Lamentations 3:20 NLT
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Recently, a Pastor friend of mine wrote to ask me for my thoughts on grieving through trauma and loss. I know many of you have suffered great losses, experienced difficult traumas, and for those who haven’t yet, eventually they come to each of us in one way or another.
As I have personally been through great loss and trauma, I have experienced grief firsthand. I have walked through that dark and difficult valley of sorrow and heartbreak. I thought it would be very helpful to you my dear friends and readers, to pass on some of what I shared with this Pastor. I believe it will be a tremendous help to you in your own journey through loss, trauma, and sorrow. I believe these things will help you practically and wisely walk through your own grief and come out to the other side.
It has been my experience, after Pastoring for almost 4 decades that many Christians genuinely have no idea how to grieve the great losses, traumas, and sorrows of their lives. Instead, many simply try to ignore the pain, sorrow, and loss. They try to bury them or compartmentalize them. Many feel it’s just too difficult to face. For others, they believe the admonition to rejoice always, means they are to avoid grieving. What people don’t seem to fully understand is that inevitably grief will come out of you, but often in a sideways manner that reveals itself in very unhealthy or self-destructive ways. They devise their way to self-medicate. Some people begin to drink, use drugs, or give in to lustful passions. Some seek comfort in food or material things. Some turn to pharmaceuticals. Others become dull and listless in their spiritual life, growing distant from God. Some become very resentful, and bitter. Many become depressed. It is imperative to the human experience that we learn to grieve, that we take the time to grieve the losses, traumas, pains, and sorrows of our lives. Believe it or not, this is in fact one of the greatest blessings of our relationship with God and our Christian faith.
Let me share with you the things I have found to be extremely helpful in grieving. I believe without a doubt these will be very helpful and beneficial to you as well.
I think as Pastors it is essential that we prepare and equip our people before they encounter devastating losses, grief, and sorrows, with the truth that as believers we can be absolutely honest with God about everything we think and feel. We must help them see the reality of the Psalms is authentic Christianity in real life. That all David expresses to God is absolutely appropriate and normal. This is how to pray. This is how to grieve. To really lay out your heart, your feelings, your anger, your suffering, your perplexities, and your desire for vengeance and retribution.
My dumping on God in prayer for the last 47 years has saved my life. Literally, saved me from complete ruin and despair, from mental and emotional breakdown. I could not have weathered my daughter’s 7-year illness, the grave injustices, the treacherous betrayals of 2018, the trauma of it all, the catastrophic losses, and crushing sorrows, without my prayer walks, crying out to God in every way you can imagine. God is the Great Therapist. He is the Wonderful Counselor, He is the great burden-bearer and most Christians are missing out on this incredible gift God is to us all. To be heard, understood, and listened to by God himself is an extraordinary balm to the soul.
Another major thing that helped my grieving is writing. Writing and expressing myself, describing the situation, and the injustice, and articulating the trauma and how it all felt to me has been incredibly therapeutic. I am able to type on a keyboard much faster than writing with a pen on paper, so I would encourage most people to type out their stories on a keyboard and express anything they want about their situation. I have written at least 10 essays/documents expressing all that happened to me and my thoughts about it, in great detail. I sent them to myself as emails. I have also shared them with a few others to help them grasp my reality. This process of writing it out, seeing it on digital paper, has been like writing my own Psalm or my very own Lamentations.
Another thing that has been vitally important as I’ve walked through pain, trauma, sorrow, grief, and loss, is gratitude. I thank God out loud for all I have left and for each thing he has given to me. I thank him in specific, minute detail for many things every single day, and did so even when men I loved and trusted murdered my life in 2018 and 2019. I know without gratitude to God expressed, I would be poisoned for life, by the overwhelming grief, loss and injustice.
Thanksgiving to God helped me see his salvation and his path of salvation.
