I just wanted to leave a little note to let whoever may stumble across this little corner of the internet know that there are some changes coming to this space.
I just wanted to leave a little note to let whoever may stumble across this little corner of the internet know that there are some changes coming to this space.
This is my dog, Eddie. He is a very good boy. I love him so much… I mean, look at that smoochy face! What is not to love about that smoochy little fluffy face!! He has a very special gift as well… He will look right into the very depths of your soul and remind you that you are LOVED to your very core. No matter what… he loves me!! I am so thankful for this beautiful dog. He reminds me a lot of Jesus.
Allow me to flesh that out a little…
I have been spending a bit of time recently thinking about the importance of worship in our lives. What is the role of worship for a person who is seeking to live in the abundance of an authentic, holistic Christian life? It’s a great question, hey!
Personally, I think that worship is foundational to living a holistic life. It is foundational for a number of reasons.
It is this third point that makes me so thankful for my Eddie dog! This face is nothing but pure love and delight. When I see the way he looks at me, I am reminded that this is the way my Heavenly Father looks at me. His love for me is relentless. It is steadfast. It is constant. It is unwavering…. No matter how many times I step on his tail in the middle of the night. And I am so thankful.
In the spirit of being authentic, I have had a rough couple of days. I’ve been feeling pretty under the weather with a head cold and I’ve also been feeling pretty overwhelmed with how I am going to keep up with the pace of life over the coming few months. When I’m in this space, I am a person who can easily spiral into places of deep insecurity, feelings of inadequacy and despair. I’m terrified of failing. Sometimes the fear is paralyzing. I share this with you confidently, because I know that I am not unique in this. Truth is, most people struggle with this kind of stuff from time to time. It is a part of being human.
But God is lovely. He still delights in me. He still looks upon me with all the love in the universe and tells me that I’m not alone, even when I do give into my fears momentarily. And one of the key ways He reminds me of this truth and draws my heart back to worshipping Him is through this lovely fluffy, smoochy-faced Eddie dog. It is very difficult to stay in the place of discouragement and despair with this face just pouring grace into my soul, and reminding me that I am loved with the relentless love of our Heavenly Father. And the only appropriate way for my soul to respond is with worship and thanksgiving.
So, make sure you surround yourself with those things that God uses to draw your heart towards Him and leads you to worship Him earnestly. For me, this is animals and nature… also, good coffee, good food and wine… good company, music, literature… a hot bath and a cup of green tea… the list could get quite lengthy.
My point is, look for opportunities to worship God in all of life. Ask to have your eyes opened to see how “All the earth worships Him”. When we allow ourselves to be people whose lives are immersed in worshipping our Heavenly Father I am convinced that the world begins to make a lot more sense and becomes a lot less overwhelming.
Notice the language used in this passage. It is personal and it is present tense. The author, Isaiah, is speaking what is his personal and present experience of God.
As I meditate on this verse in the stillness of the morning, I begin to speak this verse as if it is mine. My own experience of God. I notice the voice of fear creep into my thoughts. How interesting…
I consider what this verse says to me about how my faith informs my fears.
As I sit wrestling with this question in the quiet stillness of the morning, I whisper my deepest fears to God.
He answers me with, “I have you”.
“I have you.”
He is personal. He is present.
Peace washes over me and I breathe…
Ultimately, my deepest fear is not actually the circumstances I dread. The circumstance is how I imagine experiencing my deepest fear. But the circumstance itself is not what I fear most.
In reality my deepest fear is being abandoned by God. Regardless of what circumstance I fear most, this is the ultimate fear behind it. To find that God does not have me. To find that I am, in fact alone…
Peace is not the absence of fear. It is the assurance of my Salvation.
Because of Jesus, my Salvation is secure. Regardless of what I face in this life, God has me. He is personal. He is present. I will not ever face my fears alone. This changes everything. The peace of my assurance in Jesus gives me the courage to look todays fears in the face and move forward anyway.
Fear will not claim me… He has me.
