A basic dictionary definition of faith includes: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes spirituality as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul, as opposed to material or physical things.” When spirituality is linked to faith, the implication of faith is that it is belief without evidence of proof.
So, what might happen to our faith and our spiritual foundation when we suffer the loss of someone we love?
Some end up on one end or the other of the continuum – either feeling closer to God and finding strength from their faith, OR feeling somewhat distant and abandoned by God, wondering if there is anything about their faith that can sustain them. Some pray more fervently, while others doubt that their prayers get any higher than the ceiling. Some find great support from fellow members of their faith group, while others withdraw and feel neglected or isolated in their grief.
Those are descriptions of the two ends of the spectrum, but it’s also possible to be anywhere in between – and to feel that our “location” changes from day to day… even hour to hour.
If your grief tends to pull you toward the negative side of things, give yourself permission to “wait it out” for awhile. In the depths of painful grief, you don’t have to force yourself to pray, attend spiritual meetings, or put on a “mask” to make people think you’re doing just fine. If needed, it’s OK to take a break from the expectations of the religious people around you while you find your footing again. Like the Old Testament character of Job, admit that you don’t understand, that you don’t have all the answers, and even give yourself permission to question God until you gain some strength and experience some healing. God can handle it.
There will likely be some very spiritual people around you who may say, or imply, that “a person of faith should not grieve – you must allow their faith to keep you strong.” Personally, I don’t think you have to “buy” that. From my Christian ministry background, I would point out that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus himself was troubled (grieved) in the Garden of Gethsemane, telling his closest followers, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Some people get tripped up in the verse from 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where the Apostle Paul wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” That teaching does not say that people of faith should not grieve… but that they should not grieve like those without hope.
Years ago, I was involved in supporting a family whose 5 year old son was tragically killed in an accident. The mother and other siblings grieved openly – but the dad’s expressed behavior was, “I am a Christian and I am supposed to remain strong because of my faith.” A distance and disconnect developed between that man and his family… until he traveled to a foreign country without them. Upon his return, he admitted, through his tears, that when strangers asked him about his family back home, he was prompted to describe all of them, including the son who had died. That admission broke open his heart and allowed the grief to spill out, making him realize that yes, a person of faith can and should express their grief – even though they have hope!
Hope is a key element in our lives, isn’t it? Hope allows us to push through the fog of grief with the expectation that our faith, our spiritual foundation, underlies our journey. Hope allows us to realize that our emotions will eventually catch up to our reality, but often not without a struggle or the dark days which may accompany us on our grief journey.
In spite of our faith and spiritual foundation, friends and family members need to know that what we need during the most difficult times of our mourning is their presence. We don’t need their clichés or platitudes. We likely won’t even be ready for their passages of Scripture or wise sayings from their resources of faith. Our ability to hear, comprehend and apply those things will come later… but the pain of our broken heart initially needs people who will hug us, then hush while they sit with us.
Someday (and no one can put a timeline on that day), we will likely realize that our faith and spirituality have strengthened and comforted us along the way. And, because of that comfort, we may find ourselves ready (someday, remember) to share a bit of comfort with another who is dealing with grief that is fresher than ours.
I see that as a “chain reaction” of comfort. In the New Testament section of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, God is described as the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (NIV), who (according to The Message translation) “comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
Throughout your journey on the road of grief and mourning, remember that The Hope & Healing Place (806-371-8998) is available to you, to provide additional support through groups or to point you to other helpful resources available in our community.
Hang on to your hope!
By Danny Mize, Advisory Council member for The Hope & Healing Place
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