Vale of TearsPart Eight: If Grief takes convoluted paths
THUS FAR WE HAVE CONSIDERED STRATEGIES that will help us progress through the grief tunnel. It sometimes happens, however, that nothing seems to be making any difference. We feel as stuck in our grief as ever – rather like Winnie the Pooh finding himself unable to squeeze through the door of Rabbit’s warren. But how can we tell if the grief process really has become “stuck,” or whether we are just making slower progress than we expected to?
Like warning lights on a car dashboard, the continued raging of unrelieved symptoms is perhaps the clearest pointer. In this section we shall explore some of the more serious paths that unresolved grief can take. Don’t be afraid of the white-knuckle ride: it is much better to face these things and then find release from them!
Anxiety is the natural result when our thoughts are centred on anything short of God.
Jesus often used the phrase do not worry because He knew how easy it would be for us to allow waves of anxiety to wash over us when serious losses come our way. We saw earlier how important it is to pray ourselves free from the dead-weight of trauma in the aftermath of every major grief episode. We have also hinted, however, that as surely as ju-jitsu fighters use the force of their opponent’s charge to throw them off balance, we must find ways to harness these strong emotions.
Often, it is the pressure that jolts us into seeking the Lord more earnestly. If we feel reluctant to embrace so decisive a break, it is worth reflecting that nothing may change until certain issues are faced head-on. Think how unwise it would be not to go to the dentist if toothache is raging!1
Reflect and Pray
Though I am surrounded by troubles,
You will protect me from my enemies . . .
The Lord will work out His plan for my life,
For Your faithful love, O Lord, endures for ever.
For those who feel caught between a past they are unable to escape, and a future they are unable to face, there can be great power in affirming the truths the Psalmist is declaring here. Let the Spirit minister to specific areas you are struggling with.
Father, I give You the tensions that tussle in my soul,
and the fears that are knocking at my door.
Let anxiety not turn my heart to stone,
but rather let me catch these fears,
and turn them into prayer.
In the name of the One who puts fear to flight,
1 We have seen that “normal” grief embraces a host of unpleasant symptoms. The question of when grief becomes “abnormal” is by no means straightforward. In extreme cases, when people are exhibiting extreme self-absorption, aggression, and a potentially dangerous disconnection from reality that inclines them to refuse all offers of help, there may come a point at which civil consciousness obliges us to inform appropriate people – pastors, police, doctors, social workers and so on, of their condition. We may have to wrestle with a variety of issues here, associated not only with personal loyalty but also the potential consequences, especially if we know and love the person deeply. Integrity and wisdom, however, may occasionally require us to be an instrument of referral.