In my personal Bible Reading earlier this week I came across a little nugget of wisdom that I have not been able to stop thinking about. It comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
” And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
What a beautiful thing it is for authentic community to share life together. This right here is “Pastoral Care 101” for the Church. In fact, all of 1 Thessalonians is a gold mine of wisdom for Pastoral Care and living in authentic Christian Community with one another. But this particular verse is a clear and concise summary of what it should look like for Christians to live in a thriving and vibrant community together.
It is good for us to have people to help us out when we struggle with our humanness. Lets just face it, at times we all struggle with being idle. We are lazy and prone to self-indulgence rather than doing what we ought. Of course the root cause of idleness is idolatry. It is never really a pleasant experience, but it is good for us to be admonished when that beast rears its ugly head. It is good when we can speak the truth in love to one another.
My observation is that, in the Western Church, we have become very adept at admonishing the idle or idolatrous. We are very good at identifying sin in one another and pointing it out. This is a good thing and is not something that we should push back against, but rather should be willing to press into one another in humility and repentance. However, admonishing the idle is actually the easiest part of Pastoral Care.
I would suggest that sometimes we need to be admonished for admonishing the idle. If we choose to see all human suffering as a direct result of personal sin, then we ourselves are being idle. Simply pointing out that a person is a sinner is usually the lazy option to take. Sin does cause significant suffering in our lives and we must do what we can to overcome it. Sometimes however, there are deeper issues of discouragement and weakness that are at the root of our suffering. Life is had and complicated. Are we willing to take the time to understand the complexities of one another’s suffering in the context of authentic community?
What I love about this passage in 1 Thessalonians is that this ancient wisdom from God is actually the crux of Trauma-informed psychotherapy. Modern day science is once again pointing us to the deeper wisdom that God has already revealed to us about how to best care for His creation.
Our God knows that we are a people who are easily discouraged and incredibly fragile. In fact, if ever there was a human who could completely relate to the significance of trauma on the human condition, that person is Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to Jesus as, “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isiah 53: 3). Jesus understands the most traumatising elements of being human, because He lived and experienced them Himself. This is why it is so significant when God tells us to care for one another by admonishing the idle, encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak and being patient with them all. God is not simply a disconnected outsider offering us objective advise about ‘living our best lives’. He knows our pain because He Himself has experienced it in full. Does this not just leave you in awe of how radically you are known and loved!
We must not stop at admonishing the idle. If we are to be imitators of God we will look beyond the surface level sin and seek to encourage the fainthearted, to help the weak and to be patient with everyone. We are all on a journey and God’s grace is sufficient for us all.
What is Spirituality?
At best, this term is ambiguous. Many of us have our own understanding of what spirituality means to us, but the term has become so relative and subject to personal opinion that there really isn’t a widely accepted consensus around what is meant by the term ‘spirituality’. There are a few questions that we need to answer before we can really engage with what we mean by spiritual health and how that fits within our framework for holistic well-being. How does the world view Spirituality? What is the difference between spirituality and religion? What is authentic Christian Spirituality and what does that look like? These are some of the things we need to ponder in order to gain a robust understanding of our own spiritual selves. So grab a cuppa and settle in for a good deep and meaningful discussion around our definition of spirituality.
There is such a diverse range of spirituality in our culture that narrowing it down to one succinct definition has been difficult. Although spirituality has been a widely accepted part of life and culture since the beginning of time, historically the scientific disciplines have been reluctant to talk about it. The subjective nature of spirituality makes it very difficult to gather the type of empirical data that scientists love to play with. This has made it difficult to articulate in popular culture because so much of our common vernacular is based on scientific language. But the cool thing is that in recent years, the study of spirituality has begun to gain some traction in the field of social sciences. Yay!!
In her book, “The Spiritual Child : the new science on parenting for health and lifelong thriving”, psychologist, Lisa Miller, explains that the sciences have now defined spirituality in this way;
“a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance.”
