Vale of TearsResisting Grief going underground
Resisting Grief going underground
Let flimsy storm-tossed saplings become sturdy oaks!
Even though we cannot expect the recovery process to proceed at an even pace, there is no reason why the Lord cannot achieve a more or less complete work of healing in us. The crucial thing is to attend to any issues that look like becoming “sticking points” – for griefs that we avoid are sure to catch up with us. As this far from untypical story shows, they may even turn “pathological”
A friend who lost her husband many years ago when her children were young never got over the loss. She constantly talked about him as though he were still there, or just away on a holiday. In every sense, she put her life on hold. Many years later, this woman had a conflict in her workplace, and was unable to cope and had a complete breakdown. It took several weeks of counselling before she was able to address the grief and lay her husband’s memory to rest.
In Great Expectations, Dickens paints what must surely be the supreme example of someone who refuses to embrace the reality of her loss. From the moment she is spurned in marriage, Miss Havisham allows every part of her life to go into cold storage. The clock hands remained pointing to the minute the wedding was cancelled, symbolising the unhealed grief that locks her into the past. The only emotion she now permits herself is a consuming desire to use her beautiful ward, Estella, as an instrument for exacting revenge on the male species.
If we can risk a broad generalisation, “dry-eyed people” like Miss Havisham are more likely to suffer acute reactions than those who are willing to face their griefs as and when they come their way. Those who are unwilling to do so are highly likely to experience some sort of a “rerun” of these grief events – and quite possibly in a more serious form. As Jennifer Rees Larcombe warns:
Some people seem to make their tragedy a way of life; it gains the attention, love and help of other people. If their problems were solved they would lose all that. Others stay miserable because they want the person who caused it all to feel sorry. This casts us in the role of victim or martyr – and if we do that too often we risk becoming permanently typecast.5
If we are tempted to indulge in what Jennifer calls the POM’s and the POD’s (the “Poor Old Me’s” and the “Put Others Down” syndome), bear in mind the self-hatred that so often rides in on the back of rejection. If we learnt as children that people come running to meet our needs every time we fall over, we are quite capable of continuing this pattern in later life, albeit in rather more sophisticated ways, subtly exploiting our whims and moods to control our environment.
Overcoming loneliness and finding peace of mind means winning many a battle against self pity. If we spot ourselves resorting to “silent treatment,” or some other form of emotional manipulation, be doubly careful: such things have no place in the Kingdom of God.
It is especially hard for people to face their grief when they feel obliged to disguise it for much of their life. Ministers, for example, are often concerned to give the appearance of coping at all times, not only for the sake of those they minister to, but also, perhaps, to “prove” that their faith is working.
I am thinking here particularly of the grief that people carry when they are involved in a secret or illicit relationship. Such people’s need for pastoral care is often still greater than for those afflicted by the pangs of more “socially acceptable” grief – but it takes more courage for would-be helpers to offer their friendship and support.
The more ambivalent a person’s position, the more likely it is that their grief will dip underground. This in turn makes them inclined to go a long way out of their way to avoid meeting certain people. No wonder James says, Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16): the Lord wants to spare His people the strain of living a double life! As our friends Paul and Gretel Haglin urge: “Have the courage to go in and rescue those whom Satan has taken captive.”
Reflect and Pray
Have you noticed yourself holding back from mentioning certain people or episodes? Are you merely being wise – or actually suppressing grief? The risk is that you will build such sturdy walls to protect yourself (and your reputation) that you end up keeping other people – and even the Lord Himself – at a “safe” distance.
Lord, when You and I are both ready,
bring my griefs to the surface,
so that I can face them properly –
for when I start pulling others down,
I risk turning my back
on all the good things You are doing in their lives.
When I seek sympathy inappropriately,
I risk choking everyone’s joy.
Where shame is gnawing at my soul
let Your love light burn it away,
for there is no shame in loving You;
only the joy of finding Your arms open wide.