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GRIEVING GOD'S WAYThe Path to Lasting Hope and Healing
By Margaret Brownley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Margaret Brownley
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePart 1 Healing the Grieving Body
Man's Way Numb Rather than Heal the Pain.
God's Way Heal Through Healthy Choices.
Listen closely to my words.... for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. —Proverbs 4:20, 22
Introducing to Part 1
Toning my muscles energizes my psyche, which comforts my soul.
When a loved one dies, the body reacts with shock. The circulation slows; we feel cold and disoriented. Breathing is shallow. After the numbness wears off, bones ache and muscles are sore. Food holds no interest, and though we may fall exhausted into bed each night, we often can't sleep—or sleep too much. This is how the body grieves.
God created this phase to allow us to adjust mentally, physically, and emotionally to our loss. It would be a great shock to the system to absorb the loss of a loved one all at one time.
Many people neglect to take care of themselves during the early months of grief. Worse, some try to deaden the pain with alcohol or drugs. Studies show that neglecting health during bereavement puts us at a higher risk for cancer, heart disease, and depression. Substance abuse prevents healing altogether.
Grieving God's way requires us to trust that God will lead us through the darkness, heal our pain, take away our weariness, and fill our hearts with hope, peace, and new purpose.
Healing Day 1
What Is This Thing Called Grief?
I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
The nature of grief sends us into a cave of despair. We have no desire to see or do anything. This is God's way of protecting us until we are strong enough and courageous enough to face life again.
The tears shed in grief allow for crystal-clear vision, illuminating friends and family through wiser, more loving eyes.
The darkness of grief allows us to follow even the dimmest light of faith to the source of all hope.
The stillness of grief is an invitation to sail into the inner self and explore the harbor of forgotten goals and still-cherished dreams.
The reality of grief helps us find new purpose and meaning in life, a new reason for being.
The permanence of grief is reassuring. Experiencing grief and seeing others grieve tell us that we will not be forgotten after death. This encourages us to live and relate to others in ways that will have an impact on lives long after we have left this world.
Loving faith in God leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Healing Ways: A Time to Grieve
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven ... (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
A time to be born and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2). It never seems like the right time for a loved one to die. Losing someone we love reminds us how short life is and how much we take others for granted. From the darkest ashes of grief is born a new appreciation for family and friends.
A time to plant and a time to uproot (v. 2). Every day we are given countless opportunities to plant seeds of friendship, seeds of faith, seeds of wisdom. Grief is the time to pluck up what we've planted and call up friends and faith to get us through the tough times. Grief is a time to plant new seeds of change, new seeds of hope.
A time to kill and a time to heal (v. 3). Sometimes it's necessary to kill off the part of us that wants to cling to the past. A normally dependent woman must learn to do for herself after her husband's death rather than transfer her dependency onto her children. It might even be necessary to sever a relationship that prevents healing.
A time to tear down and a time to build (v. 3). In our grief we often question God and His wisdom. Such questions demand that we break down our belief systems and rebuild our faith on stronger, more permanent foundations.
A time to weep and a time to laugh (v. 4). It's interesting to note that the word weep precedes the word laugh in this verse. This tells us that grief is not forever. We will laugh again and even feel joy, but first and utmost we must weep.
Healing Day 2
In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:10)
Take a deep breath.
If you are grieving a loved one, chances are you haven't taken a deep breath for quite some time. The physical and emotional stress of grief can do an enormous amount of harm to the mind and body. We become so caught up in our pain we literally forget to breathe.
In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for breath also means "spirit." In Genesis, God created Adam by breathing life into him (2:7). Jesus helped His disciples receive the spirit of God by breathing on them (John 20:22).
Studies have shown that deep, slow breathing can strengthen the heart, tone muscles, slow down the effects of aging, increase energy, improve digestion, and alleviate certain emotional problems. It can even help us lose weight by improving metabolism.
Shallow breathing, the kind that is prevalent during grief, fills only the upper parts of the body with air. The headaches, back pain, indigestion, and depression that plague us during the darkest days of grief might simply be our bodies crying out for oxygen.
Take a deep breath. Stand tall and concentrate on the center of energy just above your navel where each breath should begin and end. Stretch your diaphragm by filling your stomach with air, and you'll feel the tension fade away and a surge of new energy take its place.
