternal perspective is better, even superior to our own. We wrestle with the holes in our faith-Will God take me? Will I be privy to His plan? We wrestle with faith in God’s goodness- uncomfortable in the awareness that our faith is so weak in the face of such tragedy. Psalm 130:5 tells us; “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I put my hope.”

Better or bitter

Grief forces us to face this dilemma-I am going to get better or become bitter. Too many get embittered. A long-term study indicated that the death rate of widows and widowers is 2-17 times higher during the first year, following the death of a spouse. Another study discovered that about 25% of those who mourn experience a dramatic decrease in the body’s immune system, six to nine months after their loss. This is one of the reasons why grieving people are more susceptible to illness. However if the grieving process in handled in a healthy manner-if the bereaved one pursues God’s design to get better-this immune deficiency is avoidable. And in order to believe Him, to put your faith in His Word, we are driven to search Him out in prayer, in the Bible, in the hands and faces of others. We are compelled to seek Him in order that He may reveal Himself more than ever before.

Soul-prayer on normalizing

O my soul, loss is inevitable, and grief wants to escape this, but I know deep inside that I cannot. O God, please let this cup pass; but if not, give me the courage to face this honestly, the strength to endure it until your light dawns again on the other side of this sorrow. O God, help me do what I know I cannot, what I don’t want to do.

Third Movement: Understanding

While you may be ready to accept that God is not your enemy because of your loved one’s death, you still may not understand why He chose to take them. Our questions may not find answers while we are here on earth. But we have chosen to walk by faith, believing that God was, is, and will be with us on earth and in heaven. And though grief is an inescapable part of the human condition, He demonstrates His love for us through His loving compassion. At some point we arrive at a partial understanding of grief: to grapple with overwhelming loss and eventually adapt to it.

During this time, necessary changes must be made so that we can live with our loss in a healthy way. This occurs when our questions changes from, “Why did this happen to me?” to “What can I learn from this and how can I best proceed with my life?” As we begin to grow again, we will experience days that are more difficult than others. Tears, fears, anger and confusion are still ahead, but God gives them to us to help release our feelings. We slowly begin to understand, to accept this death. We also realize that grieving is a two part process: the loss of a loved one, and the recovery of our spirit. It is natural to want to return to the life we knew before this traumatic event occurred, but it’s imperative we live a new “normal.” We do this by refusing to be locked away in a tomb of agony for the remainder of our lives, and instead, come to a place of surrender.

Soul-prayer on understanding

O my soul, do not blame God. He is not at fault for the evil of this world or the suffering of life. He is big enough to handle any blame, shame, confusion, and fear that I carry. O my God, help me cope, help me cry, help me learn, help me grow through this. Draw me close to yourself and fill my heart with your love, my mind with yourself. You are able; enable me, O God.

Fourth Movement: Surrender

God promises to deliver those who seek Him. Surrender comes when we finally accept that we could not have changed our loved one’s death. We accept that we are unable to turn back the hands of time-we cannot bring them back, nor are they coming back. We can get angry at God and remain stuck there. I’m sure you know some, still angry over events that transpired decades ago! On the other hand, we can surrender to God and seek His comfort, healing, and direction. In the midst of grief’s pain neither choice seems attractive or acceptable. However, it is inevitable as we choose one or the other. Most believers, at some point, surrender their grieving to the Lord. In so doing, He comes to our side and answers our cries. God comes to our rescue.

