You may not think you have much to grieve right now. I didn’t.
I haven’t lost my income. I haven’t lost my health. I haven’t lost a loved one to COVID. In some ways I’ve been energized by the crisis. I find the process of learning to do my job in a radically new way fascinating. I recognize the extra time I have now with my wife and kids is something to be cherished that I will never again receive in this measure. Sure, I’ve got a little extra stress due to uncertainty about the future and parenting 24/7 while also working from home. Maybe focusing a little on self-care now and again could be helpful for me. But do I need to grieve? Me. Good grief, no.
At least that is how I thought until last week. First, I saw a webinar by Dr. Henry Cloud, which you can find here, in which he outlined the universal human response to the stress of a crisis and how it affects us all. He stressed that none of us are immune to the added stress and strain of this crisis and that without acknowledging it and taking steps to grieve the freedoms and hopes we have lost we will be at high risk for problems with our tempers, overly emotional decision making, isolation, and depression. Good information I filed away so I could use it help others.
Shortly thereafter I had a video chat with some trusted friends. One of them asked innocently enough how I was doing and all of a sudden I found myself spewing out hurt and anger I did not even realize I had. Listening to the words come out of my mouth was almost an out of body experience in which I kept waiting to see just how much of this vile stuff was stored up inside me and when it would quit gushing out. Apparently, I’m not special. I too need to grieve.
If we are going to be faithful spouses, parents, friends, and ministers in these days, we are all going to need to grieve and help others do so. Unless we grieve our losses, we won’t be able to make good decisions during the new reality of sheltering in place nor will we be able to make important preparations for how we will live in the new normal which will eventually arrive.
How do you grieve?
Here’s the simple answer:
Step 1 : Acknowledge the loss. Think about the things you regret missing out on and the people you miss being with.
Step 2 : Lift up your losses to God and entrust God with them.
Step 3: Ask God to show you the tasks God has for you to accomplish in the new reality and thank God for the blessings you experience in the new reality.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 as many times as it takes.
Here’s the more in-depth answer: watch Dr. Cloud’s webinar.
Here’s the most in-depth answer: Schedule several sessions with a trusted counselor to work through your grief. (BTW, if you’re looking to connect with a good counselor, you can find one through the Concord United Counseling Center who is able to offer video counseling sessions for those who might be from out of town as well as in-person sessions for those nearby.)
Figure out which of these options is right for you and get started somewhere. Until we have grieved the past, we will not be able to fully embrace the blessings of the future God has in store for us.
This is especially true for those of us in full-time church ministry. If we don’t grieve and learn how to help the other leaders in our churches grieve, we will do a disservice not only to ourselves, but also to our churches as we allow our sorrow and resentment to prevent us from directing our energy and talents towards the challenges of ministry in a new age.
In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about the problem of “fish blamers” in the church. Fish blamers are like fishermen who blame the fish for not biting rather than switching to a different lure. In the church world, they are those people who are stuck in the past because they have not grieved what they lost when the world changed. They typically have something cynical to say about anything new and effective. Most of them, honestly, were already fish blamers long before the current crisis, but COVID-19 has unfortunately added to their numbers.
When we get into conversations with fish blamers, we should intentionally steer the conversation away from ministry strategy – they won’t have much to offer and they won’t have anything helpful to say about our new ideas. Instead, we should talk to them about grief. Ask them what they have lost and then ask them what’s most important to them in the new reality. Tell them how you’ve worked through your own grief and invite them to do the same.
You may also want to ask yourself if it is possible that you have become a fish blamer. Or if you occasionally exhibit troubling fish blamer tendencies from time to time. Truth is, most of us do. If you see these tendencies in yourself, don’t experience it as condemnation – that will only take you farther down an already dark road. Acknowledge the presence of these tendencies as God’s invitation to begin a journey through grief, a journey which may begin in darkness, but ends in the glorious light of a life newly alive to God’s presence in the new normal.