Further to this, it is also understood that spirituality is an individual experience, while religion is the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. So, it is understood that Spirituality and religion are two different things.
While spirituality is about being relationally connected with a ‘higher power’, religion has a dual meaning, which can make it confusing. On the one hand, religion is understood to be the communal experience of spirituality through shared beliefs. It is spirituality experienced in community. However, religion is also the term applied to the various traditions, rituals, customs and obligations for those who follow a particular belief system. In this sense religion can refer to the ‘rules for living’. It is important to note the difference between spirituality and religion. It is possible for people to be spiritual, but not religious. It is also possible for people to be religious but not spiritual.
An interesting observation is that studies are showing that people who have the best overall well-being ‘outcomes’ are those who identify as both spiritual and religious and who actively engage with a faith community on a regular basis.
The Wesminster Shorter Catechism states that,
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
Let’s just sit with this for a moment… Our whole purpose in life is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. It is both of these things. To glorify God IS to enjoy God… forever!
Earlier today I spent some one-on-one time with my daughter. We went shopping and we bought skin care products and gave each other a facial and we just talked about stuff. There was a point in the afternoon when this precious girl looked me in the eye and said, “I love spending time with you, Mum! You’re the best!” And you know, I genuinely felt the same way about her. I love spending time with her. She is one of my very favourite people. In that moment, I was glorified. My daughter, whom I love more that I have words to express, was enjoying me and I was enjoying her. There is authenticity in our relationship. I know her and she knows me, and we love hanging out!
This is a picture of the kind of relationship God invites us into with Himself, through Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God was broken so badly that it was impossible for us to draw near to God through our own religious efforts. There is nothing we could ever have done to restore what had been broken through our rejection of God and all that He has for us. But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believed in Him may not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is good good news for us! Because of Jesus, we are brought back into a restored relationship with God and it is a relationship defined by JOY! This is what authentic Christian spirituality looks like, an intimate and personal relationship with the living God, characterised by the mutual enjoyment of one another.
So, this is the point where I must ask myself about my own spirituality. Do I have an authentic relationship with God that enables me to enjoy Him? Or am I religious in my approach to God, assuming that my rituals and disciplines will win His affections. I love how he invites us to just be real and to come as we are to His Throne of grace. Jesus is so lovely!
As we learn to enjoy Him more, it radically transforms everything else. His love for me, impacts every other relationship in my life. It impacts the way I am learning to care for the body He has given me. His love impacts the way that I think and process my emotions. Every single facet of my humanity is radically transformed by my relationship with Him… But, more on that another time.
How are you going to enjoy God today? When you open your Bible and read His Word, invite Him to show you more of Himself and His love for you through the stories you read. Get yourself a journal and start keeping a record of all the ways that God shows up throughout your day. Or write down all the little touch points of love that He sends to you to make you smile. It’d be such a joy for my heart to hear, so please leave me a comment to share the joy!
It’s a catchy phrase, isn’t it? Holistic Well-being… It has a certain ring to it that makes me think of some vibrant young woman frolicking through a field full of flowers in a flowy white dress with nothing but good health and good vibes… Or perhaps it’s the radiant yoga guru who has managed to obtain inner peace through developing a spiritual connection with their body and with the universe. Either way, Holistic Wellness is a hot topic in the health and lifestyle sector at the moment and there is a lot of information available to help people live a more holistically balanced life. However, it can all be somewhat confusing. What do we actually mean when we talk about holistic well-being?
Holistic is a broad term. When we talk about holistic wellness we are interested in the well-being of the whole person. It is all encompassing… every facet of the human experience must be properly considered to obtain a holistic view of health. There are a lot of helpful resources available to talk about holistic well-being. But some of them are a bit vague, and some are too narrow in their focus, while others are so broad that they are overwhelming. Also the rise of eastern religious practices and New Age therapies in both popular culture and the social sciences can be a little uneasy for those of us who want to live in a way that is honouring to Jesus Christ. So when we consider “Holistic Well-being” we can quickly become overwhelmed and discouraged at the enormity of such a pursuit.
