You are the alpha and omega; the beginning and the end; the one who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1:9). For you created heaven and earth for your glory and we praise you for their beauty and our creation (Psalm 19).
Make your presence especially known among us for our eyes are heavy with tears and our ears barely hear. With heavy hearts we, your people, stand before you today confessing our sins and our doubts but confident of the love of Christ.
We thank you for sharing these days with us during our season of life. We praise you for our friend’s compassion, quiet dignity and devotion to family, constant smile and companionship, and daily presence in our lives.
Permission to Grieve
In the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us a season of grief as life passes. Open our hearts; let us cry; help us feel and express our loss.
Place your hedge of protection around us as we grieve. Protect our persons and our spirits; guard our relationships; keep our jobs. Let us not have to choose between expressing our grief and other things.
May our grief be godly grief until salvation, not worldly grief that leads to sin and death (2 Corinthians 7:10). In our grieving, let us be like Job who did not sin in spite of many afflictions (Job 1:13-22). But let us turn to you in our lament, great giver of life, to empty our hearts of the pain, the shame, the guilt, and the grief so that we might once again enter your gates with praise. For we know that you grieved over Lazarus and the widow’s son, and raised them both from the dead even though no words of faith were spoken (John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17).
May we know that through Jesus Christ death is not the final answer. Let us be like Him who was raised from death to new life. Remind us daily that: “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Turning to You
By the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the strength to turn to you in our grief, following the example of Christ at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:3). Let us live life in view of the resurrection and the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, Where have you laid him? … When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out.” (John 11:33-43 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
When Jesus weeps, the dead are raised ; when Jesus dies, we have life. Our grief is redeemed, becomes godly grief, when we grieve over the sin that separates us from Christ .
The Apostle Paul framed our view of Christ in these words: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11 ESV) Paul furthermore advises us to imitate Christ when he writes: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:14-15 ESV) We are to place our emotions in God’s service so that the world might too be redeemed.
The hope of the resurrection permits us to look beyond grief to our future in Christ. The Prophet Jeremiah understood this point when he wrote:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11 ESV)
Hope redeems our mourning. Paul talks about all of creation groaning as in childbirth  because a mother’s pain is overcome by the joy of seeing her baby. In fact, we can hear an echo of Jeremiah in Jesus’ next words in the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety when he says:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25 ESV)
Anxiety is a form of grieving over our daily challenges—what to eat or what to wear. In Christ, even the ultimate challenge of death does not have the final word (1 Thes 4:13).
The Apostle Paul sees this inward tension as critically important in our spiritual formation. He writes: “For godly grief (θεὸν λύπη) produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 ESV) Paul uses an entirely different word for grief in the Greek which means: “pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow, affliction” (BDAG 4625). In Paul’s analysis we see grief tinged with guilt and shame—a motivator for repentance.
In grief over sin we lament our brokenness and after we pour it all out, we are able to turn to God. For this reason, the Psalmist can write:
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa 126:5-6 ESV)
Here we see Luke’s version of the Second Beatitude: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)
Melody Rossi. 2007. Sharing Christ with the Dying: Bringing Hope to Those Near the End of Life. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Death is never convenient. It is sometimes unexpected. It is usually awkward. What do you say to someone when both of you know that it may be your last conversation?
Invariably, the subject of Christ comes up. Why? Christianity has the distinction to be the only religion that began in a graveyard. Only Christ has conquered death. In her book, Sharing Christ with the Dying, Melody Rossi ventures into this awkward, inconvenient but important space.
Rossi writes: The purpose of this book is to help you become an instrument through with God can minister to the spiritual needs of a dying person who does not yet know him (19). Rossi writes from her experience in witnessing to her father, mother, and step-mother none of whom had embraced Christ in life but all of whom came to Him in their final days (18).
