What do you think of when you read the title?
· Have you lost family or friends this year? As I read obituaries, I see a common phrase… “there will be no services.” Traditional funerals have changed with elimination of hugs and face to face connections, being often replaced with either online services or no service at all. Have you experienced this in 2020? How have you dealt with your feelings of sadness and loss? I will be sharing some ideas later about how to cope with losses and grief.
· Do you think of the many changes you have experienced at home or church or school or at work? Many churches, schools and social events have been cancelled or changed to reflect Covid-19 restrictions. These changes can result in disappointment, and loss, and a sense of “what next?” Do you find yourself struggling with anxiety and fear?
· Do you, or someone you know/love live in a retirement or assisted living environment? Isolation and disconnection have occurred as a result of trying to keep people safe. But at what cost? If you have been affected it is a tough burden to bear, and can be overwhelming.
· Have your big events…holidays, birthdays, or wedding plans been changed because of the virus? Instead of planning for food and fun with your family, are you trying to adjust to the reality of eating alone, or in a smaller group with your immediate family? Did your dreams of a big fun wedding change as you made different plans?
Holidays can be beautiful, filled with delicious food and memorable connections. Anticipated reunions and cherished traditions are normal for many of us. When our expectations need to be changed, it can be difficult… when the kids and grandkids don’t come to visit… with people out of work… when someone has died… when you or someone you know is sick… when you feel broken and lonely…when you struggle finding a reason to live… when you wonder when life will return to normal… these are all hard things to experience. Please share your experiences in the comments below. People who care will read them and pray for you.
Think back over your life, do you have faith and hope stories you can remind yourself of that will encourage you? Are you encouraged by the great stories of faith and God working in the problems of life in the Bible, or in people you know? Do you wish to have God write hope and faith into the story of your life? God works in the weak, in the weary, in the disappointed, and in the faithless, as they turn their authentic hearts and minds towards Him, and ask for help.
Do you find yourself feeling stress and sadness at how the pandemic has changed your life and this world? You are not alone. You may be only seeing or feeling the challenges right now. Life has taught me that with every crisis comes both challenge and opportunity. Each day brings us opportunities filled with joys and sorrows.
I don’t want to come across as a “know-it-all” who lives in a world without struggles. I have dealt with childhood abuse, and challenges in life. I have been rewarded with hope and healing as I looked for it, in the midst of the struggles and hard times. One of the biggest challenges in my life was when my daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer and died at the age of 20 years old. It was a crisis of faith for me as what I said I believed about God and life stood toe to toe with what I was experiencing. IMy life changed so much after she died that I couldn’t see a way to keep going. I found out that a person can know a lot ABOUT God without really knowing God personally in a way that made a difference in the challenges. I thought I knew God, but like Job, I found out that as I acknowledged the challenges of my days and cried out to Him, I grew to see Him and know Him better. I learned about trusting God and putting my confidence in Him, no matter what. Is that something you can say? Is it something you would like to be able to say? Telling God you will trust Him no matter what is a decision you can make, without relying on your feelings to determine whether you can say it or not. I am speaking of commitment to trust God, even in the challenges. A place to start may be telling God that you want to know Him better and want to invite Him into all the circumstances of your life. You may only be able to breathe out simply, “SOS God. Help me.” He is there with you and hears you. Whether you feel Him, or not.
The following verses ministered to me twenty years ago, and still do, when I get in a difficult place. The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian church from a place of suffering when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure and we thought we might never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God who raises the dead. And He did rescue and will again. We put our confidence in Him.” Can you relate? Few things strengthen relationships more than sharing personal pain. Do you have people you can share your pain with?
Here are some suggestions and ideas for how to navigate these days. You may have other ideas or things that work for you. Please share them in the comments below.
· If you have experienced a death without a regular funeral or service, you can still celebrate the person, although it will take some effort. A friend’s sister died without a funeral service, and she and some siblings shared “Susan stories” together on the phone. You could also do a zoom meeting or facetime. Find people you can share your person with, whether they knew the person or not. In grieving, I wrote letters to my daughter, and imagined her responses. When I could, after a time, I looked at pictures and videos of my daughter so I didn’t forget. There are many books written on grief, many of which you can get on the Audible app to listen to. You can find much grief material and helps online. Don’t give up on your journey to find what works for you.