Always remember grief doesn’t necessarily have an expiration date label on it. It can still come out months or years later. There are still times I feel intense rage at the treachery and villainy others inflicted on me. Recently, I was on the St. Olaf campus to watch my grandson run in a state cross-country race. My wife and I walked into the student commons and asked a young college student from Belarus for directions. As I walked away with Kathy, out of nowhere waves of emotion came over me, and tears filled my eyes, as I said to Kathy, “O how I miss preaching, teaching, and helping young people.” That hasn’t happened to me in a long time, but there it was. I didn’t let it throw me, or feel bad for feeling those things, I know that it’s just part of all that was stolen from me, part of the loss. I moved on and had a wonderful day. Of course, I am also almost 5 years out now from Jan. 2018.
People walking through grief and trauma, simply need to give themselves much grace and not pressure themselves to somehow feel good all the time.
If you continue practicing all of the above, you will eventually walk out of the dark valley of grief.
For those who may have difficulty experiencing any emotions, I believe the following insights will greatly help you.
Here is what I have learned. The mind, and our thoughts are the key to unlocking emotions. I believe some people struggle to feel emotions because they choose not to think about what actually happened to them. Many do this as a defense mechanism, thinking it will help them. It doesn’t. Actually, it keeps them trapped in the trauma. It becomes a part of them that stays locked in a room, a part of their person, that they neglect or keep forever hidden in a box. As a result, a part of them begins to die.
There is no way to get through trauma, sorrow, injustice, grief, and loss if you do not let yourself think honestly and truthfully about it. Then the emotions will come, the more you picture it, re-live it, and roll it over in your mind and thoughts, the more emotions you will feel. Rage, indignation, anger, heartbreak, loss, sorrow, hurt, etc. These then are the things that fuel emotive prayers to God. Recounting to him exactly how you feel and think about your situation.
I have in my own words, expressed exactly what David asked God to do to those who hurt and betrayed him in Ps. 35 NLT and Ps. 109 NLT. Read them, they are stunning. I am not ashamed of it, nor embarrassed by it. It is how I felt and what I have talked to God about with every emotion surging through my veins.
Once I was mentoring a guy who had trouble knowing how to pray this way, so over the phone, I prayed like I actually talk to God when I feel some of these things. He was stunned, blown away, freed, and it helped him understand what I mean. But to some, it would seem as if I were a raving lunatic. Never to God. This is why I pray this way in private in my garage sanctuary of prayer in my safe and secure place.
How I long for Christians to pour out their hearts to God, to dump on God and in this way to really trust him with their emotional sorrow, losses, grieves, pain, anguish, rage, and brokenheartedness. This blesses the heart of God when you trust him this much, that you are completely honest and transparent with Him, willing to dump your emotions expressed onto the Lord. Let me make this point very clearly as well. This is not a one-and-done prayer session. These are prayers I prayed daily over the course of a year. Some I still pray even now 5 years out. This is what I call the hard work of grieving. It is not a one-and-done prayer session. It is the process of doing these things over and over again.
In closing let me offer one other thing that’s been a great source of solace and comfort. It ministered to me immensely as I grieved. I watched many documentaries on WW2 and the horrific persecution, injustice and suffering of the Jewish people. I found great solace in these films as well. Within the Whirlwind, The Hiding Place, Mr. Jones, First They Killed My Father, The Champion, A Hidden Life. These are all true stories of tremendous injustices and loss, of heroic people who suffered horribly. Each one of these powerful stories I identified with in deeply personal ways. Their journeys of suffering, terrible loss and grave injustices brought comfort and encouragement to my soul. Each ministered to me in very powerful ways and helped me with my own grief. I have watched them many times. If you decide to watch them, be aware that in Mr. Jones there is a portion you will need to fast forward, and a small portion in Within The Whirlwind also.
Obviously, I also spent much time reading my Bible, especially the Psalms, and underlining specific portions of scripture that spoke to me in deeply personal ways.
I would like to share these 2 messages with you and encourage you to listen to them. I’ve spent almost my entire life in the church, yet never heard any Pastor preach or teach the things in these messages. This is why I know it’s a huge need for believers to hear and understand.
Helping you become a Strong Disciple,
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Mark Darling