Saturday, August 23, 2014

Grieve Not As Those Who Have No Hope

“I can’t seem to get past it.”
“No one really knows how to help, I feel so alone.”
“I just don’t know how I’m       
     supposed to ‘be’.”  

In my practice, I often encounter individuals who have suffered a (sometimes unimaginable) loss.  Loss is a universal an inevitable human experience.  We lose people, jobs, homes, relationships, dreams.  Certainly some losses are more severe or bear greater consequences than others.  We would never think of comparing the death of a child to an empty nest when the youngest leaves for college.  Or the end of a job to the end of a marriage through death or divorce.  Although the experience of loss may differ, our response to it, in varying degrees, is the same: grief. 

Grief is the emotional response to a loss.  Mourning is the outward expression of that emotion.  Our culture and personality affects what the latter looks like.  Our belief system alters how we experience the former. 

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross presented the five stages of grief that has become the accepted “norm” for how all types of grief are viewed and processed.   While more advanced interpretations of her theory acknowledge that a person does not necessarily experience all the stages or in their presented order, most secular counselors would agree that grieving individuals experience at least two of the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Failure to progress in some way through these stages to eventual acceptance is considered complicated grief, and can even leave a person stuck in unresolved grief.  Achieving “acceptance” of the loss and “moving on” is considered successful resolution of the loss. 

While there is some common truth in Kubler-Ross’s model of grief, I believe it is incomplete, and fails to give us a biblical roadmap for healing.  Bob Kelleman, pastor, professor, author, and Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, describes an eight-stage model in his book “God’s Healing for Life’s Losses” that interprets the typical experience of grief in light of biblical reality.  Compare the stages to Kubler-Ross’s model:
              STAGE                   TYPICAL GRIEF RESPONSE                          BIBLICAL GRIEF RESPONSE
                One                           Denial/Isolation                                Candor: Honesty with Myself
                Two                       Anger/Resentment                               Complaint: Honesty with God
               Three                        Bargaining/Works                                    Cry: Asking God for Help
                Four                      Depression/Alienation                            Comfort: Receiving God’s Help
              STAGE               TYPICAL ACCEPTANCE RESPONSE                   BIBLICAL GROWTH RESPONSE
                Five                            Regrouping                                        Waiting: Trusting with Faith
                 Six                              Deadening                                        Wailing: Groaning with Hope
              Seven                      Despairing/Doubting                                       Weaving: Perceiving
              Eight              Digging Cisterns (Self-Preservation)               Worshipping: Engaging with Love

Although it’s impossible to explore all the details of each these stages here, my goal is to show you that there is another way to process your grief – one that recognizes your pain but also points you to hope and healing.  This can take time, and no doubt you will have “good days” and “bad days”.  So it is important to remember some things while you are in this season of grief:


Breathe.  Maybe you are feeling the “just-got-the-wind-knocked-out-of-me” type of shock and disorientation of a sudden and tragic loss.  Maybe you are physically exhausted and emotionally depleted from a long, agonizing ordeal. Or maybe you are the “pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-keeping-going” kind of person.  Either way, you need to give yourself time to recognize and absorb the loss.  Take a moment. Or two.  Whatever you feel now, the reality is that your loss won’t destroy you. 
 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the LORD your God….fear not, for I am with you.”      Isaiah 42:2-3, 5(ESV)
Balance.  You will need people and you will need to be alone.  You will need structure and activity and you will need rest and time to reflect.  You will need to cry and you will need to laugh. Be aware of drifting too far toward any extreme, but don’t try to suppress genuine emotions.  God can take it. Grief is universal, but intensely personal.  God knows that and is there in all seasons. 
 “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me…If I say,” Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Psalm 139:7, 9, 11-12(ESV)
Bathe.  No, I really don’t mean take a bath.  I mean immerse yourself in the comforting, restoring, life-giving word of God.  You may not be able to read the Bible right now.  Listen to it: in audio versions of the Bible, in music, and in Christian blogs, messages or sermons on loss, grief and suffering.  If friends ask what they can do, have them read God’s word to you.  There is power in the spoken word and you will need to be reminded often of the goodness and faithfulness of God. 
 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!”                   Psalm 119:28(ESV) 
 There are many resources that can help you cope with loss.  Bob Kelleman’s book is an excellent one.  You can order it here:  Another valuable resource is  If you find yourself in a prolonged season of grief, it may be helpful to talk to a trained counselor.  There is light after the dark, and strength to cope with loss.  There is hope. 

   “…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”1 Thessalonians 4:13(ESV)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Thoughtful Life

                     8 TECHNIQUES ...     12 Rules ...     7 HABITS OF...
              6 Ways …      5 STEPS …            4 principles …
                                    3 methods ....       10 keys …   1 RECIPE ...
A quick look on any magazine rack, book shelf, or web search will reveal an abundance of resources for improving your life.  As well meaning, and no doubt, well-informed, the  authors of these lists may be, the perpetual popularity of these self-help guides suggest that they may not be all that, well, helpful. 

The temptation to follow trendy or simplistic advice is great.  Especially when it promises 3 (or 4, or 5) EASY…  We all like easy.  simple.  quick.   Now.

