Thirteen years ago, my husband was given a terminal diagnosis and we began our grieving process together. Ten years ago, he was ushered into eternity by Jesus Christ.
Moving forward after a loss is extremely difficult. Loss puts our lives on a new and unexpected trajectory, forcing us to deal with a new reality. Whether it’s the loss of a dream, a job, a relationship, or a spouse, parent, child or other family member through death or even estrangement, each of us must navigate feelings of deep grief of the immediate loss as well as all the secondary losses that follow (loss of income, security, friendships, etc.). Some days it feels we are stuck and will never move beyond this place of intense sorrow.
Adjusting to a new reality is complex and unique to each individual, because grief proceeds at its own pace for each person. It moves with varying degrees of intensity and in an ever-changing reality. Moving forward is even more difficult for those who not only need to work through their own grief but also must help others (like children) deal with their grief. Finding a “safe place” to express the overwhelming feelings of grief can be an issue, too, when everyone around you is afraid of your pain. How does one move forward in the face of these challenges?
During our journey together, my family began practicing three spiritual disciplines that were (and continue to be) an immense source of strength and hope, even in the darkest times. I don’t make these suggestions lightly nor do I presume they will solve all your grief issues. My prayer is that, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, these three practices will give you some hope to help you and your loved ones move forward. Here are three suggestions that empowered me through my loss; I hope they will bless you as well.
The practice of expressing gratefulness and remembering God’s faithfulness enriched our lives. Every morning my husband and I would read Lamentation 3:21-26, which reminded us that no matter what bad news we received we could still be grateful since there was always reason for hope! God’s mercies and his compassion ARE new every morning and his faithfulness IS never-ending. Our comfort is in life and in death. Remembering God’s past faithfulness became a secure place to stand, and it continues to daily strengthen me.
Remembering is important to God. He instructed Israel to remember their deliverance from Egypt through the Passover. Joshua was instructed to build an alter to help Israel remember crossing into the promised land. Jesus instituted the last supper telling his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.”
Remembering God’s faithfulness helped us to move forward as we grieved together and now as I grieve alone. I have discovered there is always something for which we can be grateful. Perhaps you can begin a gratitude journal or designate a blessing jar in which you put a piece of paper describing ways you’ve been blessed then at the end of the year, read through the papers. Be creative in thinking of ways to remember and be grateful.
We chose the practice of celebrating the present moment and being content in it. A Bible passage that helped us was Philippians 4:8, which we called our “whatever” passage. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
So, in addition to thanking God for past mercies, we praised him for the grace he gave us that day. I will be honest, somedays it was difficult, but if you really look, you can always find good, pure, noble, lovely things. They may be small, but they are still gifts of grace.
Instead of focusing on what we were giving up and would not get to do, we sought to be content as well as grateful for what we did have, and that gave us hope to keep moving on. I encourage you to begin the practice of consciously looking for and being aware of the myriad of ways God is lavishly pouring out his grace in your life.
Every night I practice the Prayer of Examen by asking myself three questions:
This prayer practice helps me stay focused on the “whatevers,” to embrace contentment, and accept the strength to move on through the loss.
We choose the practice of trusting God with the future to find peace in the present. We all cognitively know we will someday die, but none of us knows how, under what circumstances, or when. Those worries can fill us with fear which is a great crippler to those who are trying to move forward after loss.
My husband and I would often remind each other of the beautiful, comforting promise of Jesus, “…I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25). The morning my husband died, I came into his hospital room. He had a big smile on his face and said to me, “I am going home today. My body systems are shutting down and my eyesight is going. Today I get to see Jesus.” Then at 1 pm, he opened his eyes, looked at me and said in a strong voice, “He’s really here!!!” And he died. There was never a moment my husband was not alive. Jesus translated him to glory. I could tell his spirit had left his body and was now fully healed, restored, and experiencing a glory I long to see. Seeing how he died continues to fill me with a peace that passes all understanding as I think about the future. I have no fear of death, for I know at that moment, I, too, will be escorted into the presence of the One I love most. No fear. Just peace and the ability to continue to move forward through the long, lonely days and nights.
Moving forward through loss is one of the more difficult experiences we are asked to endure, but we don’t have to do it alone. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Celebrate his faithfulness each day. Trust his faithfulness with your future.
Rev. Deb Koster