Waiting in the Confusing In-Between

When we began our first period of lockdown I started a series of blog posts on the topic of how periods of grief and loss can be times of spiritual and emotional growth. I think this is appropriate again in this new lockdown period when we have been thrown back into that experience, perhaps in an even deeper way this time.

The process I am talking about is based on four stages of wrestling with grief and loss identified in the book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ by Peter Scazzero, as he describes how the biblical character Job works through his own grief. The first step he identifies is the need to ‘pay attention’ to our situation, to ourselves and our feelings, to slow down, be present to our situation and accept the opportunity to learn more. Upon losing everything Job sits down and laments his situation, opening his heart honestly to God and to his friends.

The second stage he discusses is the need to ‘Wait in the Confusing In-Between’, which is to allow that there will be a time in this process when things do not make sense and we can’t see what will come next. Job was plagued by his ‘comforter’ friends who tried to find reasons for his suffering rather than journeying through it with him. In doing so they merely heaped more pain on Job and brought judgement on themselves. In our present situation of re-entering lockdown we are certainly in a ‘confusing in-between’ when we do not know the future or how to make sense of how respond to our ongoing crisis. In that space we are tempted to find ‘reasons’ for our suffering – to identify people or groups to blame, to jump to interpretations of God’s will in this, or to explain to others what is happening to them and how they should feel.

The story of Job invites us instead to remember that we do not have all the answers, and that the complexity of the world is often beyond our grasp. Moving through grief and loss is not about finding explanations that will make sense of everything, but remaining open to God’s love and transforming presence in the midst of confusion, trusting that on the other side we will find something new. And perhaps that ‘something new’ will be the more healthy and loving people that God intends us to become.

The Journey of Grief and Loss: Paying Attention

By Andrew Bowles

In my years as a minister I have seen a lot of grief. It seems to me that grief is about how we feel when we lose something that we value. Like the loss that people feel at the time of someone’s death. Like grief at a broken relationship and the lost joy and time it represents, or over a family member that has moved away. The loss of a job. The grief of sickness and loss of health. The grief of disappointment in God and in other people who have not lived up to our expectations, and the loss of hope that comes with this. All of us grieve something at some point because we all have seasons of loss.

However, this past few weeks has been a time of grief that has been almost universal in our community, not just touching some people but touching us all. We have gone through a sudden and dramatic experience of loss that has touched every household. Without much warning we have lost our freedom to move, our confidence in our future health, our regular routines and our sense of stability and normalcy. Many people have lost their jobs already, or are seeing that coming. We are losing the economic prosperity and growth we have come to expect. We are losing our daily connections with our friends and family and people we work with (except perhaps through a screen).

I want to write for the next couple of weeks about loss and grief and some ways that we can experience that as Christians. I will share some responses to these experiences that take into account the reality of grief and the way we might face its challenges and opportunities. These points are drawn from the book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ by Peter Scazzero (www.emotionallyhealthy.org). He gives us four encouragements to people of faith in a time of grief and loss, and how this time can be an opportunity to ‘enlarge our souls’ in relationship with God, ourselves and others. I will share the first one today and the others in upcoming posts.

  1. Pay Attention

The first thing we might do when we experience grief is to ‘pay attention’, which basically means to acknowledge our feelings and the reality of the situation as truthfully as we can. Many of us find we want to ignore grief and loss because of the pain that it brings. Maybe for a season that can work, while we get through a short-term crisis or the shock of a sudden loss. But over time this can get us ‘stuck’, and make it difficult to ever move through these situations and find what might be possible on the other side. So paying attention acknowledges that things are genuinely difficult and that feeling bad in that is okay and normal. The Bible is filled with people who spent lots of time ‘lamenting’, or bringing their sadness and grief to God, even in very raw and honest ways. God appears to welcome people’s anger, sadness and questions in the midst of grief. Grieving is a normal part of the spiritual life and is a healthy process to go through.

In paying attention, in slowing down, we become aware of what is going on in ourselves, and what the situation is really like for us, and acknowledge that truth. This begins the process that can lead to personal and spiritual growth in this kind of time, because all spiritual growth is based on truth.

So today I would encourage us to take a moment to stop and pay attention and be aware of what we might be feeling, and know that it is okay to share those feelings with God in prayer in whatever way is appropriate for you.

Talking to other people can help too of course, who will acknowledge the reality and normality of what we are feeling. To find information about a variety of phone counselling services that are helpful for different groups of  people and situations you can go to https://www.mymentalhealth.org.au/page/services/self-care-and-informal-support/helplines-and-online-support/.