Helping Others Deal with Grief
by Ingrid Lawrenz, MSW
Recently, our church has been rattled by two untimely deaths, both from cancer. One was a young father of three, the other a young mother of three. The pain was real, as family, friends and pastors wept openly at each funeral. Yet both believers finished well. Their time on earth was spent in unwavering faith. They were clearly blessed by the outpouring of love that surrounded them from their church fellowship.
They died cradled in the arms of their loved ones. For days, when a Christian is dying, the veil between this life and the next is so thin that the still living can sense the presence and peace of Almighty God. Finally, Jesus comes and takes their hands, pulling them to Himself.
Grieving is hard work. When the work is done well, God’s gift of grace is experienced in abundance. Grieving does not show a lack of faith; rather it shows a depth of love. Jesus wept over Lazarus. Church leaders need to model this by being willing to give their hearts, not just their heads, to their congregation. Many Christian leaders mistakenly suppress their emotions in order to appear spiritually strong. Instead, aren’t they showing a deficit of faith by not trusting that Christ will hold them closely as the wrenching sorrow and anger surface?
Some people actually avoid loving connections and deeper relationships for fear of being hurt by giving their love to someone. But the Bible says that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). A person might believe he couldn’t possibly endure the suffering he sees others going through. However until God actually asks you to walk through the valley of the shadow yourself, you don’t possess the grace He pours out to those who do.
C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, describes how many people fear being hurt by love so profoundly that they prefer a life of loneliness. He says it is true that if you give your heart to anything in this world you will hurt, because death, disease, and moving away are disconnecting realities in this world. Therefore the only place you could go to not be hurt by love is Hell, because in Hell there is no love.
Grief work is like moving a number of scattered stones into a pile, much like the Israelites would as they built a tower or mound of stones in remembrance. Every prayer, every tear cried, every journal entry, every hug, every processed angry moment is a stone. Each stone moves us closer to acceptance and resolution. If you don’t do the emotional work, your body will cry for you. Illness and stress-related diseases appear. Tears are like a cleansing shower for the soul. They heal.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us that it is better to go to a funeral than to a party. I think this is because the deep agony of the soul causes us to recognize that we are but fleeting flowers. God’s love, and Jesus Christ, are absolute realities. The veil between this world and the next becomes more transparent at a funeral.
To openly face one’s own death is the last step in letting go of our narcissism. Todd Beamer understood this as he willingly laid down his life for others on the doomed airplane on 9-11. When you can say, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain,” your life has become so enveloped in Christ’s that there is no longer that narcissistic protection holding on. When you lead your life with open hands, all relationships are seen in light of eternity and material possessions are held loosely, ready to be given up. By facing this, true peace and freedom are found. This is why the young mother who recently died could say in her testimony that the last two years of her life were her best, and she wouldn’t want to go back to the way she used to live. She experienced love from others so abundantly. Priorities were put into place and God’s sustaining peace became tangible.
It is when we are well that we need to build community, fellowship, family and friendships in our churches. The body of Christ needs to grow strong in order to carry its members when they suffer. If all vulnerability, authenticity and emotions are avoided, the body will grow weak. People will suffer and grieve alone when tragedies hit. What better reason to promote small group fellowship, grief support and other forms of outreach to best equip the body of Christ to love and care for the hurting and grief-stricken people?God made us to need each other. I believe the Church needs to build a bridge between individuals’ needs and their relational needs. When the time comes for me to die, I want to be held and surrounded by loved ones. Don’t you hope for the same?
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