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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.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Brene Brown Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

There are eight of us women, sitting together in a circle of comfortable chairs, sharing our hearts with each other. The topic, however, is anything but comfortable. We are talking about our shame.

We are remembering how, as children, our moms or dads made statements or comments to us that were shaming. How our friends and fellow students put us down and we felt “less than”.  How even the shame carried by our parents was unknowingly placed on our own shoulders and became our burden.

Shame is subtle and sometimes difficult to name, much less to remove. This is our hope as we sit together for these upcoming weeks. To make at least a start at ferreting out this most painful of emotions. We are looking for the beginnings of freedom from shame.

The author of the WDA RYH Conquering Shame Workbook, Lee Tolar, has this to say about shame:

“In my 25 years of leading RYH groups I have found that shame is much more common than most of us think.  There will always be some people who have an obvious struggle with shame exhibited by “a poor self image”.   However, many of us mask our shame behind perfectionism, defensiveness, a false self, emotional numbness or low-level depression. Thus our shame is not so easily recognizable to ourselves or other people.”

“Shame originated with Adam and Eve.  After the fall, they felt guilty about having committed a sin and shameful of whom they now were (sinners).   They came up with the original defense mechanism: hiding from God.  This desire to hide our shortcomings has been passed down to us with our sin nature.

“25 years of leading RYH groups has helped me to see how extensive the problem of shame is in other people but it has also helped me to see and understand my own shame.  As I have recognized my own shame, I have been able, with God’s help, to release a lot of it, become less defensive, face and deal with my shortcomings, and to appreciate who He made me to be.”

WDA’s Conquering Shame Workbook helps people recognize what caused their shame, what their particular symptoms of shame are, and most importantly how to release and recover from these toxic beliefs and emotions. It is based on Biblical principles.  My favorite chapter deals with recognizing each person’s strengths.

Like our other RYH workbooks, Processing Pain and Understanding Emotions, it is designed for use in a confidential small group setting with a trained RYH facilitator.

A recent participant in a Conquering Shame Group had this to say about her experience:

“I want to express my gratitude to you and to those who have contributed in writing the manual for the ” RYH Conquering Shame group”!  I have been dealing with shame issues since I was a young child.  This group was able to clarify what shame is all about, and I clearly understand how damaging living this way is.  Shame affects every part of your being and it greatly affects your relationship with God. I believe the group dynamics and interaction, really enhanced the discussions.”

“The biggest breakthrough for me, was telling/hearing our shame stories!”

“Being able to verbalize what has been inside of me, in that dark place and bringing it out into the open (the light) with “safe” people was so healing. Actually, it was the first time I had been able to tell a group this story.  After hearing and telling my own story, I felt a great release in my spirit.  It’s freedom from the bondage of shame!  I have a changed mind-set about my shame- yes, that stuff did happen to me and it’s very sad, BUT that’s not who I am.  The lies that I have believed about myself for so long have lost their powerful hold on me.  Restoration is a process that takes time, and in my case many, many years.  Little by little, the Lord has nudged my spirit to take another step in the healing process.  God always knows what I need and at just the right time. One day, I will have total restoration when the Lord returns for, “HIS CHURCH” and that will be a glorious day!”

As our group concluded the 17 weeks together, dealing with our shame issues, we all felt lighter. I think most of us suffer from shame to one degree or another. Sometimes we feel shame but don’t even recognize it for what it is. We just have this nagging feeling that something is wrong with us but we don’t know what or why. Sometimes just being able to name shame is a powerful, freeing experience. It is definitely the start of conquering shame.

Our hope is that as the RYH ministry grows, more people will be able to benefit from participating in a Conquering Shame group. I certainly learned a lot about myself and gained some freedom while experiencing it.

Do you have areas in your life that have caused you shame? Maybe this article while be an incentive to start addressing those areas and begin to heal from them.

To learn more about shame, we recommend any of Brene Brown’s books. She is a leading expert on shame and vulnerability and her books are eye-opening, informative and honest.  Link to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk talk on shame.

Note: We do recommend that anyone who would like to participate in a RYH Conquering Shame group has first gone through our other two RYH workbooks, Processing Pain and Understanding Emotions.

Child Sulking

Child Sulking

Being a person who deals with emotional problems every day, I am decidedly and unabashedly biased about the information I am introducing here. Let me just say that I think it is profound.

All good thinking has a framework, or a backbone or a philosophical undergirding. As we learned in the last Pocket Principle, Created With Emotions, we all have them. Emotions, that is. And we all have problems with emotions from time to time. Most of us have difficulty figuring out exactly what our emotional problems are and even more difficulty figuring out how to solve them.

In this Pocket Principle, Understanding Emotional Problems, we lay out the philosophy of how emotional problems develop. Don’t be scared off by the word philosophy. It is not heady and hard to grasp. In fact, it is a simple, well laid out, helpful and practical description of how we get hurt and why we have such a hard time healing from those hurts.

I encourage you to read this one. It will give you a totally new understanding of what has gone on in your heart over the years.

Understanding Emotional Problems – Pocket Principle

And for the solution…..Stay tuned for next week’s Pocket Principle, Healing from Emotional Problems.

 

Pocket Principles® are currently offered along with Guided Discussions. The content of the Pocket Principles® will reinforce truth learned in the group discussion. Each workbook is formatted for use in a small group, where pocket principles may read prior to each discussion.  Also, if a group member misses a meeting, he can read the corresponding Pocket PrincipleTM to review the information missed.

For more information visit the WDA Store.