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Grief at a Wedding by Sarah Johnson

Just a couple of Saturdays ago, I was a bridesmaid in a dear friend’s wedding. Of course, we had the wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner the night before so the whole weekend was wedding centric. In all the prep and celebration, my mind lingered on the many tender father daughter moments I witnessed: the bride’s father tearing up while practicing giving her away, his gently teasing speech at the rehearsal dinner, him walking her down the aisle during the ceremony, the two of them dancing at the reception. My mind focused on these moments in particular because they filled my heart with both joy and pain and a longing for something I will never experience.

My friend’s wedding made me remember my sister’s wedding almost two decades earlier, when my own daddy’s eyes filled with unspoken emotions from giving his daughter away. It’s an expected rite of passage for many fathers and daughters. After my sister’s wedding, I would often imagine my daddy’s reaction to my wedding day and what he would have to say about his baby girl getting married. I had the song for our father daughter dance picked out by the time I was twelve years old. But, these things will never come to pass. 

The cancer took my daddy fifteen days before my twentieth birthday. I didn’t even know who I was at that age and my daddy would never get to know the woman I would become. During the months that followed his death, the weight of all the moments that we would never share crushed me. No proud daddy at my college graduation. No concerned father to check in with during my solo trip overseas. No sage advice as I purchased my first car. No wedding dance. Any children I have will enter the world down one grandfather. I have long since healed from feeling crushed by my daddy’s absence but I still grieve these lost moments whenever I’m reminded of all the nevers. 

 

“The guilt and shame slid away when I realized that my pain didn’t fail Jesus. Grief becomes a blessing, as sadness and joy intertwine to remind me how passionately I am loved.”

In the years I spent processing and healing from the loss of my daddy, I encountered some churches and ministries that reacted to my grief as though my feelings were sinful. They told me that my grief failed to show the Savior’s redemptive work in my life. My sadness made Jesus-the-giver-of-unconditional-joy appear to be a liar. I should just choose to be happy. All this well-meaning advice only served to heap guilt and shame on top of my grief.
My need for healing brought me to a Restoring Your Heart group, which helped to undo the good intentioned but terrible advice about grief I had received. Through RYH, I learned that my feelings of grief weren’t sinful because God created all emotions, including the so-called negative ones, for our good and His glory. The guilt and shame slid away when I realized that my pain didn’t fail Jesus. Grief becomes a blessing, as sadness and joy intertwine to remind me how passionately I am loved. 
As I recently celebrated my friend’s wedding with all the father-daughter moments, I didn’t just mourn the loss of what I’ll never have; I also rejoiced that I am a precious daughter of the King of the universe. I may never have a father-daughter wedding dance or someone to walk me down the aisle but I do have a Heavenly Father who knows me intimately and loves me deeply. While father-daughter moments remind me of what I’ll never experience in this lifetime, they also reflect how my God loves me, which is a comfort that reaches to the foundation of my identity.
bandages

Each day that I sit in my counseling room, I listen to people share their stories. Stories that come with pain and stories that come with questions. Am I going to get better? Am I crazy? Will this ever end? Why did God let this happen to me?

To find answers and to feel better, people must experience the slow process of healing. And when there is pain, time always seems too long.

To help people understand the significance of time in their healing process, I have found a helpful metaphor. It is simple and understandable.

The healing of a heart wound is like the healing of a flesh wound.

Everyone has had a flesh wound and watched it heal. We all understand that.

 

The flesh that has not been wounded is like our heart when we are born, clear and undamaged.

Then the injury comes. To the flesh – a cut, a burn, a puncture. To the heart – abuse, yelling, neglect. The area becomes inflamed, agitated, irritated.

To heal well, a wound must be attended well. Here is what happens when a wound is not taken care of properly.

To the flesh, a hasty bandage is applied, maybe not adequate, but what is handy at the time. There may be no cleaning agent or antibiotic available.

To the heart, a crudely fashioned coping mechanism is applied, frequently by a child who has no idea of the extent of his injury or how to take care of it. Usually the adult who should be helping is not able. Or that adult may have caused the injury.

