Friday, July 28, 2017

In Times of Grieving (Matt. 5:4; II Cor. 1:3-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In her book The Year of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion tries to make sense of her world after the death of her husband.   She marvels at the capacity of grief "to derange the mind," that is, to throw its victims into a mode of irrationality.   It’s difficult to think and live as though the person you loved is really dead.  Surely there has been some mistake of diagnosis or identity "I was thinking as small children think," she writes, "as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to change the outcome."  One day Didion was clearing the shelves of her husband's clothes, putting them in stacks to give away to thrift shops. But she couldn't bring herself to give away his shoes. "I stood there for a moment, then realized why: he would need shoes if he was to return home."

Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn.”  We grieve when we have lost something or someone meaningful and significant and precious, someone integral to our identity.  Grief is our human response to loss.  The Greek word for mourning which Jesus uses in this beatitude is penthountes.  It is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language.  It’s a word used for mourning the death of a loved one.

There is no question that people share much in common when grieving: like shock, denial, anger, confusion, emptiness, depression, loneliness, and fear. On the other hand, grief is unique; everyone mourns in their own way.   You must be careful not to judge someone for not grieving in the way you understand it or the way you grieved.

There is no well-ordered progression from one stage to the next. In reality, there is much looping back, or stages can hit at the same time, or occur out of order. The stages model, like Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance are still a good guide of what to expect, but it’s vital to interpret the stages loosely and expect individual variation.  For example, depression isolation, and loneliness often happen late in the grief process, months after the tragedy strikes.  It actually is normal and expected for you to be depressed and sad eight months or more later.  Friends often don’t understand this, and feel that it should be time for you to "get over it" or to “move on” and rejoin the land of the living.  Instead, you are acting normally.

Some describe grief like you are riding on a roller coaster, with its ups and downs, its sudden and unexpected turns and twists.  Sometimes you feel you are hanging on for dear life.   I recall unexpected waves of grief hitting me after my parent’s deaths as long forgotten childhood memories abruptly burst into my consciousness.  I tried but I couldn’t stop these waves of grief.  I gradually learned to cope with them and ride them out when they occurred.

Grief of course occurs not only in times of death, but whenever we have lost someone or something significant.  Mourning, grief or bereavement affects our entire being, it’s manifestations are physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Grief is a process of separation, separating ourselves or detaching ourselves from someone or something we highly value.  We are breaking away, we are severing the bond from someone or something we love.   For instance divorce, moving away from friends and a familiar neighborhood, the loss of a job, breaking-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the death of a beloved pet bring on grief.

I learned that grief has a mind of its own.  It’s in charge; you can’t control or direct it. I recall church members who have asked, “Pastor, why is it that I always cry in those uncomfortable moments when I don’t want to and can’t seem to cry when I want to.” “Pastor: I’m so lost, I feel like I’m going crazy, I feel so guilty, I can’t concentrate on anything, I can’t make a decision, I just don’t know how I can go on, where do I begin?”

Grief is a serious emotional wound, and like any serious physical wound, it takes treatment and time to heal.  The book of Ecclesiastes describes grief as a season: “a time for every matter under heaven, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to weep and a time to laugh.”   There is no avoiding this season in the plan of God.

I share the view that there are three basic stages of grieving.  First, numbness.   You are in a state of shock, denial.  You struggle between fantasy and reality.  Everything is surreal.   You try to discern between what is real and what is unreal.  I recall after a good friend died, seeing him in a crowd or driving by for many weeks.  My mind refused to accept that he was gone.   I believe God initially shields us from the pain of our loss by wrapping us in an emotional blanket.  It can last from 2 weeks to 2 months or more.

The second stage is dis-organization.  You begin to recall and must deal with painful feelings and memories.  You feel like you’re beginning to unravel.  Emotions erupt and take on a life of their own – anguish, guilt, anger, depression, loneliness, fear, sorrow; sometimes we question God or have a faith crisis.  You often experience physical manifestations like anxiety attacks fatigue, a lack of energy or sleeplessness, and a loss of appetite.  You have trouble focusing or concentrating on anything.  You tend to withdraw, retreat from people and life.   This stage can last from 6 months to 1 & ½ years or longer.

The third stage is re-organization.  You find that your feelings and memories are less intense.  The searing pain of memory is not quite as acute.  Some memories actually begin to bring comfort and consolation.  You find a renewed desire to re-enter life and to re-connect with people.  You experience occasional times of peace.   You begin to come to terms with your loss.  At times you even begin to feel normal.  This stage can last from 18 months to 2 years or longer.

Listen to the advice of a seasoned Christian counselor who was asked what she advises people who are dealing with grief.  "I tell them to feel their feelings.  I also urge people to reduce radically the pace of their lives, to review their loss, talk about it openly, think about it thoroughly, write about it reflectively, and pray through it.  It's my experience that people want to run from their pain.  They want to replace pain with another feeling as soon as they can. To recover from pain, you have to face it.  You must stand in it and process it before it will dissipate.  That's God's way.  You see, I didn't do that when my husband died.  I replaced that pain real fast.  I think I missed only four days of work.   And I just replaced the feeling of loss and disappointment with a frenzied schedule.  I ran from it. That was a bad move for me and for other people around me. I wonder how many of us do that?”

When you are ready, reach out to others, talk to trusted friends.  Select those friends carefully.  Not everyone feels comfortable or has the patience to listen to you talk about your feelings regarding your loss.  Seek professional help like a psychologist or psychiatrist.  See your doctor especially if you are having concerns about your health.  Participate in a grief support group.   Visit some special places which meant a lot to you and your loved one.  Stay connected with people.    Don’t go through it alone.

What is God’s goal in times of grief?   First, God will accompany us through the journey of grief and help us complete our emotional relationship with the person whom we’ve lost.   Though as any of you who have grieved know, as I know, our grief is never fully resolved or complete and stays a part of you the rest of your life.  Mourning is a journey toward healing and wholeness which God calls us to walk.  But do not go it alone, Christ and others go with us.   So pray to God for help and strength.  Read the scriptures.  Be alert for surprises of God’s grace along the journey.  God is with us in our season of grief.

Further, God’s will is that you begin to re-direct your energies and hopes and goals toward the future, rather than concentrating on the past.   God desires for us to re-connect with others and renew attachments.  Jesus says in effect: “Blessed are those who mourn but do not become a prisoner of your mourning.”

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son Matthew took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years.  About a year after this tragedy, Rev. Warren said:

"I've often been asked, 'How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?'

And I've often replied, 'The answer is Easter.'  "You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.

"And here's the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you'll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, 'What do I do in my days of pain?' Two, 'How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?' Three, 'How do I get to the days of joy and victory?'  "The answer is Easter. The answer … is Easter."

Jesus’ affirmation of blessedness in this beatitude is followed by a promise – “For they shall be comforted.”  Jesus’ promises that one day you will again experience comfort, peace, joy, the brightness of the morning, the beauty of creation, the joys of life.  You will again laugh, and feel, and find a renewed purpose and direction.

I close with the words of II Corinthians.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” Amen!

No comments:

Post a Comment