Seven Practices of Discernment in the Valley of Suck

Everyone grieves differently.  Just as every relationship is different, the grieving which parents, children, friends, and spouses go through is different.  Even so, there is a constant press to make it all the same.  

Talking with other widows/widowers, I’ve heard the constant complaint how friends and family want us to be over grieving when they are.  I think there is a desire for affirmation by these folks that they are on the right path.  Let me relieve you of some fear: as a friend you will not grieve in the same way, for the same amount of time as a spouse or child of the deceased.  And you know what?  That is okay.

But for us who have been the caregiver and/or spouse, we want to know we are on the “right” path as well, whatever it is!  Guess what, I want the affirmation I am on the right path too.  This valley of suck is longer but just as much, it is unique to each of us. So who is to tell us what is right?  

This is one of the many things which make this valley of grief; this valley of suck...suck.  This isn’t just some base vocabulary.  What was so normal, so organized, so in place in our lives is sucked up; sucked out.  The world we are left with is completely foreign and unknown to us.  

Instead of living in the reality, we rush by and revere the words of voices which may or may not be offering us true hope and healing.  How do we take our next steps when it is so dark and we can’t see our hand in front of our face?  

One of the markers for those in grief; especially for widows/widowers is “one year.”  This seems to be shared across the board among therapists and counselors.  No major decisions ought to be made; no major changes.  Having journeyed with others and read, I tend to go along with this.  BUT…

This does not mean we sit on our hands either.  For some of us, we still have kids at home and our vocation and job may be waiting for us.  We cannot sit by idle.  Even though big decisions don’t have to be made - the time in the valley of suck can be a time of discernment; a time to face each anniversary, a time for stepping out into small, new experiences, and a time to seek God more intently than ever. Below are the practices for discernment I intend to use in the weeks and months ahead. I'll be adding expanded comments in the weeks ahead as well.

Prayer on our path
Prayer has been the foundational practice for people of faith.  A person will be hard pressed to seek God intently without having a conversation with the Almighty.  As I have continued to explore the practice of the Jesus Prayer and subsequently, praying breath prayers, I find two things at work helpful for discernment:
  1. Simple is not simplistic.  A simple prayer drills down to the heart of an issue.  Just like identifying the real problem makes a solution possible, a simple prayer draws our attention to God at work everywhere.
  2. Simple is memorable. I find keeping a simple prayer keeps the prayer at the forefront of my thoughts. It makes me more apt to “pray without ceasing” as Paul encourages us to do. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
(For more on Breath Prayers check out my YouTube video HERE)

Pages on our path
Most everything here I’m talking about is written about in Scripture.  It is expanded on in the writings of other gifted and wise people.  Make the reading of Scripture and other books part of this journey.  Use Kindle or a Nook if you prefer.  I am finding the Psalms to be the best expression of God’s voice to me but I was inclined to also read the book of Ephesians in one sitting the other day AND I’m preaching on the gospel of Luke this year.  Both spoke to my soul.

Practice fasting on our path
I do not completely understand fasting and how it is intended to work.  Yes, I have read a great deal and read many theories for how it helps us grow closer to God.  Please, don’t point me to any books to read for more insight; I’ve likely already read it anyway.  For me, it boils down to one thing: Jesus’ words.  In Matthew 6:16, Jesus makes the statement, “When you fast…”  Not IF you fast; not WHILE YOU THINK ABOUT fasting; not HOW you fast, and not HOW OFTEN you fast.  

The Jews had their practices laid out in the Old Testament and Christians adapted them.  As a Methodist Christian, I know John Wesley taught to fast twice a week.  Whatever else you do, Jesus’ words indicate he expected followers to fast.  And while fasting can, at times, include taking something on in our lives (a new ministry or habit), for my purpose of discernment, the tradition of giving up food for a period of hours or days is more appropriate.  If it is not healthy for you to give up food, consider another practice like giving up TV or the internet for a day.

People on our path
I wrote an essay on the importance of the ministry of Spiritual Direction which you can find HERE.  Needless to say, I am convinced during a time of discernment, the gift of someone(s) who can listen for the Spirit and God’s leading is invaluable.  I have a simple list I am working on of people in my life who have this gift.  Not everybody gets to speak into my life in this way.  It is important this person is somebody who “sharpens” not just that dings you up and dulls you.

Puzzling on our path
I make lists and I get tired of making lists.  So when the image of my life as a puzzle came up a couple of weeks ago, it struck a chord with my soul.  I got a simple puzzle set (Star Wars of course) and began writing on the back of pieces things about my life.  Some of those are borders - they are core values and roles that make up my life.  Some are in the middle and reveal interests.  I put them in a folder so I can go back to them, like a list and add pieces or take away pieces as I come to understand better what path God and I are on.

Pencil/Pen on our path
Write down what you read, hear, and learn.  What are the lessons from your reading of the Bible and other books?  What do the people you trust say?  What does God say in your prayers?  What do you THINK God is saying?  Having paper and pencil/pen allows us trace and confirm or correct what seems to be God’s voice.

Patience on our path
Following a vision of his friends in pain, Luke Skywalker insists he must rush off to save them.  Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke’s Jedi Master, says one word to him: “Patience.”  It is a word I need to hear.  Patience is among the fruits of the Spirit which Paul brings up in Galatians 5.  In discernment, we need patience - we need time - we need to breathe.

These are the practices which I am combining in the discernment in front of me.  Each week, I’ll be posting new #breathprayers to my Instagram and Twitter accounts.  In addition, my 1 Minute Meditations on FB and YouTube will reflect some of these.  A lot of this will be private, just going into my journal.  I won’t meet every week with a person of wisdom but every week I will fast for 24 hours.  I might not journal but I will use prayer beads to pray.

The process of discerning is not to follow rules but to submit oneself to the rule of life God is shaping in us as we become more like God.  These are like “The Pirate’s Code:” they are more like “guidelines,” but ones we know work for they have guided others in the past.  So while the valley of suck maybe long and lonely, we may also discover new life and ways to love as we walk the narrow road.

Images used with permission: and


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