The flesh wound heals on the outside and for a while looks better. But underneath the skin, the poisons are brewing. They are destroying tissue, breeding infection and creating pus. This brewing poison can only be contained so long before it erupts through the skin.

A heart wound heals on the outside, too. A hurt child learns how to function and cover up the pain. Maybe to friends and neighbors he looks fine. He might do well in school. Inside, the child’s heart is secretly being destroyed. The poisons of hurt and pain are festering out of sight from the world. Just like a flesh wound, these poisons can only be contained for so long. Eventually they will erupt; acting out rebelliously as a teenager, drug or alcohol addiction, bad relationships, the inability to function at work or anger.

Once an eruption occurs, flesh or heart, the wound needs to be be dealt with. The exposed infected flesh is not pretty. The exposed hurt heart is not pretty. However, the good thing is that exposure allows healing to occur.

The pain of the eruption is harsh. The pain of the treatment will be intense. When an infected flesh wound is cleaned out, it hurts. It was already painful, now it is being hurt again on top of the original hurt. When a heart wound is cleaned out, it hurts. It was already wounded, now that tenderness is being touched again. When a person tells the story of how they were hurt, they feel that hurt again.

However, once the cleaning out begins, relief can come. The poison is being removed. The pain of abuse and the trauma of the wound are being healed. It has to hurt worse before it can begin to feel better. Cleaning out a wound is painful.

A flesh wound will not miraculously heal overnight. It will gradually begin to feel better, a day at a time. Likewise with a heart wound. God does not usually allow a fast healing. If we didn’t experience the process and learn from it, if healing were instantaneous, we might not be so careful with our flesh or with our hearts. We might not protect them well. We might be more likely to re-injure them.

A flesh wound usually leaves a scar. Depending on the severity of the wound it may be a big scar or a little scar. If it is a small wound and leaves a small scar, we will probably not remember how much it hurt. If it is a big wound and leaves a big scar, we are more likely to remember not only the wound, but also how it happened and how we survived it. With wounds of the heart, the scar is not visible to the naked eye. However, the scar is very visible to the eyes of our heart. It reminds us of the pain and how we survived it.

One way we let others see our heart scars is to tell our story. The telling of our story is healing, both for the teller and for the person who hears the story. If the person who hears has experienced a similar hurt, he feels hopeful. Someone else who knows the pain, who understands the experience, has healed.

Since each person has a different personality, a different temperament and a different experience, each person’s wound will be different. And yet, all wounds heal the same way. They are re-opened and cleaned. As the scar forms, there is relief and the freedom that comes as people discover who they really are.

We can’t heal our heart wounds alone. We need help. Help is what happens in a counseling room.

If you have a wounded heart, there is a healing process for you. There is hope and there is freedom.

[A counseling room is not the only place where healing occurs. At WDA, we are committed to helping the Church become a place where heart wounds can be healed. For more information, click here for Restoring Your Heart.]

Do you have heart wounds that need healing?

What are your heart wounds?

To understand more about how we get hurt, read How Emotional Problems Develop, a free download from WDA. Click here to access.

God is in the business of healing. He came to heal us from the damage of sin, as well as to enable us to grow in our relationship with Him. In fact, if we do not heal from the damage sin has caused in our lives, our spiritual life will almost certainly be impaired.

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He quoted from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19) defining what His ministry would be like, what it would include. It is very clear that Jesus’ ministry would be a ministry of healing as well as of salvation.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
And the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort those who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of
beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
A planting of the Lord for the
display of His splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
And restore the places long devastated;
They will renew the ruined cities
That have been devastated for generations.”
[Printed text – New International Version]
(Isaiah 61:1-4)

Oak Tree in Field - In these verses an interesting scenario is presented. The prophet Isaiah is speaking about One who will preach the good news of the gospel, free those who are in bondage, heal the brokenhearted and comfort those who mourn. All these are healing ministries. The person who will come to do this is Jesus Himself (as He made evident both through His statements and His ministry). The text goes on to say that those who have experienced these healing ministries of the Lord will become “oaks of righteousness” which means that their righteousness will be their strength. He goes on to say that these “oaks of righteousness” will be the very ones that will restore what is ruined in the culture. They will become powerful change agents in their cultures.