Surrender occurs when the bereaved accepts the loss of their loved one, re-adjusts their bond on a more spiritual level, and re-organizes their life. Death is a life changing event- one that alters our view of life, our priorities, our perception of God and His goodness, and every other aspect of our life. Additionally, there are secondary losses that need to be acknowledged. For the woman who suddenly becomes a widow, the loss extends beyond her mate to the hopes and dreams they had together. She has not only lost him, but dreams for the future, and his involvement as her friend, lover, encourager, confidant, prayer partner, protector, tax preparer, business partner, and everything else. She must find new ways to have these needs met. Trusting that He will provide, she must ask the Lord to give her strength to seek help from others, believing that He will provide for her.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” Some people find that keeping a journal helps them work through their difficulties. “What we work out in our journals we don’t take out on family and friends,” is an old and wise saying. Another common healing step is to join a grief group in your church or community-bringing that pain to others who know and share the same grief. Resolving our loss and surrendering it occurs when we accept the hurt and the memories, but we can move on with a focus when we accept God’s promise: “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).

Soul-prayer on surrender

O my soul, remember that our beloved one is merely asleep in death, and wild with joy right now in the presence of God. Remember that God wants touch my broken heart. In Christ, on the cross, He knows my pain. In His resurrection from the dead, He is my only hope. O God, let me know that your thoughts toward me have no harm in them at all, but that You are full of plans to give me a future and a hope. Deliver me from this unspeakable sorrow, heal me from this merciless pain. O God, into your hands, I give my life. Take it and do what You will with it.

Fifth Movement: Praise

Again Peter was a genius on suffering. He knew the secret of the power of praise. “In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). How does one move beyond pain to the point of praise? It is impossible by our own strength; but miracles happen when we ask God to empower us. By now, we understand the loss, have surrendered to God, and have changed our relationship with our loved one. Unable to see or talk with them as we once did, we learn to develop new ways of remembering and relating to this precious person. Good and bad memories will remain. You now say, “Yes, unfortunately this did happen.” But you also don’t postpone the pain, you don’t deny it occurred, and you don’t minimize your loss.

The next step is to find new ways to exist and function. This involves developing a new identity, but without forgetting your loved one. You discover new ways to re-direct the emotional investments you placed in the person now gone. You learn how to take care of yourself, by yourself, and with the help of others, who become precious in your new life. Admit and accept you need the support, help, and comfort of other people during your time of loss. Isolation can be deadly. A friend or even an acquaintance can help you through this difficult time, remove your fear of abandonment, and assist with your depression. Other people can encourage you to continue to function. They offer you their hope and faith when yours has vanished.

Finally, open your mouth and sing again. Choose to praise and thank God as a spiritual discipline. Don’t depend on your feelings to praise, but do rejoice when your feelings reinforce such action. God is worthy of praise because He has poured out on you “the faith and love from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5). Therefore “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col.3:1b-4). Imagine it-and stay with it until your imagination breaks through with the glorious views in your mind’s eye of being with Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom.

Imagine your loved one with Jesus right now-full of joy and peace and glory from the nearness of His glory. John envisions the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 as “the dwelling of God with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (vv.3-4). O wonderful day, come soon. O wonderful King Jesus, come quickly!

Soul-prayer on praise

O my soul, sing to the Lord! Praise his mighty ways. Shout out how great and wonderful is His love-there is no greater love. O God, bring me into your heavenly presence. Heal me of the darkness in my soul, the grief that crushes my heart. Thank you god, you are the captain of my soul. Nothing is impossible for you. In you, I truly can do all things, even this.

Concluding Thoughts

 There is no prescribed timetable for grieving. For most, it takes 2 to 3 years to work through the loss of a close loved one. Sometimes it is a lifelong journey. It encompasses peaks and valleys that are initially intense. The peaks eventually become less severe and the valley’s level out after time, but they do not disappear. Be extra kind to yourself during this time, and diligent about your health. It’s OK to go to bed earlier than normal, to take naps, and spend more time in a long bath. Grieving takes enormous energy, and your body needs more rest.

Setting goals for your future may be difficult at this time. You probably feel that part of you also died, but it will help you work through the grief. Answer these questions in a journal: What do I want to be doing this time next year? What is it I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to doing? Who is someone I’d like to visit that I haven’t seen in years? Goals are important because they force us to invest current energy in a long-term project.