Through my years of studying counselling and Neuropsychotherapy I have learned that people are complex and multifaceted creatures. We are made up of may parts. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus cares deeply for the whole person. He Himself is well acquainted with our human experience. He came down from His Heavenly Throne, He became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1). All the complexities and intricacies of our humanity were fully experienced by Jesus Himself. He is the God who made us (Colossians 1:15-20). He is the author of life (Acts 3:15) and the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), who said that He came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). To live an abundant life is to live with holistic surrender to Jesus Christ.
So again we must ask, what does all of this look like? At its core, holistic living is a matter of balance. How does that saying go?
“Some days you go to the gym and eat salads. Other days you eat cake for breakfast and refuse to wear pants… its all about balance.”
The tricky part is trying to figure out exactly what it is you are trying to balance. Or more importantly, what part of your life is out of balance.
Based on a combination of current research, personal application and a deep seeded desire to simplify my understanding of ‘balance’, I have come up with the following little diagram to understanding holistic well-being.
The Four Dimensions of Holistic Well-being
The overall experience of being human can be broken down into these four broad categories; Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual.
Each of these dimensions will be discussed in more detail over the coming months. This is a basic overview of how I have come to frame holistic well-being in a way that makes it easy to understand and apply to everyday life. This tool has been adapted from research in psychology and is helpful for locating key areas of our human experience that need to be addressed in order to move towards a greater holistic wellness.
The four dimensions are separate but they interact and affect one another in a very fluid and dynamic way (note the arrows). For example, if you contract the flu, this is a physical (well-being) issue with clear physical symptoms. However, when you feel sick, you often don’t feel up to socialising with loved ones (social well-being). Your diminished social engagement makes you feel lonely and a bit depressed (mental well-being). If you spend long enough feeling sick, isolated and depressed, it will begin to affect your view of self and moreover your view of God (spiritual well-being). This is a very basic example, but it shows how all the quadrants in this model work together to impact the whole person.
Whatever is happening in one dimension will affect what is going on in the other dimensions and vice versa. The Cross has been placed in the centre because this diagram represents a person who has centred themselves on Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of their life. When Jesus is brought into the centre of our human experiences, radical things happen! It means that His Grace not only works in each of these four separate dimensions, but it alters the way these dimensions interact with one another. All of our human experiences are impacted by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We see His hand of Redemptive Grace in everything, working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Thinking about wellness in this way can be extremely helpful for taking stock of our overall well-being and identifying where to make tweaks and changes if necessary. It can also help us to see where and how sin and suffering are impacting us and where we need to invite Jesus in to restore and redeem. It is my prayer that this simple little tool will help each of us to move in that direction, making the most of every opportunity to live life with Wondrous Joy.
This is the framework for how this website will be developed over the coming months. So please keep checking in and feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear how you are discovering how to live authentically in the Wondrous Joy that was bought for us at the Cross of Christ Jesus.
Originally written October 21, 2012.
What makes a person beautiful?
The face of the woman I see in the mirror is not vibrant with the youthful radiance it once held. The face in mirror has warn and appears tired… drained. But the mirror is not the place where beauty dwells in its purest form. So I look deeper beyond the mirror, straining to see the life behind the face. I do not dare gaze long. The life I see is not one of radiant beauty. The innocence of youthful ambition has long been scattered among the ruins of painful reality. The pillars of hope that once upheld dreams of glorious and romantic adventure are now reduced to desolate piles of rubble. The quest for beauty here seems hopeless and my heart sinks at the sight of all the brokenness. In humbled resignation I lay down among the ruins of what once promised to be something spectacular. It is here, among the ruins, where I finally see it.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder…. from among my ruins I look up and I see, with more clarity than ever, the One who has held me from the very beginning. There is peace and joy and delight in His gaze. He is not shaken by what He sees. It is as if He doesn’t see the shattered ruins of hopes and dreams. He sees only me. And He looks into my eyes with radiant joy in His own.
