As a pastor I have lived long enough to be sharply aware of our mortality. The past weeks have shown that the First Baptist church family is not immune to the weaknesses of being human. I also continue to have the strong conviction that even in the face of death and other losses, there is hope. Perhaps you or someone you know will find my suggestions about living after loss helpful.
1. It’s a real loss — feel it.
When we live through the death of a person close to us our whole world is knocked off balance. It makes no difference that everyone else who has ever lived has experienced their own losses. Ours is something that hits us alone, and we must go through the valley individually. There is no escape.
Because we had developed a relationship with the one who is gone, there is now a void. The type and depth of connection we had will partially help shape the emotions and behaviors we experience. It is important to know that our grief is probably entirely within the boundaries of what others who have gone through loss have experienced. We are not losing control. We are not going crazy. We are in grief that is real. The pain that dogs us is one of the signs that we are dealing with the loss. Help yourself heal by feeling it. Cry. Scream. Get busy. Do nothing. Beat the stuffing out of a pillow. You are reaffirming your own life in a world that is terribly confusing right now.
Don’t forget to allow yourself to find some balance, to find a little healing when the time is right. At first it may seem artificial to find joy in anything. It may seem forced, or even improper. Experiencing something that seems nurturing or positive may lead to feelings of guilt. Go ahead and do it. As you feed your own soul and take small steps toward embracing life it will not only bring healing to you, but also strengthen a new bond with the one you have lost.
2. Lean on others for support.
The feeling of being alone is often overwhelming. We are convinced that no one else has ever experienced what we are going thorough. No one else can understand. In a way, those thoughts are absolutely right. It is your grief, and only you can experience it. Only you know the relationship that once existed, but now is changed by death. Only you know the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the interesting contours that form when two lives touch one another. If your relationship has been lengthly and close, do not expect to have the loss erased easily. In so many ways, you are alone.
This is the time that you, as a person in grief, must ask for help. Is there somebody else out there who has also loved or known the person whose death has upended your life? Connect with them. Tell stories about the old times. Share memories and cry together.
It is important for you to gather yourself together and take the first step toward finding the other person. People do want to help. We are just awkward in showing that we care. Most of us are not experts in how to be around grief, and we avoid it like the plague. We operate under the false belief that even mentioning the loved one will reopen wounds. We talk about the weather, or anything else to avoid the topic for fear of hurting the living. What those who are hurting need instead is to hear the stories about the one we loved. Tell how Jack or Michelle and the kids built the incredible snowman that was so gigantic that it didn’t melt away until late spring. I promise — there will come a time when it’s easier to share the joy of precious times.
3. Settle up with God.
Sometimes the sense of loss even includes feeling the absence of God. Is God there? Does God really care? Does he know our pain? Have we been left alone in our darkness? If God really is in control, why wasn’t the cancer cured? Why did the plane crash?
If you harbor thoughts like this, please know you are in good company, and be assured that God is big enough to handle your feelings. God loves us just as we are, with all our questions, our doubts, and our anger. Even Jesus asked his Father why he had been abandoned as he hung on the cross. You are not the first person to need a God who is faithful and who has promised to walk with us, even when our own personal faith is quavering and threatening to disappear. Our God does just that.
The good news is that when our whole world has been knocked off balance there is the possibility of rebuilding it into a stronger and more beautiful place than it was before. Going through loss and the accompanying grief often provides the catalyst for new spiritual growth. We begin to know the depth of God’s presence with us, and the fierceness of his commitment to us. The Apostle Paul in the book of Romans gives us the conviction: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Have you noticed how communication methods are changing? Many people today chat online, text or use social media to communicate. Cursive handwriting is not usually taught in school anymore, but keyboarding is. There are both good and bad elements about how we communicate now. I can instantly see pictures of my family from where they live across the miles. Those in warm Louisiana can see our mountains of snow. Those in Illinois can see they have less snow than we do.
But I wonder if sometimes we miss things nearby when we focus on things far away. Yesterday I watched an online video of a man sitting on his boat texting while whales jumped in the waters behind him unobserved. A young mother told me about her 12 year-old's birthday party where the invited guests were texting others who were not at the party. She said she asked them to put their phones away three times before it happened. They were communicating with others while missing the opportunity to visit with those in the same room.
We desire to communicate the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to use any and every method we have to do so. It is daunting to those who grew up without all these new tools of communication. But we are trying. We have set up a new Facebook page for the church and we have a church website. May we use our voices and technology to proclaim Christ and Him crucified!
It is New Year’s Eve as I write this column. As we are prone to do around the beginning of a new year I am remembering the beginnings of years past. One that stands out in my mind happened over forty years ago. Jon and I were studying at L’Abri in Switzerland with Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Jon was a recent seminary graduate and was delving into some lingering theological issues from his studies. I was along for the ride. The setting was a small village on the side of a mountain in the Alps. The view out our window was like a scene from a Christmas card. I felt like we were living a winter wonderland. As a Louisiana girl, I had never even imagined so much snow.
As the new year approached, we gathered with friends near a roaring stone fireplace. When midnight came, there were no fireworks. But from across the mountains in villages both large and small, the church bells began to peel out. The lovely sounds echoed across the mountain and back over and over and were magnified again and again. I had never before or since heard such lovely sounds. It sounded like a heavenly anthem and brought to mind the angels proclaiming the good news of Christ’s birth to shepherds on the hillside that first Christmas.
We can’t know what 2015 will bring. A joy for us is that we expect to have a new grandson in the year ahead. There will be other joys and sorrows, too. I am reminded of a Gaither hymn that has these words, “I don’t know about the future. I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds the future, and I know who holds my hand.”
My our Lord Jesus hold your hand in 2015! Happy New Year!
TOP TEN PREDICTIONS FOR 2015
1. The Bible will still have all the answers.
2. Prayer will still work.
3. The Holy Spirit will still move.
4. God will still inhabit the praises of His people.
5. There will still be God-anointed preaching.
6. There will still be singing of praise to God.
7. God will still pour out blessings upon His people.
8. There will still be room at the Cross.
9. Jesus will still love you.
10. Jesus will still save the lost.