Others around you may be uncomfortable with your grief, wanting you to return to “normal” as soon as possible. If you are not ready, don’t let others determine it for you. This is your loss and no one else’s. It is all right for you to take charge and let others know what you need. Consider telling others: “When I am crying, I don’t need to be fixed. Tears are necessary for me to work through the process of healing.” Tell them they don’t have to avoid mentioning your loss. Encourage them to call and see how you are doing, and not to be put off by your fluctuating emotions.

In the Beatitudes Jesus promised that the needs of the bereaved would not go unmet. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The word for comfort is taken from the Greek word, “parakaleo,” which means “one who stands alongside.” Mourning openly is a form of self-disclosure. We do not have to hide from God. He is walking along side of us right now as we experience our grief. We need to reveal ourselves to Him and He will strengthen us with His divine love.

Reactions to Sudden or Traumatic Loss

By Barbara J. Paul, Ph.D.

Grief is a normal, natural process following a loss. With a traumatic loss, the process is more complicated. People often describe it as feeling like “they are going crazy without a road map of how to do it”. Like all grief, the experience and process of traumatic grief is different for everyone.

Traumatic grief generally occurs when a death is:
” sudden, unexpected, and/or violent.
” caused by the actions of another person, an accident, suicide, homicide, or other catastrophe.
” from natural causes but there is no history of illness.

A traumatic death shatters the world of the survivor. It’s a loss that doesn’t make sense as the survivor tries to make sense and create meaning from a terrible event. The family searches for answers, confronting the fact that life is NOT fair. Bad things DO happen to good people and the world doesn’t feel safe.

This shattering of belief about the world and how it functions compounds the tasks of grieving. Many times, one’s spiritual belief system may no longer work; another loss for the bereaved.

In the initial days, weeks, and months, the individual may go from periods of numbness to intense emotions in brief time periods. In general, it takes two years or more for people go through the grieving process and adapt to a major loss. With a traumatic death, the time period may be longer. Over time, the intensity and frequency of painful periods diminish.

People may feel worse a year or more after the death. The numbness that helped to protect them in the early months is gone and the full pain of the loss is very real. Family and friends may have gone back to their own lives, and not be as supportive.

Over the years, holidays and special family events increase the feelings of grief. When a similar traumatic event occurs, people may feel re-traumatized or that they are reliving their own loss. Involvement with lawsuits or the justice system can cause upsurges of grief during the entire course of that involvement. As these things occur and if the coping gets more difficult, it may be time to seek some counseling.

Common Physical Reactions
” Numbness
” Tightness in the throat or chest
” Shortness of breath
” Sensitivity to loud noises
” Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
” Agitation and restlessness may also be experienced which will decrease in time Because an event has occurred that is beyond one’s control, people feel out of control. Regular exercise may help to control these experiences. Putting more structure into a daily routine will help one to feel more in control. It’s often helpful to keep lists, write notes, or keep a schedule.

Common Emotional Reactions
” Shock: The physical and emotional shock may be prolonged. Persistent memories or dreams about the event may occur for months. Talking or writing about it can help to break the cycle of obsessive thoughts.

” Fear and Anxiety: Simple activities, like taking a shower, being in the dark, or opening a closed door, may cause fear or anxiety. This is a normal response, but if the anxiety prevents normal routine for a prolonged period, it’s important to see a physician or therapist.

” Guilt: Guilt over things done, or not done, regrets about the past, and guilt for surviving. Much of the guilt that people feel is emotional and not rational but knowing this does not help to alleviate those feelings. When guilt persists, people are often helped to deal with it in support groups or with a therapist.

” Anger: Anger and rage come from the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness one feels after a traumatic death and can be overwhelming for family members. There are many support and advocacy groups to help deal with the anger brought on in traumatic death.

There are new roles to learn. New problems to solve. New systems, like the media, legal, and/or criminal justice system, are now involved in one’s life. It takes time to adapt. Allow yourself to do that.