In her delightful book A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman wrote, "At this moment you are breathing some of the same molecules once breathed by Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Anne Bradstreet, or Colette. Inhale deeply. Think of The Tempest. Air works the bellows of our lungs, and it powers our cells."
Take another deep breath; absorb all of God's creation and breathe in a little bit of Shakespeare. Not only is it good for the body; it's good for the spirit.
When lungs are stricken by overpowering grief, each breath drowns in tears.
Healing Ways: Making Room for God
Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
Robert W. Kellemen wrote, "Crying empties us so there is more room in us for God."
Making room for God in a wired world can be a challenge. Smartphones, iPads, and iPods provide endless distractions, but they can also offer endless opportunities to build a closer relationship to God. You can now download an electronic Bible to carry with you at all times. GodTube.com sends out daily Christian videos, and MaxLucado.com is one of many websites that offer subscribers daily or weekly devotionals by text or e-mail.
Need to make more room for God? Go ahead and have a good cry—but be sure to keep your smartphone handy.
Healing Day 3
With Open Hands
Your hands shaped me and made me. (Job 10:8)
Have you looked at your hands lately? What do they say about you and your state of mind? What do they reveal about your soul?
Hands mirror emotions. No secret is safe. One glance at our hands, and even strangers know if we're nervous or angry, outgoing or shy.
We hold our hands open in friendship and clap them together in excitement or joy. We open our hands when bearing gifts and close them when discouraged, disheartened, or even lonely.
A young mother receives her newborn child with open hands; a new bride spreads her fingers to show off her new ring. A baseball player hits a home run and is greeted by teammates with a high five. We say good-bye by waving, palm outward, as if trying to stay connected to a departing friend or family member for as long as possible.
We wring our hands in despair and confusion. When we grieve, we ball our hands on our laps or clutch them to our chest. Mourners at a funeral hold their hands very differently than guests at a wedding. In sign language, the word for grief is shown by two closed hands palm to palm, twisting next to the heart.
In Henri Nouwen's inspiring book on prayer, With Open Hands, we are urged to release our tightly clenched fists and open our hearts to God.
Hold your hands open as if you are bearing gifts. Lift your open hands in prayer, and reach outward to hug a friend, pet an animal, or encourage a child. Lay an open palm on a photo of your loved one, and let all the love you feel for that person pour through your fingertips. Instead of striking out in anger, reach out in compassion, love, and understanding.
When we close our hands, we close our hearts. You can't open one without opening the other.
The laying of hands miraculously eases the pain of grieving.
Healing Ways: Prayer
Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. (Psalm 54:2)
Prayer is essential to physical and emotional health. It lowers blood pressure and helps relieve stress. In grief we don't always know what to ask of God, but prayer forces us to put our thoughts in order and our feelings into words. Prayer comforts, heals, and turns inner pain into hope. Prayer is a constant reminder that someone else is in charge.
Healing Day 4
Teddy Bears and Other Warm Fuzzies
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. (Romans 8:26)
Whenever Nancy feels lonely, she buries her nose in her late husband's flannel shirt, and his scent brings back happy memories. Lisa finds her warm fuzzies in her church's grief group. She says, "After our meeting everyone hugs. I carry the warm feelings around for days."
Warm fuzzies make us feel good—sometimes too good. It's only natural to seek out people who support our views and make us feel loved and secure. But what if we're doing something that's not good for us? What we need at such times is honesty, not warm fuzzies.
Grief absorbs attention, narrows the scope, and distorts and disguises feelings to such a degree we can easily lose perspective. Sometimes it takes a friend to recognize morbid grief, clinical depression, or chemical dependency. Sometimes it takes a friend to point us in the right direction.
Separating the unrealistic expectations of family and friends from genuine concern can be a challenge. Most of us are irritated when someone makes some thoughtless remark such as, "Aren't you over it yet?" Most of the time our irritation is justified: grieving God's way takes longer than most people realize. But concerns voiced by family and friends involving alcohol, drug use, or depression cannot and must not be dismissed.
Warm fuzzies are comforting and can help us through difficult times, but serious problems require more than hugs or comforting words. If a family member voices concern, listen.
God talks to us in many ways, sometimes even through our friends. If two or more people mention the same problem, ask for God's guidance in seeking professional help.
Teddy bears give me the same warm, fuzzy feeling thoughts of you convey.
