Before diving into other areas of consideration tonight, I want to comment on other common psychological reactions to grief… many of these
are connected to Post Traumatic Stress – which I think is likely an extreme grief reaction.
I am not saying that these events are any more or less real than our own psyche, I am just commenting on them:
* Don’t be surprised by dreams or flashbacks… but also don’t try to ascribe too much meaning to them. Often our subconscious is just working on things.
* Don’t be surprised by sudden moments of denial – even long after the events. Suddenly it won’t make sense that someone died. Suddenly, it makes sense that they are trapped in a soap-opera level plot of amnesia and faked death and intrigue. Remember the idea of feeling crazy?
* Sometimes people see or hear or feel like they experience that which they have lost.
* Sudden bursts of emotions that do not fit the circumstances are common. Anxiety, despair and anger are very common.
* Fears, odd logical mental connections, and predictions of doom can be experienced as well.
* There is often a temptation to find a non-prescription way to medicate – drugs, sex, alcohol, shopping, sleeping, researching explanations, etc. Carefully avoid these and seek help quickly as they come up.
* Rumination is the process of thinking (literally chewing) over things. As we chew, the thoughts get worse and worse and soon we are experiencing the emotions of the unlikely conclusion rather than the facts.
* Some feel a strong desire to isolate themselves from life – even to the point of suicidal thoughts.
Again, these are NOT the best. Life must go on.
All our lives are precious and our lives should be poured out for great things, not just in
an effort to empty the jug.
There are certainly more – and your input is invited. These kind of connect to the crazy thinking that can bloom in grief. Now, here are
some other general areas:
The temptation to put our grief in a box that is simple and concise is another mistake, I think.
Certainly, people will do this for you in an effort to help, but sometimes the words people say can be almost as damaging as the tragic event
Other People’s Words… I am not exaggerating to say that I have known people whose greatest issues about something painful in their lives where the words spoken to them:
This must have happened because of something bad you did (karmic thinking)…
Everything happens for a reason…
You just need to forgive and move on…
God must have needed your daddy in heaven with Him…
We need to be able, even in our grief, to let foolishly simple things that people say go. Look past their words and see that they are probably struggling to fit your tragedy into the concept that makes it easiest for them to deal with.
When others grieve around you, remember that Job’s friends were doing ok for the first few days they were with him…
Then they started talking.
In fact, this reminded me of two other areas I like to talk about when people are working on grieving.
The first one is
Underspiritualization… sometimes we are too willing to see life as utterly random and meaningless.
Sometimes we are too quick to believe that there is nothing here for us to learn, or more importantly, no place for us to grow.
Generally, I disagree.
In the articles on prayer (https://chrismlegg.com/2011/03/21/wrestling-with-prayer-part-i/) , I talked about some of the many possible
reasons why we face suffering… and one of them is to help us learn and grow.
* We can become more compassionate through our suffering – more merciful.
Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians talks (chapter 1) about how as we experience God’s comfort, we are more able to comfort others.
My wife and I have great mercy and a special affection for people who have faced the agony of miscarriage largely because of the 3 that we
have faced. I will talk a little more about this in a bit…
There is no pain that we are the first or only people to face…
And we won’t be the last, either.
But, to the degree it is up to us, we can be the last to face it alone.
* We can also become stronger and able to withstand more through our distress.
Let me share a parable I explain to my clients and students about this:
I ask them what would survive if my office burned.
Books, furniture, computer, art, etc… would all burn.
Even the steel sword will probably warp and be damaged (and the low quality steel might be a puddle on the floor).
So what survives?
Why? Because it was created in fire. It has already been through the fire.
It can survive what would destroy others.
As David watched his kingdom fall to his own rebellious son, he continued to look for what God might be teaching him. I think there are worse ways to deal with tragedy.
There is another area of conversation that I like to talk
about in addition to underspiritualization, and that is…
Overspiritualization… amazingly, we can conversly become so focused on looking for a reason, or a simple “God does everything for a reason” kind of answer that we stop growing and learning.
Many people’s theology does believe that God carefully crafts and causes all things that happen, even sin… like the concept that if something
happens, it must be God’s desire that it happen. Personally, I have never found this a satisfactorally reasonable stance… and I think it can be another over-simplification.
I agree that God is utterly sovereign – that all things are within His control. However, it is a demonstrable truth that having power does not require one to exert that power. That He must apparently allow things to happen is reasonably necessary – and troublesome enough, believe me! But I do not think that is the same thing as causing it.
We could spend pages on this, but that is not the focus of this article.
I prefer the idea I think is presented by Paul in Romans (8:28) that causes things to work together for good for those who trust Him and
are called by Him (according to His purpose).
There are a number of places in the Bible where God is described as taking ashes and replacing them with something beautiful…
But there were ashes.
Whichever direction you are bent – toward over or under spiritualization – be wary. God is a God of comfort, but maybe not one who settles on bumper stickers to do so.