There Is Grace In The Grieving

I keep thinking I am going to wake up one day soon and all of these past few years are going to make sense. All the education and praxis of 20 years of full time ministry you would think at some point things would be more clear, I would have some better idea or reason for things happening. Some things do not come to us easily or conveniently but we sure try to make them fit. We have been creating better widgets and sprockets since Ford got the assembly line chugging. We can turn out just about anything quicker, faster, smaller or larger, and in any color you want.


But suffering and death?  Nope, we have not been able to fix it.  We’re all terminal.  The mystical and spiritual?  We can describe it and talk about it but the mystery of the soul has yet to be grasped in this world.  So what happens when the two of those come together?  I’m thinking a big mac that the heart and soul can barely begin to digest.

As my wife’s primary caregiver, I have found myself reaching out a bit farther than I really would like (I’ve gotten very protective of my family and self these days).  I have found a good network of other cancer caregivers.  Steve is one of those.  He lost his wife a few years ago but has stuck around to be a help to others of us still in the fight.  While Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief is standard fare (see my previous post: Facing the Filter of Grief), Steve shared how his journey went:

Steve’s Stages of Grieving
1. Transition (old routine, diagnosis, recognizing and dealing with the evil).
2. Survival (doctor appointments, treatment schedule, travel, medical terminology).
3. Heartbreak (Hospice care thru funeral).
4. The Blank Time (No memory of the time but know it happened).
5. The Crash (after everyone has gone home and I’m all alone).
6. The Hole (That mental cavity I crawled into).
7. Priorities (Re-establishing and re-creating them).
8. Reality (The birth of new goals and interests).


If you wanted to get cute, I’m sure we could put together a nice little flow-chart for these but what I really like, is these come from the journey.  Kubler-Ross has more words and more descriptions but Steve’s gets at the heart of the matter. His stages are far more descriptive for this visual learner.


What is not so easy to point out though is the soul work at play.  I have read enough and talked to enough to know Steve was right when he made the observation most people do not want to talk on the subject. Soul work is not easy work and grief is indeed work in the soul.  I use this term a bit loosely simply because in some of my groups are atheists and agnostics, and regardless of a person’s theological understanding, there is an internal destruction and re-construction taking place in the grief journey.  In my experience, it is an ongoing process at each step as we re-construct our world from what has come apart through each stage of suffering, pain, and grief.

Each moment and every movement, we are held by grace.  I suspect some will have their own understanding of what grace may look like based on your tradition.  For me, this has been a significant part of my own destruction and subsequent reconstructing of my view of God and life.  It may not seem like much BUT the reality within the interior life (the soul) CAN be significant and revolutionary in its own way.


Dr. Thomas Oden expresses the importance of what grace means this way,
“Grace is always to be found working way out ahead of us, and only then ‘working with us when we have that good will,’ that we may cooperate with ever-fresh new offerings of grace (244, “John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity”).”  In the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition this is termed “prevenient grace” (‘preventing’ was the original term but it held a different meaning in the 18th century), or “the grace that goes before.”  Prevenient grace is merely a description of how grace is working - it is a way to think about how we are being held by God in our movements of grief (and life as a whole).


It is provided to us so we might be able to respond positively to what is before us.  Now by positive I don’t mean some “pollyanna happiness.”  I mean we are able to take the next step toward reconstruction.  This could include giving God a “piece of your mind (even with a few expletives).” That might not be positive for you  but If you’ve been unable to talk with God, then you’ve been able to break the wall down. That is positive!

In the letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:12b-13).” Paul’s words express this idea of prevenient grace, namely what we can do, we do because God, through grace, is making this reconstruction possible.  


How will you know there is something positive going on?  In Scripture and elsewhere, the evidence is best seen “by the difference it makes in our lives” (73, Thomas Green, “When The Well Runs Dry”) “The primary virtues are those which are rooted and manifest faith, hope, and love,” but they are certainly not limited to those either.  They are also not best expressed in the some kinda “pollyanna-ish” emotionalism that fits on a bumper sticker.  These virtues are those tried and tested in the reality of life and death.

There is no one practice of spiritual habits which will help and or support this.  In fact, there are many such practices which you may find helpful.  Some I’ve written about here on my blog but there are many other practices which will help (Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson is a good place to start).  For me, the practice of breath prayers has been a constant practice but one which has changed with the changing conditions of my wife’s cancer and struggles of my kids.  Even this week, I sensed there was a new need in my soul (if you follow me on FB or Twitter you'll likely have seen it).


"God, be near me now," expressed an urgency in my soul. It was a signal to me that I have become more aware and patient and gentle (the last two being fruits of the Spirit). These are primary virtues. Suffering, pain, and grief do not have to end us or lead to destruction. There is grace for re-construction, for going on, for growing, and becoming grace for others, just like Steve.

1 comments:

Cynthia Astle said...

Ken, this is an exceptional post. May I have your permission to republish it on United Methodist Insight in our "Practicing Faith" section? Let me know by email or on FB. Continuing to hold you, Heather and the kids in my prayers for strength and comfort. Peace, Cynthia Astle

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