Because of her close, intimate relationship with each of them, she had access to them in their dying days in a manner that is frequently not available to anyone else. Even pastors and chaplains are frequently denied such access, in part, because close relatives and attending staff shelter the dying from people outside the immediate family circle. In secular circles, the needs of the dying for spiritual guidance and care are often treated as sentimental attachments and the spiritual void is filled with sentimental substitutes—flowers, poetry, happy music, and words of comfort—rather than the hope of resurrection. For this reason, Christians often find themselves the only ones with access to the dying who are able to offer spiritual guidance within their family circles.
Still, the needs for spiritual guidance are real.
In Rossi’s case, her father was a workaholic who owned a chain of nightclubs (50-52). He divorced her mother to marry one of the topless waitresses from one of his clubs (54-56). Her mother responded with bitterness (52-54). Consequently, none of the three were in life practicing Christians and their conversion as they approached death came as a surprise.
Rossi advises us to look for landmarks that indicate an interest in talking about spiritual matters. Among these landmarks are: mention of God, fear of death, church, desire to talk to clergy, faith of others, and so on (63-64). The key comes in responding to these landmarks, not with answers, but with interest in learning more about what the person is thinking. Keep the conversation flowing (64-65).
Rossi reports that 3 simple questions come up most frequently:
Is there really an afterlife?
What is God like?
How can I have peace with God?
The answer (as we learned as kids to any question posed by a pastor) is Jesus! (67) The ticket to being permitted to hear the questions, according to Rossi, is to be willing to serve the needs of the person dying (72) and to develop a support team to permit you to hang in there for the long haul (91). Rossi’s insights are critical, in my experience, because cancer patients and others with a chronic illness often find themselves isolated from friends and family who are unable to cope with their own demons let allow be available to someone with problems.
Years ago before I attended seminary I went to visit an uncle dying of pancreatic cancer. He was a very sensitive person and during our visit he arranged so we could put puzzles together. This allowed us to spend hours at a time together without the awkward need to speak. Still, he did have questions about his faith. Because his brother is a pastor, I was surprised to hear such questions addressed to me—an economist at the time. His key need, however, was to say goodbye to close friends and family—which he did most graciously.
Rossi’s book is most helpful. While many people will find her outline of physical signs of the approach of death helpful, what is most helpful is just to talk through the process of walking alongside someone as they approach death. Fear of death is primarily the fear of the unknown. Having a roadmap reduces such fear.
Gerald G. May. 1988. Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
The goodbyes this week to beloved actor and director, Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014) place the specter of addiction and death in the public eye. This week it is heroin addiction but the drug of choice changes over time. In a society that has trouble placing limits on personal freedom (boundaries) of any sort, the pain of addiction bites particularly hard because we all share a bit in the blame.
What is addiction anyway?
In his book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May (June 12, 1940- April 12, 2005), a Christian psychiatrist specializing in addictions, defined addiction as:
Any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects (24-25).
May notes that true addiction has 5 characteristics:
Loss of willpower, and
Distortion of attention (26).
On reading May’s description in 2011, I became aware of my own addiction—stress. I loved my work too much—it had become an obsession—evidence of tolerance. Taking time off away from the office was harder on me than the pounding stress—evidence of withdrawal symptoms. I told myself that I was advancing my career—this was a self-deception. I could not help myself; I had to work hard—evidence of loss of willpower. Was I aware of it? No—I was convinced that other people were the problem in my career advancement.
When I became aware of this addiction, I took it to the Lord in prayer and committed myself to practicing Sabbath rest. May advises—the only cure for an addiction is to stop the cycle (177). Not working on Sunday (not even for God) has freed up time for family; other interests; and self-respect. I continue to feel the urge to work, but with God’s help my stress addiction is over.
What are you addicted to?
Notice that May’s definition of addiction talks about freedom. May writes:
Free will is given to us for a purpose: so that we may choose freely, without coercion or manipulation, to love God in return, and to love one another in a similarly perfect way…addiction uses up desire…sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits. Spiritually, addiction is a deep-seated form of idolatry [idolatry is anything that substitutes for God] (13).