Factors Which Compound Grief
” No positive confirmation of the death or no physical body is recovered. Or when the loved one’s body is available, but the family may not be able to view it. This factor makes it difficult to grasp the reality that the death has occurred. It is only when that reality is grasped can people begin to move from the trauma to the full realization of the pain of grief.

” Since the death was not anticipated, legal and financial affairs may be complicated. Loss of income can threaten the family’s security; another loss for the family.

” The role the loved one held in the family is lost. It takes time for the family to reorganize.

How to Help
” In the early days and weeks, offer help aggressively and concretely. Many times, the family may not know what you can do to help. Offer to prepare meals, help with childcare, answer the phone, or help to make calls or arrangements. If the media is involved, it may be helpful to run interference for the family. They can feel besieged by the intrusion.

” After a few months, support is most needed. Allow them time to talk about their grief if they want to, but be prepared to listen. It is not usually helpful for those who are grieving to hear about your losses unless the circumstances are very similar. Ask how you can help. You might offer to go with them to a support group if it’s appropriate.

” As time passes, be mindful of anniversaries, holidays, or the birthday of the person who died. On these difficult days, people want to know that their loved ones are remembered.

” Families may be involved for years in legal proceedings. Offer help and support during critical times in the process. Help them find resources for victim and family support and advocacy.

” Most importantly, accept their grieving for what it is: a process following a loss. Allow them to grieve in their own style.

Barbara J. Paul, Ph.D.
Barbara J. Paul is a licensed psychologist and health educator in Philadelphia, PA. She is nationally certified by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) as both a grief therapist and death educator.

Grief and the Christian Family

“Why does a loving God allow tragedy? Why doesn’t He just stop terrible things from happening? What is going to happen next? How is this going to affect me and my family? Am I safe? Is there going to be a war? Can I go on my high school trip without being killed? What is going to happen next?” How can parents explain death, divorce, or terrorism to children and teens when they don’t even understand it themselves? These questions keep running through everyone’s mind, adults and kids alike. We feel so angry, so sad, so helpless, even so guilty for having a good day. What we all feel is grief. It’s a short word that stands for a whole array of excruciating emotions. Now, while in the midst of one of the most difficult times in our country, we have to go to work, or mow the lawn, or do the laundry, or balance the checkbook, or even be a parent to a child or teen we dearly love- previously sheltered youth who are hurting as much as we are and understand their own sorrow even less. There’s only one thing we can do. Wrap ourselves in the love of the Lord and let Him carry us through. Grief, this confusing, devastating, volatile mixture of emotions, is a natural response to any loss: death, divorce, loss of health, familiar surroundings, or treasured possessions. This article will discuss the impact of grief on the family and give suggestions for parents on what to expect and how to help. Much of the discussion will center around the death of a family member, but grief also accompanies a divorce or national terrorism. The only difference is the intensity.

Grief affects the mind, body, and spirit. It seems impossible to concentrate or think clearly enough to make even the simplest decision. The body reacts in unexpected ways: pain, sickness, sleeplessness, difficulty breathing, overwhelming fatigue for some, and for others, amazing bursts of energy. For a few, grief brings a deeper, more satisfying walk with their Lord. For many, a massive wall is built between them and their Savior. Surely, all who take the journey through grief find that it transforms their relationship toward God. For example, Susan, a high school student, couldn’t think clearly and had a sharp drop in her grades after a loss. She tried to deny the pain, but it showed. The stress caused her skin to turn a bright red and she quickly gained twenty pounds. Despite this, she learned to depend on God to help her though the sleepless nights. Stephen, on the other hand, has not been to church since he lost his father five years ago. He, like many, is mad at God. Even now, his grief is unresolved. Normal grief is an essential part of healing. Abnormal grief occurs when a person withdraws too long, pushes others away, or becomes bitter and depressed. Unresolved grief may cause involvement in detrimental activities such as drugs, alcohol, or other addictions. It can even affect the immune system and increase the risk of cancer. Grief seems like a silent enemy, but if you face the enemy head-on, it can become your friend.

