Living with Grief
Pastor Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
Last week something happened that caused a wave of grief to come over me. It wasn’t a big thing, but it felt like yet another loss in the midst of so many. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. I had to stop what I was doing and take a walk and cry, which felt very good. It was what I needed. Tears are a gift from God—a way of letting go.
Please don’t worry about me. I’m only sharing my experience because I am aware of so many losses that so many people are experiencing right now. Weddings, graduations, and other celebrations have been cancelled. We no longer have places to go, people to see, or things to do. Activities that we enjoyed as a part of our normal routine—whether it’s playing or watching sports, shopping, going to out to dinner or to the movies—are no longer options for us. Face-to-face interactions with friends, work colleagues, or people at the gym have changed. While I’m grateful for the great gift of connecting using technology, it’s not the same as spontaneous interactions before a meeting or at the water cooler.
I’m aware that teens and young adults may feel these kinds of losses even more profoundly. Youth is a time of discovery, learning, achieving, experiencing new things. Not only have they lost the routine and the daily encounters at school but so much that is a part of their stage of development. Many may undoubtedly be floundering, especially since they are waiting for school to resume remotely. High school and college seniors have lost the last few months of a year that was meant to be a culmination of their work. For those who are young and may not have experienced many losses in life, this may be an especially difficult time.
Younger children will experience loss too, even if they are better able to live in the moment. But their parents may be feeling the loss of any margin they once had now that they have the added weight and responsibility of becoming a home school parent. Many who live alone are having to cope with having even less contact and may feel even more isolated. So many people have lost their jobs and face an uncertain financial future.
News reports throughout each day every day remind us of the reason all of this is happening. COVID-19 is a dangerous virus that has led to the deaths of thousands of real people around the world. So many are grieving the death of a beloved family member or friend. Severe restrictions are being placed on us to slow the curve of this virus in order to save lives. We have to be willing to do what we can to serve the greater good to save more lives.
At the same time, we need to name what we may be feeling. Grief. Pushing our feelings down or trying to ignore them doesn’t help us process them in healthy ways. To say that others have it worse than me may be true, but it won’t help me move beyond where I am. And it won’t help you either if you are experiencing a kind of grief.
There is a kind of release that happens in naming our experience. It’s a way we let go and let God do in and through and for us what only he can do. As an introvert, I process my emotions internally, but I shared my experience with my sister and a close friend. Their ability to listen with empathy without trying to fix me was healing. Our willingness to be vulnerable with others in our grief is also a way of letting go and letting God.
My sister forwarded a wonderful article this week by Scott Berinato in the Harvard Business Review, which I highly recommend: “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief. In it, grief expert David Kessler was asked, “What can individuals do to manage all this grief?”
“Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we see a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
“Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”
Acceptance is not pretending we don’t feel what we feel. Acceptance is not resignation or giving up. Acceptance is learning to let go of the way we want things to be and letting go of what we cannot know about the future. It is a choice to live this present moment, which is really all we ever have. But the present moment is the only one in which we can actually experience the God who is with us. It is in this present moment that God hears our cries, answers our prayers, gives us hope, and provides the strength we need.
In this present moment God wants to speak his word of love, comfort, and encouragement to each one of us:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. [I have everything I need]. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4).
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18).
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’” (Matthew 5:1-4).
I think all of us are experiencing grief due to this pandemic. Others were already in a season of grief for other reasons. Grief is a part of human experience. God’s word assures us he is with us helping us. But we have a savior who has lived life in a real human body in a broken world. He experienced the pain of grief in many forms, especially in his suffering and death:
“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5, NASB).
We have a Savior who understands grief, who cares, and promises to be with us and help as we work through the stages of grief and come to a place of acceptance. And as believers, we can even move beyond the stage of acceptance to find meaning and purpose knowing “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God is able to redeem even this time to help us become more like him—more present and better able to love God and love others as he has loved us—with understanding, empathy, and compassion.
I will have more to say about grief soon.
Grace and peace,
April 8, 2020