Healing Ways: Moving Forward
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5–6)
Well-meaning friends tell us, "Get over it"—as if a broken heart can be healed at will. God knows it's not that simple. He doesn't tell us to "Get over it," but He does tell us to move forward even as we weep.
Heartache is love that has nowhere to go. By carrying our gifts into the world and sharing our skills and talents with others, we allow God to use that love in wondrous ways.
Healing Day 5
Stand Up and Heal
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. (2 Samuel 22:34)
Whenever I'm about to give a speech, my husband reminds me of the three S words: stand, speak, and sit, preferably in quick order.
When we stand before an audience, we signal authority and power. Our words carry more weight.
Experts know that standing improves thinking skills. The very act itself allows the lungs to work better and blood to flow more efficiently to the brain.
Standing also has a spiritual significance. In almost every biblical text describing the healing powers of Jesus, the person healed either stood or was told to stand:
"He placed his hands on her, and right away she stood up straight and praised God" (Luke 13:13 CEV).
"All of a sudden a man with swollen legs stood up in front of him" (Luke 14:2 CEV).
"Then Jesus told the man, 'You may get up and go. Your faith has made you well'" (Luke 17:19 CEV).
"The boy looked dead, and almost everyone said he was. But Jesus took hold of his hand and helped him stand up" (Mark 9:26–27 CEV).
Everything of any real importance requires a person to stand, from getting married to being sworn in as president. Standing signals readiness. In the Bible, believers often stood to show faith. Crowds stand in the bleachers to cheer on a team. We stand in church to sing our praises to God. We stand to show respect for man and country.
We stand in joy; we stand in respect and awe. We stand divided or together. We stand in love and faith, conviction and passion.
And as the Bible repeatedly tells us, we must also stand to heal—if only in spirit.
Possibilities supersede life's tragedies when we grieve God's way.
Healing Ways: Find a Reason to Smile
I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. (Ecclesiastes 3:12)
Author and radio host Dennis Prager wrote, "There is little correlation between the circumstances of people's lives and how happy they are." Prager believes that happiness is a moral obligation and that we owe it to everyone we know to be happy. But how can we be happy when our hearts are breaking?
If you can't smile, then fake one by holding a pencil between your teeth. Studies show that this releases the same feelings as a genuine smile. Kick those endorphins into high gear by taking a brisk walk. Fill your life with meaning and purpose: sign up for a Bible study class, volunteer time to your favorite charity, put your trust in the Lord, and be kind to everyone you meet! You may even find a reason to smile for real.
Healing Day 6
Is Anyone Listening?
Pay attention ... and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak. (Job 33:31)
It's been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth because He wants us to listen twice as much as we talk. We might all be healthier if we followed that advice.
In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle wrote that listening also helps in creativity: "Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write; Bach composed more deeply, more truly than he knew; Rembrandt's brush put more of the human spirit on canvas than Rembrandt could comprehend."
Those of us grieving a loved one don't do a lot of listening. We hardly hear the world around us. Instead we stare at blank walls or empty space. Rather than focusing on others we think only of our loss. Instead of listening to God we let our sobs drown out His words.
Those of us in grief could learn a lesson from the masters.
When I watch goldfish swimming around serenely, my soul swims with them.
Healing Ways: Learning to Listen
Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Listen. God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to us through prayers and dreams. Sometimes He even sends a message through others or talks to us through the written word. Be still and listen.
Listen to your body. What are the aches and pains telling you about your health or state of mind? Are they telling you that you're eating or sleeping too much or too little? Not getting enough exercise or sunlight? Depending too much on alcohol or drugs? Neglecting the basics of good nutrition?
Listen to your environment. When was the last time you heard laughter or music? Listen to your friends and family. If you listen hard enough you'll know that they are grieving losses, too—and one of those losses could be the failure to engage your attention.
Listen to the world around you And you'll live better than you know how to live. Listen to those you care about And you'll love deeper than you know how to love.
Healing Day 7
Walking Through Grief
By his light I walked through darkness! (Job 29:3)
Want to know what to give someone who is depressed, has low self-esteem, or lacks confidence and motivation? Walking shoes.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that a regular walking program increases self-esteem, confidence, and motivation. Walking also lifts the spirits, restores a sense of control, and helps build inner strength.
If you are feeling depressed, lonely, or tired, take a walk.
Excerpted from GRIEVING GOD'S WAY by Margaret Brownley Copyright © 2012 by Margaret Brownley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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