Last week I encouraged everyone to pray for those who are grieving. Grieving is a common journey we all share. The stages of grief tend to be the same for many people, but how long those stages last and how well we come out on the other side vary greatly. Also, I have found in my years of ministry people grieve over many types of loss and change in their lives. I wanted to share a few observations of the things I have experienced people grieving over and add some considerations to help in this journey.
1. People grieve the loss of a loved one.
This type of grief is the most obvious and is one we will all experience in our life at some point. God has given us people in our lives with whom we get to share life. The times we spend with the people we love is precious and the memories we build are treasures.
To say goodbye to a loved one is never easy. Waking up in the morning and no longer being able to enjoy talking, walking, having a cup of coffee or just sitting together is at times unbearable. Knowing the phone call you made at the same time daily or weekly will no longer happen, often comes with great sadness. Losing a loved one is tough and the grieving process is a journey that can literally take years. We have to remember that Jesus went through this grief as well. Jesus is only recorded as crying twice in the Bible, once over the condition of the people in Jerusalem and once when his friend Lazarus died.
2. People grieve the loss of a relationship.
We might not realize this as grief, but I would argue losing a relationship can cause us to experience much grief. God made us to be relational people. God himself is relational. So when we invest into a relationship whether it is romantic, familial, friendship or professional we are investing a big part of our lives. If that relationship ends, it can big a big deal.
Relationships in many ways shape much of our personal identity. Our family and close friends help define our personalities, our worldview, our values and so much more. Intimate relationships often define certain periods in our life and our memories are forever shaped by them. When those relationships end, we cannot simply erase them from our memories. If those relationships end badly, we often carry the scars with us for a long time.
3. People grieve the loss of their health.
My wife often reminds me as I am now approaching 50 (2.5 years to go), that I did not handle approaching 40 well. Places on your body start to ache, your recovery time is longer and you just can’t do everything you used to do. But for many people the physical toll on their bodies creates a real grieving period because of the adjustments they are forced to make. People who are extremely active in the life of the church are no longer able to do all they enjoy doing and it is tough. When you begin to have mobility issues, attending events or gatherings becomes too hard and it creates a void that can lead to grief.
It breaks my heart as a pastor to see those who are so willing to do whatever it takes to serve the Lord, but have now entered a time where their ministry is physically limited. Often those of us who are not there yet do not understand this grief but it is as real as the others listed above.
4. People grieve the loss of the past.
This is a tough one for many in the church as well as outside the church. Change is inevitable. Most people do not like change or at least parts of change. When life as you know it changes, we often grieve like we do with the loss of the other things listed above. The slight difference in this is that while we grieve we also have a congruent tension with the things we like about change, but often grief trumps embrace.
The tension between the past and what the present brings is real. We don’t like growth in our small towns, but we like the conveniences that come with that growth. We don’t like technology, but we like being able to talk with our grandchildren or keep up with them on Facebook. We don’t like changes in our church, but we like when we reach new people. Things have always changed an they always will and every time things change we will most likely grieve the loss it brings.
5. People grieve the loss of control.
This loss is many ways is a thread through all of the previous four. Part of our sinful nature is our desire to be in control. Most people have a trust of themselves and their own decision making. We are comfortable that given the right information we will make the right decision. Over time we are often allowed to be in control. We are given the ability to make decisions over our lives, at work, at church and in our families. The difficulty comes when our control is either given or taken away. We grieve this loss.
Loss of control can be extremely hard to deal with over time. When our bodies and minds become frail, we might have to give our medical decisions over to our spouse or children. When we are involved in a transition at work or we retire, we no longer are the ones making final decisions. When new leaders emerge at church, people begin to look to their counsel and wisdom and not as much to ours. When our children have their own families, they become less dependent on us. All of these loss of control situations can lead to grief.
Grief is never easy. I would however offer that grief can be healthy. We need to understand grief doesn’t have to be a never ending journey but a journey to health. Life is a journey of change. The good news is that one thing never changes and that is the love of God for each of us. We must remember, life on this earth is but a small piece of the eternal life God has available to us all.