Since the loss of security and a sense of trust can cause grief, we are currently a nation of mourners. We all hurt for the families of those lost on September 11. Those who have already experienced a loss, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can have a particularly difficult time in a national tragedy. The following information is written for those who have had a personal loss, yet the process is the same for all grief. Certainly it is infinitely longer and more profound for those who have lost a family member, yet the information and suggestions can be used by anyone who is concerned about how their kids are coping with the nation’s tragedy. Parents need to find ways to tenderly touch the fragile hearts of every family member so they can talk about their most sensitive emotions and encourage one another in Christ.

A major loss often causes such a disruption that the family system can never fully recover. There are families that learn, with the help of the Lord, to comfort and support one another and, through the process, become closer and stronger. What is the difference between the families that survive the loss and those that fall apart? It seems that the survivors learn to communicate their feelings with each other and with God. This is agonizing at first, especially to children and teens. Children have active imaginations and think they can cope by pretending the loss didn’t happen and nothing has changed. Teens are usually reluctant to share their feelings with the family, so they try to work through their grief alone and pretend they are unaffected by the loss. This pretending is not healthy for adults or teens.

Everyone will experience some type of loss, and loss often leads to misconceptions. These misconceptions are often called magical thinking. Adults often use magical thinking somewhat jokingly when they say, “I’m going to take my umbrella so it won’t rain,” or “I knew it would rain because I just finished washing my car.” We know we can’t control the weather, but there’s an almost imperceptible feeling that we can. With kids it is a strong but silent feeling that causes much pain. Just like adults secretly think they control the weather, kids believe their thoughts control the world around them. In the deepest part of their being, they know the loss is their fault. Sometimes they believe in their hearts that a certain thought or action caused the loss, but sometimes they just know they are responsible. They only wish they knew what they did so they would be sure not to do it again. Just like Kevin in the movie, “Home Alone,” who wished his parents would disappear and woke up thinking his wish had come true, a child will believe an angry thought or wish was responsible for the loss.

Because it’s very difficult for children to admit these misconceptions, it’s important to keep communication open so they feel free to talk about these feelings. Adults and teens usually think this way after a loss, too. “What if I hadn’t had that fight with my Mom?” “What if I had called the doctor sooner?” “What if I had driven that day?” “What if I had been at home?” It’s easy to get caught up in this type of thinking, especially after a death, but the simple truth is that God has a time appointed for each person to die and there’s nothing anyone can do to change God’s timing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) We can only trust that He has an eternal reason. Each life is like a mural on a wall, and He sees the whole picture before we are ever conceived.

Death is abstract and children think in concrete ways. Yet it is essential that they know the truth about the death of their loved one and the spiritual significance surrounding it. Most teens have begun to think abstractly. They want to find meaning in the loss. Be honest about the events surrounding the death, but keep the explanation simple. Answer questions honestly, but leave out the dreadful details.

Liz, a woman in her thirties, told this story while in a drug treatment program. When she was young, her father died of a freak accident. Her mother never told her anything. She just whisked her away to the neighbor’s house. Liz asked questions when she saw her dad’s picture on television, but instead of getting answers, she was rushed out of the room. No one even told her that her father had died. The philosophy then was to protect kids from hearing about tragedy, but it’s no surprise that Liz had an addiction, how could she ever grieve the loss of her daddy when she didn’t even know why he never came home again? She turned to drugs to deaden the pain of her unresolved grief. In trying to protect her from the truth, her family left her to the lies of her own imagination.

