From Deep Wounds, Deep Healing
The culture of our Western society has made ministry to those who are grieving a difficult task. The belief that we should not show weakness in the face of difficulty tends to keep many in bondage to the wounds and hurts suffered during the death of a close friend or family member. Even our churches have tended to frown on those who say, “I’m not okay. I need help.” Instead, we want to keep our grief and sorrow bottled up inside, holding the view that repression is the best option. Such a custom is very damaging. For we know that grief and sorrow are powerful emotions that, if suppressed, cause real damage. Those who have suppressed their emotions usually suffer deeply until the damage is healed.
When ministering either to those suppressing grief or those who are in the process of grieving, it is important to acknowledge the validity of their grief. Those who have hidden grief need to feel the freedom to unlock the doors to the rooms they have kept shut, sometimes for years. They need to feel they are free to express their pain without fear of condemnation. Whether grief is out in the open or hidden, it may be helpful to make a distinction between grief and sorrow. Here [John and Paula] Sandford assert:
Grief may be quickly healed and banished by faith, whereas sorrow may return many times. Sorrow and tears are not marks of lack of faith. Sorrow is a healthy release of loss and hurt. For many months after grief is assuaged, tears may well up, especially at holidays or when some incident triggers a cherished memory. Such sorrow is not something to be done away with, nor banished as one would cast away a demon, nor healed too quickly. It is not something bad or evil. It is something to be endured and sweetened by. It is a mark of love’s knowing the pain of loss. It will pass away naturally in time, when its work is done in the heart. (Healing the Wounded Spirit)
Grief, then, is a poignant sense of loss. Sorrow implies the ongoing yearning and loneliness that more naturally works itself out in a person’s heart. In relating to a person’s deep grief, we must respond with deep but firm compassion. Maybe the person has never gotten over the death of the loved one or has repressed the emotion to the point of seeing it surface in harmful ways. Repressed grief often comes out as anger.
Sometimes, deep grief has regressed to the point of becoming a spiritual stronghold in the person’s life, often held in place by demons. Grief can be so ingrained that it becomes a part of the person’s normal personality. The initial wounding from a loved one’s death can provide the opening for the stronghold, while the person’s refusal to let go of the grief may enable the stronghold to take root and develop.
Taking people back to “re-feel” the initial emotions is very important at this point. If their emotions have been repressed, this will enable them to get in touch with that pain again. If they have been wallowing in grief, going back to the scene by picturing the event can afford them opportunity to approach the grieving situation differently this time by setting some boundaries for its expression.
It is important now to break the stronghold of grief at the point of entry and allow the person to begin afresh the journey of dealing with the loved one’s death. Also it is necessary to break any strong ties of bonding with the deceased person. Often it is important to have people renounce their connection with grief, asking God’s forgiveness for holding on so long instead of giving their burden to Jesus. They will then probably need to forgive themselves for holding on to the grief.
Once grief has been dealt with, sorrow and sadness can be addressed. Sorrow is a less debilitating emotion than grief, but it can also have profound effects if a person wallows in it. As mentioned in the Sanford quotation, sorrow can be appropriate and legitimate for a longer period of time than grief. Simply missing the person or feeling sad once in a while is more a testimony of love for the deceased than an indication of any dysfunction or need for deep-level healing. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to deal with sorrow by taking people back, with Jesus, to the death event or their reaction when they first heard about it in order to “re-feel” their emotions and receive healing.
An important approach to healing is to help the grieving person get in the habit of being thankful for the deceased person. Instead of wallowing in the regret and negative feelings that can take over any memory, the person should think and speak gratefulness for the presence of the person who is now gone. The memory of a person who has died at age 43, for example, can either be allowed to be so painful that it casts a pall over the life of the one who has survived or it can become an occasion to thank God for those 43 years. The latter approach does not deny the fact and the pain of death, but it changes the focus from the way things ended to the way things were for several decades before the end.