In His gaze I see love. Perfect love. The kind of love that drives out fear. And as I look into His eyes I catch my own reflection. I do not recognise it at first. It is more lovely than I dared imagine. It does not resemble the warn out face from the mirror. In this reflection I see something breath-taking. I see myself Redeemed by Jesus – the One who was once broken for me. In this new, Redeemed reflection I see His glory. I bear His image and it is altogether lovely.
With this new clarity of vision I see that the measure of my beauty is not reflected in my pursuit of glory, but rather in God’s glorious pursuit of me. The power unleashed by Jesus Christ reaches far beyond my feeble comprehension. Therefore, I will no longer try to hide the mess of my life from the God who sees. Rather, I will step aside and invite Him in to the ruins, because I know that He is the God who redeems. Look up, weary soul, look up! See the One who builds beauty out of your broken.
The following is a post that was written during the absolute worst year of my life. This year marked the beginning of a long, treacherous journey through multiple losses, compound grief, crippling anxiety and isolation. It is a glimpse of how my heart was held during unimaginable brokenness. After all of this, all I can say to you is that Jesus is lovely…
It was interesting to read through this again and to see how tenderly the Lord spoke with me through that darkest season. In deed, the winter has passed and the glorious spring is here, yet even now, the beckoning of wisdom to ‘tend to my roots’ is timely and nourishing…
Originally posted November 14, 2012 – almost 4 months after I lost my precious little boy, Hudson.
Have you ever seen an Australian Red Cedar tree? They are altogether magnificent. They can reach a height of 40m and measure 1.5m in diameter. It is difficult to gaze upon a red cedar and not be utterly amazed by its beauty and grandeur. These trees are tall and strong. Their branches reach out far and wide so that their leafy foliage casts a thick blanketing shadow on the earth below. The wood of these trees is beautiful and highly sought after by master craftsmen. As with most cedars, this one has a rich fragrance that seeps in and delivers a sense of warmth to you very soul. If I were a bird, I would nest in a Red Cedar. Well, in the spring time I would…
The cedar tree is deciduous. During the winter its leaves fall away and it is left bare and exposed to the elements. In essence, its beauty falls away, and for the long months of winter the Red Cedar is more haunting than beautiful. The seasons can be harsh. But the cedar tree knows how to survive.
To become so magnificent the cedar tree needs to be well grounded. For this to happen, the cedar tree must drive its roots deep into the soil. The purpose here is two-fold. Firstly, a good and healthy root system enables the cedar to stand in all its glory through all seasons. These trees are big. To simply stand under the weight of their splendour means that their roots must be deeply grounded in solid soil. Secondly, it is from the soil that these trees find their nourishment, especially when the seasons are harsh.
We are not so very different from the Red Cedar. If we are to become something magnificent and be able to stand firm through all of the seasons of life, we need to consider where we lay our roots…
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God… (Ephesians 3:14-19)
The season I find myself in is harsh. The winter has been long and bleak. But I am thankful to know that I am rooted and grounded in love. The winter will not last forever, and even he spring will bring new challenges with it. But I know the one who holds me and nourishes me. His love is real, and the hope He offers is secure. Explanation will not bring healing to the wounds. The hurt is never numbed in anyway by answers. But the strength to stand in the midst of suffering comes from love. This is the key to freedom, being rooted and grounded in love.
No matter what season you are in, tend to your roots. If you don’t know how, ask the Father who is in heaven to show you. He answers prayer and He promises that whoever searches for Him in earnest, will find Him. Read you Bible, from there you will find nourishment for your soul. If you don’t know where to start, read one of the gospels to find out who Jesus is – my personal favourite is John. Jesus Christ is the best friend you will ever know.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
It is a morning when my heart needs to draw some courage. Today will be busy and full of mundane obligatory tasks that I would rather not do. And my heart is tempered to submit itself to discouragement and discontent. So I take some moments to breathe, and to nourish body and soul…
“Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.”
