Sunday, April 7, 2013

the grieving heart

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners...

 to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord

for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

So many of us don't understand the complexities of grief; however, everyone has experienced loss--the most obvious being the loss of an important person through death. However, losses of those we love due to abandonment, rejections, separation, or divorce can be just as painful.  We also often neglect to acknowledge that a loss of part of ourselves (such as body functions, hopes and dreams, a job, childhood losses, and external objects/things of sentimental value) are also legitimate losses. All these losses are sources or pain that contribute to our broken hearts.

Our instinct is to run from grief, not face it head-on. Yet of the key aspects of Jesus' mission on earth was to "bind up the brokenhearted" and to "provide for those who grieve." As Christians, we are called to follow Jesus' example and provide hope and healing for the hurting, yet so often we fail at it.  

So, here are some things to keep in mind when you're grieving or ministering to someone who is grieving:

The pain often comes in waves. Just when you think it's gone, it shows up again, stirring up more anxiety, guilt, shame. Some days you might be fine, and other days it may look and feel like you've taken 10 steps back. You don't get to choose when the pain hits next. Sometimes events similar to the original event also have a way of triggering the pain of our original loss. That's just how it works.

Crying is okay. Yes, it's messy, and yes, it looks like you don't have it all together. But crying allows us to flush the hurt out of our hearts. And when the hurt returns, we need to flush it out again. Even Jesus wept. In his tears, we find permission to shed our own. 

Grief takes time. Depending on the severity of the loss, it may take a week, a month, or even years (yes, YEARS!) Everyone is different. Every situation is different. The "stages of grief" proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, include a series of emotional stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. So don't judge someone or tell them that they should be "over it" by now. Grief is a complex process that takes time. Stopping the process prematurely will do even more damage.

Keep confidentiality. Often, the circumstances surrounding the grief are very, very private. At the very least, the emotions surrounding the situation are raw. If someone opens their heart and shares something sensitive with you, keep it to yourself. 

Just be there. There are times when you want to be alone and when you need to grieve alone, in private. However, in your grief you need others--Jesus AND people--you can lean on to remind you that you are not alone. Friends who will walk through the suffering with you point you closer to Jesus than anything.  

Be a good listener. Pep-talks are not helpful. Sometimes neither is a sermon. Sometimes you hurt so much that you can't read your Bible more--getting out of bed is all you can possibly manage.  The last thing someone hurting wants is someone who keeps trying to "fix" them.  If they want your advice, they will ask for it. Otherwise, just sit back and listen. 

Share your story. This is going to require you to be vulnerable. This is going to force you to re-visit your own grief. This will not be easy; however, one of the reasons why God allows us to suffer, is so He can take the losses we've experienced and build them into a ministry to reflect His glory. Showing empathy is more important than your level of comfort. Sharing grief together will help both of you not feel so alone. It will give hope. It will show you do understand. 

Show unconditional loveGrief is not a mental illness, but it sure feels like one sometimes. It can affect mood, cause insomnia, loss of appetite, forgetfulness, and thoughts of suicide. When I'm grieving something, chances are, I might not be that fun to be around. I might not act like the "old" me. I might say or do things that you don't like. You might not agree with the choices I've made. You might not like the "new" me. Get over it.  A huge part of healing from grief is knowing that someone has your back and loves you. No matter what.

Any type of loss we experience, causes us some measure of grief and needs to be worked through. How we do it (or whether or not we do it at all) varies tremendously. Pain within the heart can be so overwhelming that every fiber of your being will want to shut it down. And so we develop "coping mechanisms" -- things we do to escape (or at least manage) the pain in order to get through the day. We change the subject. Avoid the issue. Work hard. Drink harder. Stay busy. Stay distant. Don't look back. 

But in the long run, your coping mechanisms will prevent you from becoming free. Unless you face the pain by grieving your losses, it will continue to fester, impacting future losses, separations, and attachments. Don't walk away from it. Deal with it.

Go ahead, face your grief. Give yourself time. Permit yourself tears. God understands. He knows the sorrow of a grave. He buried his son. But he also knows the joy of resurrection. And by his power, you will too. - Max Lucado

Two excellent books with chapters on grief are  Olive Shoots Around Your Table by John Visser and Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado.

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