Kids need someone to explain to them what is happening in their lives and to assure them that they won’t be alone. One of their greatest fears in a loss is that there will be no one to take care of them. They need to be told who will be there for them. In most cases, children are attached to both parents and feel that a part of them is missing if a parent leaves or dies. They are also bonded to siblings and grandparents. After a loss, they see their families as a puzzle with one of the pieces missing. They often feel fractured and powerless, with no sense of direction in their lives. Teens feel sad, but they are more comfortable expressing their anger. Many try to fill the role of the missing family member and become prematurely faces with grown-up responsibilities. Kids need someone outside themselves on whom they can depend. They need someone to hold them and tell them that when everyone else is busy trying to rebuild their own lives, God is always there. Adults need this, too, so a wise parent looks to their friends and their church for support during this troublesome time.

No two people react the same way to loss and each individual’s feelings and reactions change from minute to minute. Children’s understanding of loss changes as they get older. Infants and toddlers believe that when an object is out of sight, it ceases to exist. They enjoy the game of “peek-a-boo” because it helps them begin to accept separation and loss. Since they are incapable of understanding that some people do not return, they can’t conceive of the permanence of death. If an infant loses the nurturing parent, bonding will be broken. It is essential for their future emotional health that they bond with another person. Children who have not completely bonded might be quite charming and make friends quickly, but they have difficulty developing long term relationships because they have never learned to trust. Some have more severe problems. These children need much emotional support and often could benefit from Christian counseling.

Preschoolers are still trying to grasp the idea of object permanence and they are dealing with much magical thinking. Because they feel responsible for the loss, they may feel guilt and shame. They think death is reversible, like it is in cartoons, and may ask many questions about biological functions. If parents get divorced, they will try their best to get them remarried. They can get lost in play and temporarily forget about the loss. Because their imaginations are so active, it is important that they be told the truth about the cause of the loss at a level they can understand. Children who are not told the truth will make up an explanation for the changes in their lives. Their imaginations run wild and adults would often be amazed to find what irrational thoughts are going through the minds of children. Before they can be completely free of the grief, little ones need someone to listen to their version of the story and correct their wrong thinking.

Between the ages of six and ten, children begin to understand that death is final, but they often personify it. It is important that euphemisms not be used, because children are very concrete and take what is said literally. A couple of stories demonstrate the literal thinking of children. Eight-year-old Devin said he is afraid of going to heaven. He thinks eternity is such a long time that he might get bored. He did admit, though, that heaven sounds better than hell. Jenny, age six, tried to console her grandmother after the death of her husband. She overheard Granny asking the undertaker if water would get into the casket. “Don’t worry, Granny,” said Jenny in her most reassuring voice, “God will give Granddaddy a drink of water.”

Death can be explained to a school-age child as the time when the body stops moving and breathing and the spirit leaves. Use a puppet to explain this in a concrete way. When the hand is in the puppet, it moves. When the hand is removed from the puppet, the part that makes it move is gone and the puppet is lifeless. That is like what happens in death. The spirit leaves the body and the body no longer moves or breathes.

Children who experience the death of a family member while in elementary school are overwhelmed with sadness, but they feel they must control it. For many children, especially boys, anger is more socially acceptable. Some children resist the expression of any emotions, but their behavior shows how much they are suffering. Jonathan, age seven, refused to talk about his trauma, but he loved jabbing pencil lead into paper plates. As he was doing this, he was exclaiming, “I’m not angry! I’m not angry!” Jonathan needed help learning to admit his normal anger. If children are not encouraged to express their feelings, they may never resolve their grief.

Teens try to find meaning in their loss. Although they feel sad, they are also more comfortable expressing their anger, which in some cases can lead to violence. Teens who experience the divorce of their parents may find it difficult to trust in dating relationships They long to retreat to their childhood just when more responsibility is being expected of them. They may feel guilt about their normal adolescent rebelliousness, thinking they should have spent more time with the person they lost.. If a parent dies during a time the teen is in rebellion, this can cause a strong feeling of shame, which is too embarrassing to admit, but can haunt the person for years. Allen, a man in his forties, wept when he finally revealed that, as a teen, he had chosen to play tennis rather than go to the hospital the day his father died.

