The Grief Gap: Why Coping is Not a Solo Exercise

It’s another stormy Fryday night as I type this in the middle of a chase.

Nothing like getting ahead of a whirlwind in the middle of nowhere amidst an historical event. Not a bad way to spend a night…at least to this guy.

Yet, I’m not here to document pending tales of roadside bravery. Conversely, I’m here to share about an observation, one that’s come to greater light since Lys and I started group grief counseling at Vanderbilt earlier this month.

The short and skinnies are simple:

  1. For those who grief, it’s hard to know how. For those around grief, it’s hard to know what.
  2. To understand your grief, you must not only face it but embrace it. Only then can you make the transition into biblical mourning.

Of course, there are many challenges to this, most notably the mock premium of individualization our culture has placed on processing. Give yourself a few minutes to research the matter and you’ll find many resources with premises centered on coping by way of escape/retreat, calibrating perspective by a reverse orientation to still minds and ‘happy thoughts’.

Granted, there’s a time and place for those pursuits. I’m not here to bash a particular tool of the trade or what has worked for some in moderation. I’m just saying we, as people who deep down want to be unified and understood, need to wake up and recognize the ministry of availability within our communities and not be afraid to be relational even when we can’t relate.

For Lys and I, as we’ve said before, we appreciate the support we received when Juby was alive. Words can only go so far in capturing our gratitude. But during the last quarter and half, we’ve noticed a concerning trend, a punch to the gut if you will, and that is we’ve hardly been encouraged and tended since Juby passed away.

Why is that? Why is it so hard for people to send a simple text or have the courage to ask how you’re doing, how you’re feeling? Why do some people ask but only want a few sentences, in turn, exposing the cap to their care? Why do people assume hearts aren’t broken if the brokeness isn’t tangibly evident? Is there some sort of valve that shuts off at a certain point? Do people just assume it’s easier for grievers to journey through loss after a loved one has died as opposed to their final days?

While I have bias to what the answers should be, my mind struggles to access the surface translation. At work, at Vanderbilt…there is life and in some cases, in abundance. But at church, where the body is supposed to be the body? Let’s just say confusion abounds and I’m just about over it. It’s been several years since Lys and I experienced a church home in an environment where the amount of life exceeded its transverse. We miss those days when deficits weren’t distractions, when you could approach a sanctuary and look forward to being inside it without the proximity of people who have written you off or have deemed you not worth the conversation.

And hear me, this is not a call out to every church. I know there are safe places out there where people truly love one another and make their compassion/kindness known. Such a dichotomy is a desired reality I hope to encounter at some point. For now, while my expectations in fellow believers acting like Jesus to us may be too high, I can say this as a broad statement across the board: Whether in or outside leadership, you cannot assign parameters to someone else’s grief. You can’t tell them to level or mask up, to just be okay already, to do what you need to get better as soon as possible. If that’s the message you’re conveying, intentionally or not, you are giving the enemy a footstool and sowing destructive seeds, even if the only consequence is withdrawal and separation noticed by a select few. Sure, we may have some days our emotions are a bit more on the sleeve. Guess what? There’s no agenda there. Sometimes, it’s just hard to swallow the tears. Heck, even worship lyrics can be triggers to heaviness.

Whatever the case, I’m sure there are bodies of believers out there who know how to let people grieve, who know how to simply ‘be there’ when times are tough, and aren’t afraid of making the effort. But from what I’m seeing? When it comes to soul tending and post-traumatic nourishment, the healing pathway is more a function of individual walk sprinkled with isolated interactions that may or may not lift spirits in the moment. If the church can promote the afflicted to take confidence steps on their roads to recovery and restoration, watch out. There will be so much new glory to be discovered and testimonies to be shared!

As for closing thoughts, I apologize to those I’ve inadvertently forsaken during their grief battles. I know it’s easy to be narrow-minded, single-focused, to reserve encouragement to those we’re comfortable with. I know I’ve missed my share of opportunities so I don’t want to sound like a victim in all this. Preaching to the choir, I just want us to wake up, to not be afraid to be uncomfortable. If it helps, just ask us, ‘Good day or bad day?’ I promise you, it’s so much better than a cold shoulder, a blind assumption, or any other fruitless maneuver that shuts God out of the operation.

We can do this. I’m not giving up hope.


Photo creds: Healthday

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