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/.

 

Next week we start the school holidays. Many people in our church also take the time in winter to head away on holidays to warmer places. Some of us wish we could join them! In our sermon series at St. Mark’s on ‘Finding Our Pattern of Life’ we are going through the topic this week of how we care for our ‘souls’. Our soul is another word for our ‘life’ – the thoughts and feelings we have, the things that we do, our energy, our personality, our passions. These things are our soul. Part of caring for them is understanding what gives life and what takes it away. Rest and holidays are something that give life and remind us that we are more than just working machines. Jesus promised that those who followed him would find ‘rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:29). So, enjoy your holidays, and let’s help each other bring the cares of our souls to Christ, for His rest. -Andrew-

Across my life I have learnt to play a number of musical instruments. When you first pick up a new instrument, it feels very odd and you make terrible noises. But, with practice, it can come over time to feel like an extension of your body, and you know just what to do to make the sound and music that you want. As Christians, one of our challenges is to see our physical bodies as an ‘instrument’ of God, an instrument that as Psalm 139 says is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and capable of producing the beautiful and powerful ‘music’ that God wants to make in the world. This week at St. Mark’s we are thinking about how the way we care for our bodies is part of our discipleship as followers of Jesus. This opens up many fruitful and interesting topics to consider as we grow in our knowledge of God – thinks like what we eat, how we sleep and how we exercise our bodies, and do all these things in a way that leads to Jesus – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, ‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’. -Andrew –

This Sunday marks the anniversary of my first year as Senior Minister of St. Mark’s. I want to acknowledge the great welcome and support that my family and I have had from our church in this time. It’s been a period of great learning for me, of dealing with various big and small issues and getting to know the members of our church and the wider Emerald community. I’m looking forward to another year and hopefully many more to come.

This year has been a time of listening and waiting with God to discern where he might be calling us to go in the next period of the life of St. Mark’s. Many of our members have been involved in times of prayer, discussion and reflection on this question, and I am encouraged by the sense of unity and purpose that we have had. In the next couple of months we will be finalising the plan of our new Vision that describes what we hope to do together at St. Mark’s in the next ten years. The plan is that we will launch this Vision to our congregations in a special service of celebration on Sunday August 26th, just before the start of Spring. This will be a time to reflect on what God is calling each of us at St. Mark’s to be and to do, as members of our church and in our own lives with Christ. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you then, and please pray for clarity and wisdom as we approach that time. Thanks. -Andrew-

This week at St. Mark’s we are starting our new series of talks on the topic of ‘Finding our Pattern of Life’. We’re going to be looking at how Christians might develop a plan for how their whole life can be centred on God. One of the biggest problems that our churches experience at the moment is the way in which the normal lifestyle in Australia has no place in it for the kinds of activities and priorities that lead to our spiritual growth. The church used to be very much at the centre of the community, but not any more. Rather than being discouraged by that, it is an opportunity for us to do what many Christians have done over the centuries in similar situations, which is to live more ‘intentionally’ as a follower of Jesus and to encourage each other to do the same.

This week we start with the fundamental question of what we are seeking when we come to God for purpose in our lives. The story of Elijah in 1 Kings shows us the point at which this prophet, tired and discouraged, came to the desert to seek God’s words for him.

God spoke to him ‘out of the silence’

and gave him a new mission and a new hope. We will think about the role and practice of prayer in our own faith and how to put this foundational building block in place in our plan of discipleship.

-Andrew-