Dealing with crisis and grief
Are you having a hard time, and don’t know where to turn? Can’t seem to move past it?
Each of us has faced, or will face, a personal crisis in some form during the course of our lives. For some of us, it occurs when young, with the loss of a parent or other childhood trauma. For others, crisis comes in adult life. The precipitating event can be compared to the wake of a large ship that passes a little boat. The peaceful waters that were taken for granted now churn with trouble, threatening to overturn our lives.
The journey of grief
by Rev. Clark Echols
Grief is a person’s spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical reaction to loss, which can begin before the loss actually occurs and persists until the grief reaction is no longer noticed. People in the helping professions know that a person’s experience of grief is short or long, mild or disruptive, mental or physical, depending on both obvious and subtle influences. You have experienced grief. Perhaps a favorite piece of clothing wore out, you moved away from friends, or a parent died. Perhaps you experienced panic, or depression, or despair, or sadness, or nostalgia, or anger, or something else. Maybe you experienced foggy thinking, an absence of emotions, uncontrolled emotions, a loss of appetite, joint pain, or any number of other sensations.
Your experience of grief will be unique, even though it may include states others experience. That you experience your own grief is wonderful, actually, because the Lord is accommodating His divine love and wisdom to you in a way specific to your spiritual and physical needs. This is the first observation from New Church ideas that can help you. The Lord actively leads you through a process which is governed by His rules of love. This will progress to completion, and He will return you to a balanced state in which you can again experience joy.
As the New Church teaches, love creates and maintains a spiritual connection; the tighter the connection, the more the loss affects us and impacts our spiritual and natural worlds.
Perhaps you have experienced a sudden loss: a pet died accidentally, or you were fired without warning. The experience shocks you, spiritually and physically, disrupting thought and even movement. These effects of the shock of the loss are so significant that researchers found they can be measured in the brain. Perhaps the Lord wants you to stop everything for a moment rather than do something damaging to your process of recovery. Typically, a grieving person either does almost nothing for some time, or merely “goes through the motions” on emotional autopilot. During this static stage, your identity is protected, allowing you to continue through the process without requiring permanent changes to your personality in order to cope. The Lord preserves your eternal welfare, even though you have lost something integral to your spiritual life.
Grieving includes using coping mechanisms to deal with your loss. Not everyone cries, but everyone needs the sphere of love around them. Like many, you may turn inward, reflecting on a picture bigger than you have ever considered before. The Word explains that this happens because what is mortal is put right next to what you want to be immortal in your mind and heart. You sense your own mortality as a new reality. If you experience sudden loss, you may feel a new fear of the future—a worry that you could die tomorrow. You may feel anxiety that you have not become a good person or that you have not achieved your life’s goals.
This tension creates an emotional rollercoaster that comes from resisting the Lord’s care, His providence, which leaves us unsatisfied and weary. The ride only slows and levels out as you acknowledge the reality of the loss and give yourself permission to experience sadness, loneliness or helplessness. Your intellect may find it hard to believe, but the fact is that when you let go and grieve—an act of will—you let God carry you through the process to the end of the ride, when you can walk on your own in the joy of being on solid ground.
Many who grieve notice that the story of the loss runs around in their minds in bits and pieces. Perhaps you have experienced this. Some of the bits are accurate memories of what happened, and you can feel badly, even responsible, for the loss. Some of the memories are inaccurate and cause you unnecessary distress. One way to discover the difference, and to be able to put the story “to bed,” is to tell the story. Of course, there will be more analysis, and perhaps regrets and resentment. But when these are put in the context of your eternal life and the eternal life of your loved one (if that is what you are grieving), the Lord puts the pieces together in a way that helps you overcome any distress. Given time and cooperation, the Lord will finish the puzzle of your life, and you can enjoy a whole picture.
Forgiveness is an important stage of grief for most people. When you forgive another, you let go of a burden. When you experience a loss, it is common to have trouble forgiving both others and oneself. Jesus teaches that forgiving is a spiritual act. But He points out again and again that to the degree that you spiritually let go of any thought or feeling that keeps you from forgiving, to that degree you find security and joy. When you grieve, you can become immersed in the pain of anger, resentment, regret and recrimination. These are all tied to merely natural thoughts and feelings. It is important to face what you really think and feel—what you label good and label bad. When you do, you welcome the Lord’s forgiveness and can then find the strength of heart and clarity of mind to forgive yourself and others.
By letting go and forgiving, you can begin to rebuild your life. Your work now becomes finding your own meaning for your life. Many have a change in faith. Many lose the religious faith that they had held. Many find a new confidence in their faith. The teachings for the New Church explain that a belief in a God of love will carry a person through a loss to a life that is not diminished, even if there is something missing. People who have an inaccurate idea of God (for instance, that He punishes us for our wrongdoings) will not have this resource and will find other ways of processing their grief. Of course, many of these means will work to some extent. But many of them, like abusing alcohol, are not only self destructive, but do not allow the process of grief to proceed.
You can take any number of actions to find meaning in your life. Many people begin new hobbies or return to old ones. Others take on opportunities to be of service. Some become better at their vocation, confirming their delight in doing something they love to do. In this way a person participates in redefining life. Thankfully, the Lord has provided that your loss does not diminish who you are: your personality and your place in His kingdom. However, YOUR world HAS changed! Your place in it has changed. Like an intricate mobile that has lost one of its weights, you experience a jangling, jarring tossing until the new balance is found, and slowly the bouncing settles down. There is balance, but it is a new configuration.
The Lord designed your spirit to seek and eventually achieve this balance. His loving care is always lifting you, countering the depressing effects of your loss. The warmth of His love continually radiates in your spirit. The process of grief is designed to bring your consciousness out of the cold and dark of loss into His presence again. You again take on the responsibility to live your life to its fullest potential.
The stages of grief are predictable but not uniform. They vary among circumstances and people. You have at hand a number of resources. The New Church faith may help you understand what is going on and explain why you feel the anger, despair, sadness, emptiness and pain. The Lord, especially through His Word, allows you to experience the feelings even as He alleviates them. The angels in your life, the loved ones who walk with you, hold you up when your knees buckle. There are many books and pieces of music that salve our wounds. Use them all, and your particular and unique grief process will proceed to a conclusion the Lord has designed just for you in the time He has provided.
By Rev. Clark Echols, counselor and pastor of the Glendale New Church.