Psalm 43:3-4 NIV
There is joy found in this stillness, in the sweetness of the Pawpaw and in the smoothness of the coffee… and my heart is reminded that Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not the fruit or the coffee that brings joy to the weary soul, for they are temporary and circumstantial…
For the one loved by Jesus, Joy is not fleeting… For Joy is rooted in the steadfast character of God, who loves us and calls us His own. This Joy from His Spirit is freely given to ours.
So as I go about my day full of mundane obligatory tasks, I choose to walk in His light and His faithful care, because in Him are my Joy and my Delight!
This was supposed to be a brief post while I have some key thoughts fresh on my mind (spoiler alert: It’s not as brief as I planned). Some of you will be aware of my history with grief and loss. For those of you who are not yet, I will one day get around to sharing more of my personal story in this space somewhere. Needless to say, I have a particularly sensitive heart towards those who are grieving or travelling through a significant loss.
Every few months I find myself being contacted by friends through social media and the like to ask me for any advise or tips on helping a friend who is travelling through the loss of a baby or a child. I find it an incredible privilege to be asked this question, and I am so thankful to those of you have honoured me in this way. It is a humbling expression of Redemptive Grace at work in my life. Every time I answer one of these messages I tell myself that I should write this down somewhere.
So, here we are. My experience and my research have largely centred around the grief of bereaved parents. However, pain is pain. We will all experience it in one form or another eventually and I think that much of what I have learned about grieving applies to many other kinds of grief and loss. This is a post from my heart to yours. Take from it whatever is helpful. I’m sure you will be able to add to this list many things that you will learn as you journey with a friend through loss. Much of this stems from my own personal experiences and conversations over the last five years since my entire world was completely shattered.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are a few thoughts off the top of my head that I think could be helpful if you are wanting to support a loved one who is travelling through a significant loss.
1 It’s going to be messy. Grief is always a messy experience and there is no ‘user manual’ for how to make sense of it. It will be different for each person. Husbands and wives will grieve in different ways over the loss of their child. Siblings will grieve differently at the loss of a parent. The ripple affect of a diagnosis will trigger different grief responses in every person it touches. Relationship breakdown, job loss, disability and even unmet dreams and expectations are all significant losses that can cause a person to experience the darkness and hopelessness of grief. When we are touched by grief of any kind we are all going to have a mixed array of responses. Some will be rational, and some will be irrational. Let it be messy. When someone goes through a significant loss their entire world becomes booby-trapped with grief explosions that could go off at any given moment. Sometimes you will be able to see them coming – in counselling we call this identifying triggers. Sometimes these triggers can be managed with strategies and coping mechanisms. However, there will be times when something completely random and unconnected will trigger a grief explosion. These are particularly messy but they are totally normal. Learn to roll with the punches, the rawness of these grief explosions does diminish over time. Don’t be afraid to get messy and sit with your friend in their mess and don’t feel like you need to fix it. Some messes cannot be fixed, and that is okay.
2 The 4-Month Fog. There is a weird phenomenon that I have observed where the first 3-4 months after a significant loss the bereaved seems to exist in this strange kind of haze. Emotions are still very real, but there is a kind of numbness that comes from the shock of loss. People who are in this phase are still able to think with a degree of rationality about what has happened, but the rawness of emotion has not quite kicked into full swing yet. In some ways this is a kind of grace, because there are lots and lots of decisions that need to be made in the weeks immediately following significant loss and this numbness can be helpful for allowing that to happen. Making decisions when you are experiencing raw emotion is very very difficult. However, the down side is that by the time this numbness wears off, most people have moved on with their lives. Friends and family have returned home and are back at work. The griever may even fall into a false sense of feeling like they’re coping pretty well. This makes the fall so much harder. At the 3-4 month mark suddenly the fog lifts and the gravity of what has happened kicks in and completely turns the world up-side-down. This is when the rawness of grief and the hopelessness of the situation becomes almost unbearable. Friends, make sure you make extra effort to stay connected during this time. Drop by with some meals to put in their freezer. Do a load of laundry or arrange to have some groceries delivered so that they don’t need to leave the house. Also, there is never too much chocolate.
