Emotions: Thinking About What we Feel, Part 2 – A Case Study

October 22, 2013

Emotions - Thinking About What We Feel, Part 2
Betty-Anne Van Rees

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Betty-Anne Van Rees

Emotions - Thinking About What We Feel, Part 2

In my previous post,  I spoke of the kinds of questions our emotions raise about who we are and what we love and about life in God’s world. In this post, we’ll get practical.

Suffering Is a Reality

Recently, I have spent time with a woman who was married for more than 40 years. She and her husband ran the family farm together. That means they worked together 7 days a week through all the years of raising children and even well beyond those years—shared mid-morning coffee—lunch—and everything else—until he died tragically one day. I met her a year later.

She was still sad and felt her community was ready for her to move on; they were no longer wanting to think or talk about her sorrow. She was feeling perhaps there was something wrong with her because she was still struggling.

As I listened to her describe the preciousness of her life with her husband it was clear to me that the devastation of her loss involved every aspect of her life. There were no minutes of any day that were anything like the life she had lived with her husband since they had married at the age of 19. She had spent much of her first year of widowhood making the practical adjustments; learning to “do” life without him. When she came to me she wanted to know how to put the sadness behind her.

So what is a biblical response to loss and grief? What are godward goals and how do we help work toward them? What do we bring to the heart of someone who is suffering? Get over it? Cope with it? Move on? Find distractions? I don’t see those responses reflecting God’s response to sufferers in the Bible (see 1 Kings 19, Psalm 73, Habakkuk) even when their suffering is mixed with personal sin.

As is evident in the details above, I invited her to tell me about her husband, and their lives together. I loved listening to her unfolding story and I celebrated with her the love they had for each other and the gift their marriage was to them and to their children. It was a visible relief to her to be able to talk about life with her husband.

To be sure, if we are going to do well at walking with a grief sufferer, we need to understand how their grief is affecting their lives. I asked her about her daily life now. Though she was walking with a weight she’d not known before, it was clear she was walking. Her grief colored her life but it didn’t own it. She was turned toward God for hope and meaning, though practically it seemed elusive for now. My inclination was the needed change in this situation would focus on her perception of herself and her suffering. My goal was to encourage her to look at her life remembering God is her context.

God is the Greater Reality

Rather than thinking about what was wrong with her grief, we took time to talk about what her sorrow was telling her about God. We talked about the wonder of the design of marriage acknowledging that her long and happy marriage as well as her current suffering pointed to God’s generosity and goodness and love for His creation. In a very real way, the depth of the loss is an indication of the goodness of the gift given and a sacrifice of praise to the Giver of that good gift. We also talked about the fruit of their marriage; four children and eleven grandchildren who loved and cared for her and many of whom were earnest in their desire to follow Jesus. This too was evidence of the goodness of God.

Along with this, we took time to talk about what her sorrow was telling her about the world in which we live. Her pain rises from the brokenness of a broken world where suffering is universal. I encouraged her to think about what insight she had gained about the world through her pain. She told me she is increasingly aware and empathetic when others suffer. She listens to newscasts differently and responds with fuller understanding when people close to her suffer. I encouraged her to consider that God was growing her heart to feel with His, as He aches for the suffering in this world and that with that growing insight, she might begin to ask God how He would want her to join Him in serving the broken people in her immediate community as well as elsewhere in the world.

We did eventually talk about what her pain was telling her about herself. She acknowledged that she doesn’t like God’s revealed will for her life and that she is aching to have her old life back. This new life is overwhelming. With gentleness and compassion we agreed that we were now touching on areas in which God was calling her to a new submission and that resisting this work in her life would be rebellion. She had a sense that she was at a precipice and that the choices she made would either move her toward God or away. She longed to know His nearness and power to walk in humble victory. We spoke of gospel grace, of repentance, and her ultimate hope of the Lamb guiding her to springs of living water and wiping away every tear. With this framework and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit in her, we journeyed together toward joy-filled acceptance of God’s good gifts in her life; even those that appeared to be less than good. There was no condemnation in her frail resistance to His hand but gospel hope that she could indeed walk through suffering with grace and power.

Join the Conversation

How do you find Christ’s healing hope in your loss and grief? How do you help others to find Christ’s healing for their life’s losses?