· Find support through the phone or online. There are grief support groups like www.griefshare.org that meet online and in person. Search for online grief support groups and try to find people like you. Call or facetime someone. Do this every day. Share with them and allow them to share with you. You don’t have to give advice to each other, in fact advice may make you feel like there needs to be a fix. Just share and care for each other. Grief can be so isolating. The pandemic is also isolating in many ways.
· Admit your grief. What that looks likemay be different for each of us. Give yourself permission to cry or mourn. This may be difficult for you to do. What is your history of how you have dealt with loss over the years? Perhaps you can make new choices and find more healthy ways to express yourself. Add the practice of lament to your time with God. Many of the psalms in the Bible are words that express need or pain, and then acknowledge God is the only source of real Hope. “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”… (Matt. 5:4) The word ”mourn” here means an emotional type of throwing up. It is getting on the outside what is on the inside that needs to come out. Just like getting physically sick, it probably won’t feel good, but it serves a God purpose…For when you do this, you shall be comforted. Jesus wasn’t just happy. He wept when a friend died, and felt anguish, affection, anger, compassion, distress, joy, sadness, love, peace, sympathy and was weary. He understands our struggles, for He was human as we are.
· Look for opportunities in the challenges. I talked about finding opportunities along with the challenges. Being thankful IN the midst of your pain (not necessarily FOR the circumstances) can be a great challenge. But finding things to be thankful for, as you acknowledge the struggles, is a good life skill to develop. Here’s an idea- Take out a piece of paper and fold it down the middle. On one side of the paper write down the things that are hard or making you sad right now. On the other side of the paper, write down just as many things you are thankful for. Add to the list as you need to.
· Find different ways to celebrate the holidays. Holidays are generally about togetherness. You may have to work to find different ways to connect this year. Ask others what they are doing. For some of us, we will find ourselves with quiet times of solitude where we reflect and remember times we could be with loved ones. Let the memories bless you. 2020 and covid will not last forever.
· Find an activity, (everyday if possible), that gives you joy and blesses you. Schedule it. It might be a walk, watching a favorite movie, listening to music, reading or listening to a book, making a connection with someone, baking a family classic. Do you know what activities would bless you and help you cope with these days? Look for joy in small things… such as in the beauty of nature or in a song. If you have a pet, cherish the connection with it. Or consider getting a pet if you live alone.
· Take care of your physical body. Are you bathing, eating right, sleeping regular hours, drinking water, taking your meds? If you are skipping any of these, how can you make changes?
· Remind yourself that emotions come and go. If you feel hopeless and helpless, remind yourself that these days are but a season in your life. Ask Jesus to supernaturally grant you His grace, hope, peace, purpose, patience, love and comfort for these days. Look for His help. He loves you and promises to make everything right in the end. Focus on His unchanging love for you. If you feel separated or disappointed with God, tell Him. I like Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His love for you never ever ever ends.
· Pay attention to your spiritual self. What areyou doing to remind yourself of the goodness of God? Can you listen to a Christian channel on the radio, or play worship music? Can you write out your own Psalm to God? Do you have a prayer partner? Are Bible studies a blessing to you? Can you watch church online?
Angela Miller, author of “A Bed for My Heart” writes: “Even if you don’t believe in hope- not even a little – hope will light the way for you. At times you won’t realize your path is lit. The darkness feels all consuming when you are in it. But know the Light is there. Surrounding you now. And now. And now.” I encourage you to look for the Light, friend. You are the one who decides what makes life worth living and how you will live each day, even with your challenges.
This Christmas we can focus on the essence of Christmas- the Present of Jesus’ Presence. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” says 2 Cor. 9:15. Let Christmas remind you of Jesus’ birth – who came to earth so God could orchestrate Easter to pay for our sin. Christmas is the griever’s holiday as it points us to the beginning of God’s solution for death and our pain, through the death and resurrection of Christ. There is a message of Hope, if we look.
I will end with the words of Alison Cook who says: “May the gentle ways of Jesus permeate your soul, as you lean into His deep love for all of who you are.” Seek the Lord and you will find Him. Life teaches me that. I pray you will seek Him too, and see that He was already standing close by. – By Jo Winkowitsch You can find more help on life and grief at her blog https://djwinkowitsch.blogspot.com