3 Stupid things are going to be said… Part of the mess is going to be created by you, precious friend. You don’t know what you’re doing. And you shouldn’t either. This isn’t the way you expected things to go for your loved one and your have been caught completely off guard by this situation. You’re going to stuff it up at some point and probably say something dumb. And that is okay. Be prepared to apologise and ask for forgiveness when it is needed. Sometimes it can be helpful to give a preemptive apology. Perhaps something along the line of,
“Hey, I don’t know how to do this grief thing, and I’m probably going to stuff it up at some point. I’m really sorry for when I do that. But I love you and I want to journey with you through this. So, please let me know when I do stuff up and help me understand what I could have done or said to be more helpful.”
Also, they are not going to be easy people to deal with at times – grief makes people messy. They will also likely say some dumb things along the way. Be prepared to extend forgiveness, even when it isn’t asked for or acknowledged. Unfortunately, I do need to tell you that if you are not the bereaved person, your feelings and experiences need to take a back seat. That can be hard, but a person in the thick of grief is not able to compartmentalise their experiences or ‘turn off’ their grief for a while so that they can be a better friend. Grief is an all consuming experience, and it is difficult to fully comprehend it until you experience it for yourself.
4 There has been a Fundamental Change. Your friend is not ever going to be the same person ever again. Things won’t go back to the way they were before the loss. That’s not to say that they will be sad forever (although they will be sad for a long time), but one of hardest things about grief is that it really messes with your sense of identity. In the past I have explained it like this. Imagine becoming an amputee. When a person loses a limb we don’t expect them to just ‘get over it’ and ‘move on with their lives’. An amputee has been through something traumatic that has caused a fundamental change in the way they live and experience life. We can understand that it is going to take some time for them to learn how to adjust to life with a key part themselves missing. And if they happen to get a prosthetic limb, we understand that it is not the same as having the limb they lost. The loss of a loved one is a lot like what I imagine it would be like to become an amputee. It creates fundamental changes in the way you live and experience the world. Loss of a loved one is not something people should ever just ‘get over’. But it is something that, in time, a person can learn to live with. It takes time to adjust to a new normal, don’t rush it. Also, having another child after loss, or a widow remarrying will never replace the loved one who has been lost. As support people we must be very careful not to diminish the loss by suggesting such things. A good rule of thumb might be, if you wouldn’t say this to an amputee, don’t say it to a grieving friend.
5 Don’t ask, just do. Sometimes we feel so confused about how to support a grieving friend that we fear causing more harm than good. I get it, it’s a thing – grieving people can be fragile. But for a grieving person all of life is overwhelming. It is common to say things like, “Let me know if there is anything I can do”, or, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask”. The sentiment behind this beautiful. And I know that most people genuinely mean this when they say it. The thing is, after I lost my son, there were days when I would put my shoes away in the fridge and the milk away in the laundry cupboard. Grieving people do not have the ability to think. So don’t ask them questions about what they need. They likely wont know what they need, and if they do, they wont feel like calling you up to ask. If you perceive a need just jump on in and fill it. It will likely go unacknowledged in the moment, but it will be deeply appreciated and remembered in the long run. If you’re really struggling, here is a short list of ideas.
This is a very basic overview of grief support. I hope that this is helpful for those of you who are desperately trying to figure out how to best love someone through loss. If you are one of these friends, let me say thank you. Thank you so much for your compassionate heart. I know that you are hurting as well. It is hard to watch someone you care about live with so much pain. And the last thing you want to do is mess it up because you don’t know how to make the circumstance more bearable. But the fact that you are pressing in and searching for ways to support them means that you are already doing the right thing. Having a person who simply comes and sits with you in your mess is not necessarily going to make it easier to cope, but it does make it less frightening, and that is a significant help.