Kids of all ages who are grieving may feel sad, lonely, guilty, and very angry. To avoid thinking, they are often in constant motion and have difficulty concentrating in school. They need the opportunity to express these strong feelings in appropriate ways. Like adults, kids need to grieve, but also like adults, they can resolve the loss. It is important that they receive prompt and accurate information about the loss and are allowed to ask questions, participate in the family grieving rituals, and have a comforting adult to rely upon. In telling kids about a loss, whether right after it happened or while discussing it later, be sure they know they are not alone. Use physical contact and be direct. Reassure them it was not their fault and it is not going to happen to them. Then encourage them to talk about the loss.

Children, teens, and adults move through the grief process in their own unique way, yet kids can experience the stages differently from adults. Jewitt (1982) describes the ways grief might affect kids. In the early stages of grief, youngsters may experience shock, denial, and a feeling of numbness, as if God is letting the loss sink in slowly. They will seem lifeless, smiling on cue, with possible outbursts of panic. Some may act as if they are not bothered by the news. Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, tension, sighing, and relaxed bowel and bladder control. There is a possibility of sickness, nervousness, and trouble sleeping. The child needs comfort, warmth, and structure.

There are several forms of denial. Children may seem to forget the loved one is not returning. They may reject the loved one or refuse to admit that the person ever existed. For teens, it may be the feelings that are denied, as if to say, “This isn’t happening.” Children and teens often use excessive talking or hyperactivity to keep from thinking about the loss. Many will fear being alone. Some kids are too busy adjusting to a new situation to grieve. If denial lasts longer than three to six months, professional counseling may be needed.

As youngsters begin to face reality, their grief becomes overwhelming. They go between thinking about the loss and ignoring it, strong emotions and apathy. They need free time for this period of grief, so too many extracurricular activities can delay the grief process. They are often preoccupied with the lost person and wish he or she was still in their lives. They may be very active or bargain to get the person back, as if they are thinking they have some control over the loss. Since kids model the way their parent expresses grief, they should be included in the mourning process. Sharing tears can be a healing and bonding experience.

Just before kids begin to reorganize their lives, they go through the worst, but fortunately the shortest stage, depression. There is a sense of hopelessness, which may include slower movement, physical symptoms, helplessness, loss of appetite, and even fleeting thoughts of suicide. After this difficult period, kids begin to realize that life can go on and they are going to be all right. This doesn’t mean they are happy, but the strong, overpowering feelings are gone. Even small new losses, such as a move or the loss of a pet, can bring back the waves of grief. These secondary losses can revive all the previous emotions with a vengeance.

Adults must also journey through the grief process in their own way. As with children, the initial reaction to loss is shock and denial. The griever is not ready to accept the loss and reacts with a numb, empty feeling. There may be tears, some difficulty breathing, disorientation, and a need to do nothing but sit and stare. This fatigue may continue as the numbness gives way to overpowering emotions: anger, guilt, fear, panic, loneliness, sadness. There may be physical illness, tension, and aches and pains. Sleeping may be difficult, or the griever may want to escape into a slumber or some other type of isolation. The person will be edgy and may react to life’s little difficulties more strongly than usual. As time goes on, those who are moving normally through the grief process will begin to find new interests or revive old ones and find a new life without the loved one. This doesn’t mean they miss the person less or are happy about the loss. It just means they have found a way to resume their own lives.

For adults, teens, and children the grief comes in waves and can be brought on unexpectedly by a sound, a smell, or a thought at any time or any place. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store can bring back memories that make the loss seem as if it has just happened. A smell of fresh lemons, a song played so low on the PA system that it’s not consciously heard, or a glance at the loved ones favorite food can produce a tidal wave of almost forgotten emotions. Talking about the loss and the loved one seems to facilitate a healthy progression through the grief process. Getting your family members to open their hearts and face their sorrow this way can be difficult, but there are some communications skills that may help.

