Monday, May 25, 2015

How to Kick-Start Your Grief Recovery

            Have you been languishing in grief for months or years? Do you feel “stuck” in your grief, unable to dislodge yourself from it? Do you find yourself sinking back into grief and thinking about nothing else but who and what you lost? Your baby and the dreams that accompanied her?
            While the title of this post may seem callus or silly, kick-starting grief recovery is often necessary for those of us mired in grief, or those of us letting it control our every waking moment, decisions, attitudes, and conversations.
            Since January, I have been embarking on a daily study of “peace.” (I choose a single word to delve into every year; a word I feel the Lord is leading me to peruse and absorb.) What I have learned is interesting, and life changing.
            Jesus promises us peace, but most of us find complete, true peace elusive or fleeting. Much of the time, that’s because we don’t trust enough, we don’t know God’s word, we don’t look to the Lord for guidance or blessing when we embark upon a plan in our lives, or because we don’t have faith. Or we rely too much on ourselves and find that eventually self runs out and fails even us.
            One of the meanings of peace I came upon time and time again in the first five books of the Old Testament was that peace means “offering in thanks.” And Israelites were to give plenty of “peace offerings,” or “offering in thanks offerings.” It was a reminder of all the LORD had done for them, how He had rescued them from the clutches of their Egyptian slaveholders, miraculously sustained them through their forty-year wilderness trek, and how He continued to lead and bless them. It was a reminder that it was not due to their own abilities, talents, or cleverness that they survived or flourished.
            It became obvious to me that having peace in my life could be affected by being thankful. Having a heart full of thankfulness.
            It is an idea explored by author and photographer Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. When you have a thankful heart, you have a joyful heart. And a joyful heart both simplifies your life and deepens it.
            Voskamp writes: “I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell. But I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and all the good things that a good God gives…

            “The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”
            I believe what she writes, but I am struck by two significant words in those two paragraphs. Neglect and focus. They are antonyms, exact opposites, for if your are neglecting something, it is impossible to be focused on it. When we concentrate on something, we are not neglecting it. We are feeding it, giving life to it, nourishing it. We choose to focus on something. We are mindful of it.
            So then it is only fitting for us to take stock of what we are focusing on so we can assess what we are neglecting.
            Are you neglecting to think on good things? Things that bring you joy? Things that make your heart grateful?
            It is an admonishment the Apostle Paul gives us in his letter to the Philippian believers. “Finally, brothers and sisters, 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” (Phil. 4:8 NIV).
            Living this way means we are the ones who take control of our thoughts. And when Jesus tells us outright “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He is telling us that our thoughts—which affect our heart—are controlled by us alone, and we are the ones responsible for taking the action to guide our hearts to peace, joy, and away from trouble and fear.
            And Voskamp continues: “When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.”
            When we mouth thanks. It seems obvious God knew that a person’s heart needs to mouth thanks as often it can because of the instructions He gave the Israelites to present so many offerings of thanks to Him. Not only did He do that for His benefit but for theirs. Offerings of thanks acknowledge Him as the gift-giver, and they open the heavens for our hearts and lives to be drenched with blessings. Indeed, while we are yet still mouthing the words, our hearts are enlivened and restored. Our hearts begin to swell with joy and contentment. They morph into sponges to absorb all good things the Lord wants to give and does give in response to our attitudes and actions. Having been thankful for the small, we are overwhelmed with gratefulness for the abundant. And the abundant actually often translates to overabundance, which automatically gets poured out on others around us. As Voskamp writes, we become change agents that bring Light to the world, which includes ourselves.

            The thankfulness meter of a heart registered plainly and profoundly for me recently when I attended the funeral of a friend who died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack, while his wife looked on. While I stood blubbering before her, repeatedly saying, “I am so sorry,” and “I don’t know what to say,” Marie clasped my hands in hers, smiled up at me through glistening eyes and said, “It’s okay. I know where he is.” Another thing she told everyone was, “I am so happy and grateful that we made forty-two years together.”
            Did you see it? Grateful. A thankful heart. Most likely, a heart practiced in the art of being thankful and overflowing with the memories of those forty-two precious years. I know Marie, and I know her words are not coming just out of the benevolent grace God usually bestows upon the recently wounded heart. It is how she lives life. It reflects the grieving with hope that I wrote on two posts ago. It is a heart condition born of practice and repetition.

            Another word Voskamp I am struck by is brave. Go back and read Voskamp’s sentence. “The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful…” 
            It takes a brave person to take responsibility for their joy. It means letting go of their pain and grief. It means stopping the finger pointing. It means making a conscious decision to take responsibility for one’s thankfulness, joy, and subsequent peace of heart and mind. It means changing direction and concentrating on all of your blessings and the good things, and rejecting thoughts about all of the things you don’t have.
            It’s probably another reason Paul tells Timothy in his letter to him that, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity…” When our hearts are fearful, it is not because God has made them so. He has given us brave hearts. Being thankful can shore up and strengthen a timid heart and make a brave heart braver. It taps into the bravery languishing there, dormant and stagnant.
            So where are you in your grief? Have you been languishing, unable to move forward? Are you stuck?
            If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, or this post strikes a nerve, then perhaps thankfulness is something you need to explore and pursue. Start writing down all that you are thankful for, one a day. I’ve made thankful lists for years, but not nearly enough of them. I have not saturated my heart in thankfulness. I too easily think of what I don’t have, what I’ve lost, what I think or convince myself I’m missing. Every year I mature more in my thankfulness, but I have a long way to go.
            Where are you in your journey? Write and tell me.
            So we can be thankful together!

            Next week we’ll look at how tender God is toward the broken hearted.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!