He makes it clear that only those who have come to know Christ and have been set free from their emotional issues will impact the world for God. It is only those who have been healed from their spiritual poverty, emotional wounds, bondage to addictions, and distorted thinking who will be able to help others be restored from the damages of sin, renew their minds, restore broken relationships and build healthy families.

How does this healing come about? Believers can deal with emotional issues by completing the following process.

Identify emotional issues.

The following list describes unhealthy ways emotions may affect us, thus indicating that something needs correction or healing. See if any of these items are descriptive of your experience. (List can be found on Handout “Checklist of Inappropriate Ways to Handle Negative Emotions”)

  1. You are numb and do not feel your emotions.
  2. The emotions you feel are mainly negative.
  3. You tend to overreact or be supersensitive in certain situations.
  4. You do not know how to express your emotions appropriately.
  5. You are afraid of certain emotions.
  6. You try to distract yourself so you will not feel certain emotions.
  7. You believe that certain emotions are bad and that you should not have them.
  8. You are often confused by some of your emotions.
  9. You are depressed for no clear reason.
  10. You do not know how to deal with pain.
  11. You are bitter, negative or simply unable to enjoy life.
  12. You take out your anger on people that are not the source of the anger.
  13. You are not able to control your expression of anger.
  14. You feel out of control most of the time.
  15. You are afraid to stop and be silent with just your emotions.

Everyone has emotional issues to some degree, at some time. This is part of being human and living in a fallen world. If even one of these statements describes you, it indicates that there is an emotional issue you need to deal with. If more than one of these statements describes you, there are more serious emotional issues to attend to. Although these statements indicate that something is wrong, they do not tell what is wrong. Determining that will take more time and careful analysis.

Understand the healing process.

Emotional issues may affect many areas of a person’s life. Therefore, we must look at many areas of life in order to understand the healing process. Following is a list of actions that may need to be taken for a person to heal from emotional problems.

Stop abusive relationships – If a person continues in a hurtful relationship, emotional problems will worsen. It will take all of his energy to just survive the relationship, and therefore, there will not be any energy left to work on emotional issues. In hurtful relationships, self-worth is destroyed, distorted thinking patterns emerge, and the person is cut off from what he needs. Therefore, it is necessary to stop these relationships or change them in order for healing to occur (Psalm 1:1).

Control addictions – Severe addictions hinder a person’s ability to deal with emotions because these addictions exist, at least in part, to keep the person from feeling their painful emotions. Addictions also destroy relationships and are an escape from the real issues of life. Addictions must be brought under control before a person can make any progress in healing (Romans 8:12,13).

Learn to view and express emotions properly – Emotional problems begin primarily from not being able to deal with emotions appropriately; and therefore, it is crucial that a person learn about emotions and develop the ability to deal with them and express them appropriately (Ephesians 4:26).

Grieve pain and losses – Everyone needs to learn how to grieve losses from both the present and past. A person with emotional problems almost always has unresolved emotions from the past that are stored internally. These emotions must be felt and released, a process called grieving, for the person to heal. (Isaiah 61:2,3; Matthew 5:4).

Understand needs and how to get them met appropriately – God has created everyone with needs, and whether or not a person is aware of his needs, he is still driven to meet them. In order to live a healthy life, we need to be able to identify our needs and learn healthy ways to meet them (Matthew 6:32).

Learn to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy thinking and behavior – People who are hurting tend to think in extremes. They may discount positive things that happen or maximize bad things that happen. They may jump to conclusions with little evidence or deny that painful events bother them. Behaviors follow our beliefs, so if our thinking is wrong, it will lead to unhealthy behaviors as well. In order to become healthy one must develop correct thinking about oneself, others and God (Romans 12:2).

