Vale of TearsPart Five: Strategies for Resolving Grief
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
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
IF YOU WERE OBLIGED TO TRANSPORT A BOMB SOMEWHERE, you would surely do so with the utmost care. Likening grief to a minefield, Sylvia Warner warned that, “there is no knowing when one will touch the tripwire.” They truly can come at any time – including the most inconvenient. But though grief episodes themselves are unavoidable, there are strategies that will help to minimise their impact, and even to harness their apparently negative power, and it is some of these now that we shall explore.
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 from them – but equally it may serve only to reinforce their original opinion that we ought to be getting over it!
If we do not “cast our burdens on the Lord” in the way that Alison Browne suggests in her poem above, at a time when she knew herself to be terminally ill, psychologists warn us that we are likely to become angry. Judging by the number of times the psalmists direct their anger at the Lord we are wise to bear in mind that this can be a perfectly normal response when facing loss and trauma. It is not a phase to get stuck in, however – not least because it is usually those who are nearest and dearest to us who 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, of course, merely exacerbates our feelings of isolation. So although anger may be a common response to loss, it is also something that we need to “own.”
Once again we come 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 bless and commit the people concerned to the Lord, offer Him (and if possible them as well) our profound regrets and apologies that things have reached this pass, but then look Him to help us all to carry on. God blessed Paul and Barnabas after their split; can He not do as much in our case too?
The more fully we are able to do, even with regards to people who have let us down or rejected us, the less likely we are to be hampered henceforth by a sense of either regret or resentment. But if we find anger rising within us when we think of them the chances are that sin is crouching at our door, seeking to master us. At all costs we must avoid giving it house room.3
God does not lead His children up blind alleys, but if the enemy can incline our hearts towards entertaining such a notion, he may be well on the way to blunting our cutting edge. That’s how important our heart attitudes are. Certain hopes and visions may have been dashed away in the ‘train crash’ we have experienced, but God can still make a fresh of useful experiences come our way – and with them an entirely new set of memories.
We must be careful to be honest, though, about how we process what has happened. Most of us are only too adept at filtering out inconvenient truths and anything else that we find too painful to readily confront. But if we insist on looking at things only from our far from perfect perspective we may be like the Israelites when they looked back on their previous life in Egypt through rose-coloured spectacles4 – or like Puddleglum and Eeyore, who always looked on the gloomy side of things.
We need souls who are sufficiently forthright to challenge our lopsided impressions. Sadly, only too many afraid of rocking the boat, and therefore choose not to heed the Scripture that reminds us that Those who rebuke someone will in the end find more favour than those who prefer just to say something nice. The Bible actually calls that flattery, and lumps it with deception (cf Proverbs 28:23).
The more we twist the memory of events to suit how we want to remember them, the more we end up either idealising the memory of some person, place or event, or “demonising” it by remembering only the hard times, and refusing to think anything well of either it, or the people most directly involved.
In either case, the false idealisation that is involved in this makes it harder for us to make the most of the opportunities that each day offers us. That is why it is so much better to remember truthfully, “warts and all.”
Reflect and Pray
You truly do desire truth in the secret hidden places, Lord –
for it is here that You cause wisdom to develop in us.
(cf Psalm 51:6)
Help us to embrace “the sacrament of the present moment,” and seek to live each moment for You. – for the more we are able to engage with You in this way, rather than burying or demonising past events, the less anxiety we will experience concerning all our tomorrows.
To be able to embrace the present moment fully requires a delicate balance between remembering and forgetting, owning our failures and trusting the Lord not to be ultimately limited by them. As we call to mind ways and occasions the Lord has helped us in the past, may 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