There is something about the holiday season that amplifies our feelings. When we are having a good year, we see God’s joy and blessing around every corner.
But then there are the years of loss. This season, there will be people in your church who are grieving deeply. In fact, that person might be you.
Grief has many causes; from the loss of a loved one to the loss of a job. The holiday season seems to also bring out the loss of dreams, and desperation of what might never be.
In this article, I won’t be able to help you make people feel better. Grief is a deep valley that must be traversed at different times of life. However, you should find some new tools here that will help you love the people you walk with in tangible ways and give you the insight to share God’s perspective.
Family Grief—Everyone grieves in different ways. There are five stages of grief, but they are non-linear, and people pop in and out of them. During the holiday season, families could wonder why John is so angry, and Sue is withdrawn—yet the whole family feels the heaviness of loss.
Here is an illustration that might help: Remember shadow puppets? When you look at the shadow on the wall, you see a bird, or a duck. However, when you look closely, you find that the source of the shadow is a hand.
Similarly, people who are grieving might display very different behavior. We are tempted to believe (especially when we are grieving ourselves) that this person has changed. In reality, we are seeing a shadow. Grief has scrunched them up, and they are displaying a withdrawn, angry, depressed or manic person. Focus on the person you know and show love.
Experience Grief—Imagine a river flowing into a deep canyon. Wouldn’t it be fun to raft one of those rivers that laze along the bottom of some of the world’s deepest canyons? As you float into the shadows of the canyon, what is your natural response? Without fail, we look up. We look toward the light at the top of the steep walls.
However, if you take the time on your journey, and look around you, you will discover that there are flowers and wildlife that are unique to the deep canyons. If you spend your whole time looking at the rim, you will miss the beauty of the ride.
Grief is a dark valley. We are tempted to keep our eyes on the rim, remembering times when things weren’t so tough. As a pastor, you have the privilege of helping people experience true joy in the valley of grief. God walks with us into the valley, and He has new things to teach us along the way. As a guide of sorts, you can help people really take the time to experience God’s provision and joy as they walk through times of grief.
Take care of yourself. Sometimes the person in grief is you. What does the healer do when he himself is wounded?
- Admit the pain. When you get on an airplane with a child, the flight attendant will tell you that in case of emergency put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on the child. The reason is simple—when you take care of yourself, you will continue to have energy to take care of others.
- Set boundaries. When you experience deep loss, you might feel pulled in many directions. Whether the loss is in your church or your home, people tend to lean on you because you are the professional. Take the time to establish your boundaries of availability. When you do, people will discover how to lean on each other, and talk through their grief together.
- Talk to God. When under stress, people tend toward fight or flight. People who tend toward fight get angry and try to change things. People who tend toward flight will withdraw and shut down. When Elijah was at the Mountain of God, God asked him a question—“What are you doing here?” This was an important question because it allowed Elijah to open up and pour his frustration to God. Take time to get alone with God, hear Him asking you “What are you doing here?” answer Him honestly. God isn’t surprised by what you are going through, or what you are feeling. He has a different perspective, and is ready and willing to help.
- Talk to others. When we are busy helping, we tend to shut off our own processors. Realize that you are in a boat, floating through the valley. You need someone to be your guide as well. Find someone who will sit with you and let you process the experience.
- Establish a routine. Where there is grief, there is often crisis. After the initial upset (and often a few days of our undivided attention), our natural tendency is to continue to focus on the crisis until we can make it go away. Yet, we have a life and responsibilities that need our attention. Establish lists of what must be dealt with, and don’t expect to get it all done right away. Allow yourself the freedom of continuing with life, and dealing with the crisis details one at a time.
The valleys of life are inevitable, but they are also what will make you a powerful, insightful, joyful person of God. David was one who felt the depths of life fully, and because of it, we rely on his (and others) Psalms to help us in times of stress.
When you are in the middle of grief, you are running on emotion. You don’t live in the
land of the tangible. Know this: God is not surprised, and He won’t leave you. He will guide you. You can rest in the comfort that He will protect you and help you. The most important thing is to remember to ask Him for guidance and help and not try to do it alone.
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach, and can be found online at www.deepimprints.com.
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