Develop healthy relationships and a good support system – One of the primary ways God meets the needs of people is through relationships with others. Therefore, we need to be able to develop healthy relationships. Because no one person can meet all the needs of another person, we need to have a network of good relationships, a support system. People were not created to live in isolation, and all of us need caring relationships, validation and helpful feedback in order to function well in life (Hebrews 10:24,25).

Learn to grow spiritually –Emotional healing and spiritual growth occur simultaneously. You cannot have one without the other. Therefore, it is important to focus on both at the same time. They need to be intermixed. Jesus wants to help you grow spiritually and heal emotionally and relationally at the same time (Matthew 5:3,4).

The first two actions in the list (stop abusive relationships and control addictions) must be addressed first because failing to address them will prevent the other six from happening. The last six do not happen in any particular sequence. Rather, they may occur simultaneously during a group session or in personal counseling. In order to explain them and show their importance, they are noted here as separate issues.

One might ask: Why is this so complex? Why are there so many areas that need to be addressed for a person to get better? The answer is that people are complex. We are made up of several interrelated systems: physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual. When something goes wrong in one of these systems, the others are also affected because everything about us is interconnected.

It is like a problem I recently had with my car. A rock was temporarily caught between a pulley and a belt and stretched the belt. Because the belt was not tight enough, it began to slip on the alternator. Since the alternator wasn’t turning fast enough, the battery ran down. Neither the battery nor the alternator was producing enough electricity to run the car so the lights would not work and the engine would not run. When one part failed to function properly, other parts that were dependent on it also began to fail.

It takes a great deal of work to align all the systems in our lives. But when our lives begin to function correctly, it leads us to new levels of maturity and enables us to function in a healthy and effective manner.

Seek outside help to deal with emotional problems.

People often need help dealing with emotional problems. In fact, God never intended for us to deal with them alone. Scripture tells us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). It is usually only when we can be totally honest, in the midst of safe people, that healing will take place. When we bring our struggles out into the open they lose much of their power over us, and we can find needed support and help to overcome them.

There are many sources of help for emotional issues. Sometimes several of these sources need to be employed at once, or over a period of time. The following is a list of such sources: (in no particular order)

1. Personal counseling

2. Support groups — These groups focus on a single issue that all the group members have in common (e.g. death of a child, divorce, etc.)

3. Addiction groups — These are also called 12 step groups. They focus on controlling a specific addiction. For example Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on controlling alcohol. Over Eaters Anonymous focuses on controlling eating. There are groups for almost any kind of addiction.

4. Restorative groups — These groups focus on developing emotional and relational health. Their goal is to help people learn how to handle emotions correctly, grieve past losses, think correctly and develop needed relational skills.

5. Involvement with the body of Christ — The church can provide a lot of help in the healing process. We can find encouragement and help to grow spiritually. A growing knowledge of the Word of God teaches us how to think right. It can also provide safe and supportive people who will encourage us and hold us accountable.

6. Medication — Stress due to emotional problems can cause brain chemical imbalances and other physical problems that may require medication. (E.g. A common problem is the development of clinical depression that requires an anti-depressant to restore brain chemical balance.)

There is always hope for healing from emotional problems because nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). God wants to transform our lives from the inside out. If we change on the inside, external aspects of our lives will change also. Some people are able to effectively apply principles of recovery to their own lives after they hear or read them. Others need outside help over a longer period of time before their healing is complete. Regardless, it is the people who work hard at all aspects of recovery and who look to God for strength and guidance in the process who make the fastest progress in recovery. Recovery is hard work, and there are no shortcuts.

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 146. List and meditate on the ways God meets needs and acts on our behalf (note verses 5 through 9).

• Using the “Checklist of Inappropriate Ways to Handle Negative Emotions” identify any inappropriate ways you deal with your negative emotions. (See Below)

• If, after reading through the list, you are concerned about how you handle negative emotions, talk with someone who has experience with emotionally-based problems.