Communication Despite the loss, you want your family to feel lovable and important. Your communication is like a mirror in which others see themselves; so it is important that you use good communication skills in discussing your loss. For children, especially young children, nonverbal communication speaks louder than verbal communication. If your nonverbal communication agrees with your verbal communication, then children feel they can trust what you say.

The most effective communication skill is listening carefully for feelings. Children don’t always have the words for their feelings, so they may need help in labeling them. Teens often have a difficult time talking to their parent about their feelings, yet a wise parent finds ways to draw out the emotions of their teens. Even adults feel understood if the listener responds with a word that describes their emotions. Practice using a skill called reflective listening. That involves listening for the feeling in a communication and reflecting that feeling back to the speaker. A good way to use this skill would be to listen and then say, “It sounds like you feel _________.” If you are wrong, the speaker will correct you, which makes the person have to think about his or her feelings to answer you. It is even more effective if you add the reason you think the speaker feels that way. Reflective listening requires sensitive listening to the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal messages and reflecting back the total message empathically without judgment.

This kind of communication can be helpful to a kid who is having behavior problems due to anger, because negative feelings always exist before negative acts and another feeling always comes before anger. It is usually fear or sadness. When we respond to the anger by reflective listening, then kids lead us to the underlying feeling. When youngsters have strong emotions, it is important to listen carefully to what feelings they are trying to express, accept the feelings without necessarily accepting the behavior, and providing an acceptable outlet for the expression of the feelings.

Another communication skill is called “I” messages. An “I” message can be used when the speaker’s behavior causes a feeling in you. This is a way to model the expression of feelings. “I” messages are effective because they express feelings without blaming. Follow this formula: “When you do _________________, I feel _________________, because ____________. For example, “When you say unkind things to Billy, I feel sad, because I care about Billy’s feelings.” It is important to help your family move through the grief process by working through their emotions. This is accomplished by allowing each member an opportunity to tell their story and explain their feelings. This can be difficult; so a parent can help by using good listening skills. Some of the skills that would be useful are:

1. Restatement – Let the speaker know you are listening by restating what was said in your own words.

2. Interpretation – Try to find the “why” behind the speaker’s behavior. Behavior that is understood is easier to accept and change, however, asking a direct “why” question can often put speakers on the defensive. The truth may be that they don’t even know why.

3. Confrontation – Point out the discrepancies between the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal behavior. For example, “You say you are sad, but you are smiling.” This helps family members to see that their behavior is not matching their feelings and the behavior may need to be reevaluated.

4. Minimal encouragers – Add the little “umhums” that show you are listening.

5. Summarization – Bring together the main points of the conversation.

6. Open-ended questions – Ask questions that encourage the family members to explore their thoughts and feelings by having to give an explicit answer. These questions usually start with how, what, would, or could.

7. Closed-ended questions – When there is a need for facts, ask a question that can be answered with a yes or no or other specific information. These questions are necessary sometimes, but they do not encourage communication on a feeling level.

8. Looking for misconceptions – Listen carefully for misconceptions about the death and the beliefs surrounding it. When you discover these misconceptions, be aware that they can be deeply held beliefs and it may take time and effort for a person to internalize the truth.

Whether a loss was the death of a family member, a divorce, or terrorism and the accompanying loss of security, the grief process is the same. A death or divorce is more devastating, while terrorism can cause a great increase in fear. A caring parent gives lots of hugs, even to teens who act like they don’t want them. A wise parent listens and encourages the younger members of the family to talk about whatever feelings they have. Even if the parent doesn’t agree with the feeling, it should be accepted as legitimate to the person who shares it. The following verses may be helpful for dealing with some common emotions:

Fear- Philippians 4:6-7 and Hebrews 13:5
Anger- James 1:19-20
Guilt- 1 John 1:9
Powerlessness-Ephesians 3:16

After a loss, the best thing a parent can do is turn to God for comfort and lead the family to do the same.

Bibliography
Jewett, C. L. (1982). Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss. Harvard Common Press, Harvard, Mass.

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