Vale of TearsPart Five: Strategies for Resolving Grief
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
IF YOU WERE OBLIGED TO CARRY A BOMB, you would surely do so with the utmost care. Likening grief to a minefield, Sylvia Warner cautioned that “there is no knowing when one will touch the tripwire.” Grief episodes themselves are unavoidable, but we shall explore precious and important strategies here that will help to minimise their impact, and even harness their apparently negative power.
You do not have to cope with everything –
only with this moment.
This moment is all the reality there is.
If everything seems to come on top of you at once –
give it to God.
Tell Him you can’t cope on your own
so you are giving Him the whole mess to sort out.
Then forget the future and your worries.
They are no longer your worries.
Alison Browne (aged 19)1
There is nothing easy about grief! How right Shakespeare was when he declared, “Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”2 In a dozen different ways, some people reveal their impatience that we ought to be recovering more quickly – which leaves us having to cope with yet one more layer of grief. If we make the effort to explain to these people how we are really feeling, it may lead to the depth of understanding we were hoping for, but equally it may serve only to reinforce their original opinion that we ought to be getting over it.
Unless we “cast our burdens on the Lord” in the way that Alison Browne suggests in the poem above, we are likely to become angry. Psychologists tell us that this is a normal response to loss and trauma. Judging by the number of times the psalmists direct their anger at the Lord we might certainly conclude this to be the case. It is not a phase to get stuck in, however, not least because it is usually those who are closest to us who have to bear the brunt of our outbursts.
Unless these people are exceptionally patient and understanding, (and how grateful we can be for those who are) our unhappiness is likely to reinforce their instinct to withdraw from us – which merely exacerbates our feelings of isolation. In other words, although anger may be a common response to loss, it is also something that we need to “own.”
Once again we are coming face to face with the inescapable fact that the grief process involves considerable work, with no automatic guarantee of success. Some severed relationships may never be fully restored – in which case we must offer our profound regrets to the Lord, bless and pray for the people concerned, and trust Him to help us all rebuild our lives.
“In-between times”, when nothing appears to be replacing the loss we have experienced have a way of exposing our lack of trust. We think of people who have let us down, and resentment sets in, like rain on a gloomy winter’s evening. Or we look at those who appear to be doing far less than they could to alleviate our plight, and anger knocks on our door. Sin is crouching at our door, seeking to master us. Will we give in to it – or will we successfully resist it?3
God does not lead His children up blind alleys, but if the enemy can even begin to incline us towards entertaining such a notion, he is well on the way to blunting our cutting edge. Why settle for mediocrity and unbelief?
No matter how much we have lost, we are still richly blessed. We still have precious memories to sustain us, along with the certainty that the Lord will be with us as we set out to make new ones.
Even so, we must be careful how we process what is going on. Our minds are only too adept at adjusting inconvenient truths, and filtering out anything it finds too painful to confront.
If we insist on presenting matters from our perspective, while others would see things in a very different light, we may be like the Israelites looking back to their life as slaves in Egypt through rose-coloured spectacles4 – or like Puddleglum, who viewed everything through a negative rated lens.
Forthright souls may challenge our lopsided impressions, but most prefer not to rock the boat, choosing for the time being to suspend the Scripture, He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue (Proverbs 28:23).
Inauthentic remembering cannot but distort reality, either by idealising the memory of some person, place or event, or by “demonising” it: that is, remembering only the hard times, and brushing all better memories aside.
Idealisation – whether good or bad – makes it more difficult for us to make the most of the opportunities that this day offers. That is why we do better to remember truthfully, “warts and all.”
Reflect and Pray
“Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”
Psalm 51:6 NKJV
What will help us is to embrace “the sacrament of the present moment” as contemplatives call it. The more fully we seek to live each moment for the Lord, engaging Him in love and worship as well as petition, the less anxiety we will experience concerning all our tomorrows.
To embrace the present moment requires a delicate balance between remembering and trusting. As we call to mind ways and occasions when the Lord has helped us in the past, let these memories become a springboard for faith, from which to face our present challenges.
1 Allie’s Song, Alison Browne. Copyright Tony and Brid Browne 1999 Herne Bay Kent. A collection of poems and writings by Allie, who died at the age of 21 of cystic fibrosis.
2 Shakespeare, W. Much Ado About Nothing.
3 Genesis 4:6-7
4 Numbers 11:4-6