Evaluating and Dealing with Emotional Issues

Checklist of Inappropriate Ways to Handle Negative Emotions

  • You are numb and do not feel your emotions.
  • The emotions you feel are mainly negative.
  • You tend to overreact and be supersensitive in certain situations.
  • You do not know how to express your emotions appropriately.
  • You are afraid of certain emotions.
  • You try to distract yourself so you will not feel certain emotions or you do unhealthy things to alter your mood. People often fixate on things outside themselves (food, sex, work, cleaning, shopping, spending, alcohol, drugs, etc.) in order to avoid dealing with internal painful emotions.
  • You believe that certain emotions are bad and that you should not have them.
  • You are often confused by some of your emotions.
  • You are depressed for no clear reason.
  • You do not know how to deal with pain.
  • You are bitter, negative or simply unable to enjoy life.
  • You take out your anger on people that are not the source of the anger.
  • You are not able to control your expression of anger.
  • You feel out of control most of the time.

Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

the heart tree

the heart tree

Because children interpret events with their emotions, it is important to protect your child’s heart. Many of the people I work with have been wounded by parents who have not been protective of this treasure. Some of their parents have been wounded themselves and have done the best they could. However, their own woundedness has driven them to make decisions that are harmful to their children. The following story was written by a 26 year old that I work with and is being shared with permission. It describes the events of a day that turned her life upside down. (All names have been changed.)

“That Day”

“That day. I will never forget it. It’s etched in my mind, clear as yesterday. It’s like a slow motion scene playing against the backdrop of melancholy violins. My world changed forever. The foundation broke beneath my feet into a million pieces. I was sinking, but there was no one to pull me out. I can see that little girl on that fateful day in my mind’s eye. She stands still, frozen as the unimaginable scene unfolds before her eyes; it seems unreal, like she is watching some twisted movie.

“This can’t really be happening,” I thought to myself. I had just returned from playing video games and eating chips and salsa with my brothers. My big brother, Charles, whom I loved and admired so much, had just given Richard and me the time of our lives at El Azteca. I remember on that sunny Saturday afternoon how happy I was to feel so loved as I played packman with my brothers at the local Mexican Restaurant.  In that blissful moment, I had no idea that Charles was shielding us from the hell that was unleashing at home. I had no idea that in a matter of hours, minutes, life as I knew it would change forever.

When we pulled up to the house, immediately, I knew something was going on. My dad’s car sat in the driveway with clothes piled high in the back seat. The car door was open. The front door of the house was open. My dad walked out of the house, still in his work clothes from the day before…only the front of his white collared dress shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his undershirt.  He carried a box in his hands. He didn’t look at us. He walked towards his car, and then I saw his back. His shirt was torn. He had scratch marks, and he was bleeding.  Confused, I stood there, not knowing how to make sense of what I was witnessing.

Charles put his hands on mine and Richard’s shoulders like protective wings. The fight must have drug out longer than he had expected. He must have brought us back too early, and now he was trying to figure out what to do. He led us inside, perhaps hoping that the worst was over. I was confused when I walked in by what I saw- objects overturned, broken glass, wax, presumably from a lit candle that had been thrown, plastered in dripping runs on the wall. WHAT WAS HAPPENING!? I didn’t understand. I heard my mom yelling. I can’t remember what she said, but I knew it wasn’t good. Every time my dad made his way up to the stairs to get another load, more screaming…I think I heard “GET OUT!”

I don’t remember how long this went on…time didn’t exist in that moment. But, I do remember, that whenever my dad would come down the stairs, he would offer Richard and me this sad look…of regret?  We stood still, absorbing this surreal reality. Once the car was packed, my dad made his way over to Richard and I as we stood in the dining room. He was lost for words, trying to explain to us what was happening with pain in his eyes.  My mother made her way over. She was furious, high on adrenalin, and impatient with my dad’s stammering. She butted in and, with vengeance in her tone, blurted out, “Your father slept with another woman last night in a hotel!”  Time froze.