But one of my favorite verses in the Bible, Romans 12:2, tells us that real change isn’t a fad and that a better life begins with a thoughtful life:

 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (NLT)

So, what is a thoughtful life?

A thoughtful life is discerning.  Spending time in God’s word, in prayer, and in the company of maturing believers helps rid our minds of distorted thoughts, false beliefs and ungodly attitudes.  We are then in a better position to evaluate the truth of new information, rather than jump on the latest self-help formula.

A thoughtful life is intentional.  Studies show that purposeful activity is an essential factor in preventing depression and gives our lives meaning.  We were created for a purpose, and God empowers us to fulfill His plan for our lives.  Goals are a good thing.

A thoughtful life is a process.  Learning to apply truth and how to move in the right direction takes time, and often the support of someone who can guide and encourage you. Sometimes, depending on the issues, that process can be more challenging, and you may want the help of a professional counselor.  Whoever you choose, make sure their approach supports the beliefs you value most.

If you are looking for someone to help you develop a thoughtful approach to life, I’d love to talk to you.    

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remember...and Worship

Joshua wasn't the first to set a memorial stone marking a significant encounter with God.  As few hundred years earlier, Jacob had left home, fleeing the fallout from his betrayal of his brother, Esau. (Genesis 27-28) Alone, frightened of his brother's impending revenge, and likely ashamed of his own duplicity, Jacob stopped to make camp and laid his head upon a nice, comfy stone to sleep.  That night, God appeared to Jacob in a dream to help him remember three very important things on his journey.

God's Promise.  God reaffirmed the promise He had made to give Jacob's grandfather Abraham, and his family, a homeland.  God pledged to keep that promise to Jacob in spite of his lies and manipulations. God's faithfulness did not depend upon Jacob's merit.

God's Plan.  God assured Jacob that He would watch over him and that his travels would eventually lead him back to this place God intended for him to call home.  God's purposes did not require Jacob's understanding.

God's Presence.  Finally, God increased Jacob's awareness of what had been there all along...His presence.  In spite of appearances, God had not abandoned Jacob, nor would He.  God was with Jacob, whether he felt Him or not.

The next morning, still strong in the recollection of his nighttime revelations, Jacob converted his pillow into a pillar.  A sacred place to worship and remember the truths he would need to sustain him on his journey.  And to help us remember.

Can't we all relate sometimes to Jacob? Sometimes we feel alone, or fear we will be.  Sometimes we are feeling confused or out of control - why is this happening to me?  We may have regrets about something we've done or said, wondering if we can be forgiven.   In those moments, we can remember that God keeps his promises to us...even when we don't deserve it.  God has a plan...even when we don't see it.  And He will never, ever abandon us.

Almost 30 years later, Jacob returned to the place of his dream (Genesis 35), and worshiped God there.
He didn't worship the stone, because it was just a symbol.  He didn't worship the pillar,  even though it represented an extraordinary experience with God.  He worshiped God.  His promise-keeping, purposeful, and ever-present God.

What kind of journey are you on today?  What characteristic of your God do you need to remember...and worship?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Turning Messes Into Monuments

In my office I have a plaque that reads, "We all have a story to tell".  It's true, isn't it? Some of our stories are interesting, funny, or exciting.  Most of the time, though,  the ones I hear in my office are the other kind. The ones we never wanted to tell.  The messy ones.  The ones where we've made a mess of things.  Or something (maybe someone) has made a mess of us.

All of us have at least one messy story we could tell.  Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
It's part of the human condition.  Part of our broken world.

The Israelites must have surely thought, "what a mess," as they stood facing the flowing currents of the Jordan River.  They had already been through so much.  Years of it.  Talk about your dysfunctional families! Not to mention famine, slavery, homelessness.... Granted, much of it was their own doing, consequences of disobedience and idolatry.  But still.  They were weary.  And afraid.  What's more, they had glimpsed what lay on the other side:  more battles.  It would take another 40 years...and the encouragement of their leader, Joshua...and frankly, another miracle of God, to get those Israelites to go after what really lay on the other side of their messes:  the Promised Land.  And when they had set foot on solid ground once again, what did God say?

REMEMBER.  To help them remember, God instructed Joshua to have a man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel select a stone from the middle of the path He had cleared for them through the Jordan River and pile them at their place of rest on the other side.

"And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  And he said to the people of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in times to come, 'What do these stones mean?'  Then you shall let your children know, 'Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.'  For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.' " (Joshua 4:20-24 ESV)                
At the cusp of generations of pain and suffering, what was to be their take-away?  
Look. What. God. Did. No recriminations for poor choices or wasted opportunities.  No regrets. No "I told you so".  Only a memorial to His faithfulness and power in the land of their new beginning. What did God make of their messes? A monument.

I'm still putting together the finishing touches on my office.  But one I'm planning to add under that plaque I mentioned earlier, is another sign bearing a quote from a well know author, speaker, and Biblical counselor:

               "Since God writes your story, He knows what your're facing and exactly what grace you'll need to live his way."  ~ Paul David Tripp

It's why I do what I do...I want to help my clients see God's handwriting in their story, and the grace He gives to turn their messes into monuments.