Summary: Part 5 in series Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, this message looks at how the acknowledgement of grief and loss is ultimately part of spiritual and emotional health. Dave also warns that those who decide to begin living authentically will often be res
Enlarge Your Soul Through Grief and Loss
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, prt. 5
Wildwind Community Church
November 7, 2010
1 John 3:18-20 (MSG)
18 My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love.
19 This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality.
20 It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
Most of you are aware that my graduate training is in counseling and that counseling is an aspect of my life and ministry that I value very highly. Like other pastors trained in counseling, I am convinced that many opportunities for me to make the greatest impact in the lives of people is by helping to set them free by providing counseling at critical places in their lives. One of the things that counselors end up doing fairly often is helping people through the suffering that is caused by grief and loss. Last week I shared with you about the first big loss I experienced in my life, when my friend Cindy died in a car accident. I was 22 at the time and dirt-poor, but a friend of mine with some resources saw that I was struggling and told me that if I’d be willing to go see a counselor, he’d pay for it. I was, and he did. Now counselors know that it is critical to grieve our losses properly. Did you know there’s a specific diagnosis that describes the unique situation that is faced by someone who has failed to grieve a loss properly? This diagnosis is called “complicated bereavement.” Complicated bereavement. This diagnosis is given to a person who comes in to counseling and has had a significant loss in their life that occurred more than three months ago, which they have not yet begun to grieve properly. And you think “Properly? Who’s to say what kind of grieving is proper?” The answer is that mental health professionals do! See, we know that if you experience a significant loss in your life and if you do not face it and begin grieving it “properly” as soon as possible after the loss, things get more complicated. Stuffing your emotions, denial, refusal to talk about it, pretending it’s okay, allowing yourself to express your grief only as anger, trying to “get back in the swing of things” too quickly, trying to be tough – all of this is junk we often do that complicates the grieving process. We define “proper” grieving as engaging in the kinds of things that we have learned, through experience, help people to get through a loss as easily as possible -- not that it’s ever easy. One way that we can tell whether a person has successfully gotten through a loss is by the absence of symptoms of post-traumatic stress. If you experienced a loss in your life, and years later you are still having frequent dreams about it, if you still wake up in a sweat, if you still can’t talk about it without crying or getting angry, if you find yourself frequently reliving that event, if you refuse to discuss it at all, you are most likely suffering post-traumatic stress as a result of having not properly grieved that loss. Grieving our losses properly at the time of the loss helps some of these “complicating” issues from showing up. As you suppress your loss, you continue to pile layer upon layer upon layer of falseness on top of it. If you have not grieved a loss, you are living in some falsehoods. It is false that it doesn’t bother you. It is false that you’re past it. It is false that it’s in the past (because it’s still controlling you now – the only losses that are ever in the past are the ones we have truly grieved). It is false that God delivered you from the pain. It is false that it doesn’t really need your attention because you and whoever you lost weren’t that close to begin with. It is false that you’re tough enough to get through it okay. It’s false that you’re okay now.
That is all garbage. It is all ways in which we deceive ourselves so that we don’t have to feel the pain of our losses in life. And yet the reality is that the default response to pain is to attempt to run away from it. My friends, if you want to make a difference in this world, if you want to set yourself apart from most other people, determine before you walk out of this room today that you will spend your life resisting the urge to run away from pain. Do that one thing alone and your life will take on a depth and an authenticity that other people will see, but they won’t be able to put their finger on what it is. My friends, you make me a list of the cruelest people the world has ever known, and every one of them was a person who refused to face their pain. Make me a list of the great moral and spiritual giants the world has ever known, and you can bet that every one of them made a decision at some point in life that they were not going to run from their pain. A choice to grow as a person, a choice to move toward peace and love and joy, is always a choice to feel the pain of life instead of run from it. And no, I’m not saying that a choice to spend life running from pain will turn you into Hitler. That is an evasion technique. Do you see that? I say, “It’s important not to run from your pain,” and someone says, “What are you saying, if I don’t face my pain I’ll turn into Hitler?” Just a way of avoiding the issue. I’m saying we can look to a guy like Hitler to see where the choice to avoid pain, followed to its ultimate destination, can lead. And we can look to a guy like Jesus to see where the choice to live with and confront your pain can lead. Not all people who choose to run from pain will turn into Hitler. But that’s the least of our concerns. My concern is not the extremely remote chance that refusing to face your pain could result in your becoming like Hitler. My concern today is the absolute certainty that refusing to face your pain will result in your not becoming like Jesus. Let me say that again...