I immediately looked at Richard who is two years younger than I.  He stared in shock.  Although, at his age, he could not comprehend the full extent of what my mother was saying.  However, at 11, I could.  “You have something blue on your lip,” I commented to Richard about the residual stains of the blue gumball he had chewed at the Mexican restaurant. “I don’t care,” he said, not breaking eye-contact with my parents. The details of what happened after this world shattering news are a blur to me.  At some point, it was explained to me that my dad was leaving to live somewhere else. I ran to grab a recent art project I had made at school, and I gave it to my dad to remember me by.  It was a box cut-out of a magical, beautiful world of flowers, rolling hills, and a majestic sunset, like the sunset I had watched with my parents set over the Gulf of Mexico just a few short months earlier on our first beach vacation. That time seemed like a different life now. My whole world was turned upside down in a matter of moments. I didn’t know if I would ever see my dad again.”

This young person’s self image has been wounded by the events of her life. The power of the Holy Spirit is enabling her to heal and recover. **We appreciate so much the prayers and support you give staff and to all the people with whom we work. Nancy currently is meeting with about 15 people on a regular basis, all of whom have been wounded by people who loved them. Our prayer is not only that their hearts will be restored but that all parents with young children will learn how to protect their children’s hearts.

**Please consider making a regular part of your prayer life, praying for the individuals who participate in our Restoring Your Heart Groups but the individuals many of our staff and restorative staff meet with regularly.

Other blogs relating to this subject:

 Hide and Seek: Where did I hide my emotions

The Philosophy of Pain by Nancy Higgins

More by Nancy Higgins

[edited by our communications team]

Barren Tree

Barren TreeAugust 18, 1998. The day my younger sister Lizzie died.

I remember pretty much every detail of that day. I was driving with John, her 13 year old son, from Stone Mountain to Augusta so we could see her one last time before she died. John had been spending the weekend with me to try to get away from the sadness in his home. We never made that last visit. Halfway to Augusta, I got the call from her husband, Martin, telling me that Lizzie was gone. He did not want me to tell John. He wanted to tell all three children himself when they were together. Later that day I sat in their living room while he told John and John’s younger sisters, Emily 11 and Kathryn 5 that their mom was gone. It was surreal. It didn’t seem like it was really happening. Even though we had known for five months that she was dying, it still didn’t seem true. She was 42 and dead from breast cancer.

Yesterday was August 18, 2012. Fourteen years since my sister died. I didn’t notice the date until a friend of mine called to tell me that her younger brother had been found dead that morning. August 18. Suddenly all the sadness came rushing back. I felt such a weight for my friend as I remembered the early grief over my sister. The ache in my chest. The pain I felt for her children and her husband. The pain I felt for my parents. The endless crying until I just couldn’t breathe anymore. Nothing can compare to the pain of losing someone you love too soon.

I haven’t cried for my sister in a while. I am to the point of grief now where it is just a dull ache and random sadness over events and circumstances. But today, the pain was back, unexpected and unwanted. Hearing about my friend’s brother triggered all those old feelings. So I went for a grief walk and cried. I miss Lizzie. She was sarcastic and funny. She stood up for herself and for those she loved. She could be intimidating because she was so outspoken and no one on earth could annoy me more than she could. When we were growing up she was a pesky little brat but she and I became good friends in adulthood. I miss her every day, but the grief really hit me today.

As I walked and cried and missed Lizzie, I thought about some of the things I have learned from the people I counsel with. I call them my chickies because client sounds too clinical. My chickies think they are coming to me to be healed but it works both ways. I heal as much as they do. One of my chickies told me that as she gets older it seems like grief sticks to her more. I love this phrase because it fits my reality. I, too, have found that grief sticks to me more and knowing I am not alone in this is oddly comforting. Another of my chickies told me the profound way that God has given him hope through the verse “Joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)  Frequently, when he is at his lowest, God reminds him of the joy to come and I thought of that today as I walked. Both for me, with my old grief, and my friend, with her new grief. And again I felt the comfort of being connected to someone else in sadness.

God gives us to each other to help the healing. We all hurt. We all have sadness and grief. We all lose people we love.

August 18 will always be a sad day for me. There are some pains that just will never be totally healed. And yet, I am comforted by the people God has put around me to share that grief, even when they don’t know they are giving me comfort.

Read more about how WDA’s Restorative Ministry helps people find healing from pain and loss.