Psychologists talk about addiction as an attachment disorder. In order to be free in any sense of the word, we need to be detached from our desires enough to regulate them (14). This is why the first of the Ten Commandments reads:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2-3 ESV).
The other gods here are things that we become addicted to. What the Bible is saying is that addiction is a form of slavery from which God can free us. In my experience, freedom is harder than slavery for many people because they are enslaved to their passions—work, bad relationships, substances, expensive toys, compulsive sex, money, and so on. My stress addiction is a typical case because our minds are rigged to facilitate habit formation—we all have addictions, albeit not all addictions are life-threatening (57).
Addiction and Grace is written in 8 chapters:
Desire: Addiction and Human Freedom.
Experience: The Qualities of Addiction.
Mind: The Psychological Nature of Addiction.
Body: The Neurological Nature of Addiction.
Spirit: The Theological Nature of Addiction.
Grace: The Qualities of Mercy.
Empowerment: Grace and Will in Overcoming Addiction.
These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by various notes.
Clearly, I have left out many of the details that May generously supplies. Anyone struggling with addiction (or who cares about someone who does) will find this book a godsend. I clearly did.
Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Anniversaries can be painful. I remember one patient in the emergency department. He was loud; he was obnoxious; he was threatening. When I spoke to him, I was startled to learn he was also grieving—his brother had died at age 40 from alcohol abuse. He was now 40 and also abused alcohol. In remembering his brother, he also feared his own death. In AllOur Losses: All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson remind us that grief can accompany losses other than death and is often mixed with other emotions.
Mitchell and Anderson start by observing that grief—the normal response to loss—is much more common than most people believe (9). Their book is organized around three questions: (1) Why do people grieve? (2) What are the dynamics of grief? And (3) how can we help those who grieve? (10-11). At the time of writing, both authors were professors of pastoral care. Mitchell served at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis; Anderson served at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Mitchell and Anderson observe that grief is both natural and unavoidable. They write: Just as there can be no life without attachments, there can be no attachments without eventual separation and loss. Grief has its beginnings in the twin necessities of attachment and separation (21). One example of this principle of attachment and separation is the child before and after birth (20). Another example is the child’s distinction between me and not me, and later—not me but mine and not mine (23). All losses and separations are painful, in part, because they remind us of our limitations and eventual death (31).
Mitchell and Anderson identify six major types of loss, including: 1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (36-45). They then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses: 1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left (46-50). Surprisingly, they observe that: Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional (51). It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.
The complexity of grieve arises because it is more than just a single emotion and it includes physical responses as well. Mitchell and Anderson cite 7 elements of grief: 1. Numbness, 2. Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 3. Fear and anxiety, 4. Guilt and shame, 5. Anger, 6. Sadness and despair, and 7. Somatization—physical reactions (61-81).
In my experience as a chaplain intern, I was struck by the pervasive nature of grief among the patients that I visited and by the number of physical ailments triggered by intense or unresolved grief. Grief was a part of more hospital visits—especially in the psyche ward and the retirement facility—than any other factor. Mitchell and Anderson suggest that care givers be sensitive to 4 elements. Give people: 1. Permission and space to grieve, 2. Recognition of importance of and support for grief, 3. Encouragement to share, and 4. Help in reintegrating in life (111). They remind us as caregivers of Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 ESV; 165).
Among pastoral care professionals, Mitchell and Anderson’s book is a classic. Grief and loss ministry remains underappreciated, in part, because death is an embarrassing subject in our youth-oriented, post-Christian society. Because our culture denies death, the pain of death and other losses is amplified by ignorance and uncertainty. Mitchell and Anderson shine a light into this dark corner of life. As such, this book makes a helpful gift from time to time.
 As the saying goes: denial is not just a river in Egypt!!!