Grief Prayer

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, GraveGrief Prayer

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of all Mercy and Compassion:

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).

Presence

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.

Godly Grief

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).

In the strong name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

 

Also see:

Prayer for Father’s Day

Prayer for Moms

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

Continue Reading

Diane’s Passing

 

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him,
They have no wine. And Jesus said to her,
Woman, what does this have to do with me?
(John 2:3–4)

Diane’s Passing

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2006, my sister, Diane, developed a second round of breast cancer. She had started chemo-therapy unsuccessfully in the fall and planned a new round of chemo in the New Year. After Christmas I drove to Philadelphia to visit her and offer encouragement.

When I arrived, we walked around the house inspecting the renovations that she had contracted. She was especially proud of her new kitchen that included a system of warm water circulation in the floor tiling.

I bought her a DVD film starring Queen Latifah, Last Holiday,1 which we watched together. The film is the story of a woman, Georgia, diagnosed with a fatal neurological disorder who blows her life savings visiting a celebrity chef working in a large, luxury hotel, called the Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic. During her visit, Georgia discovers hidden talents, finds love, and, in the end, learns that she had been misdiagnosed. I hoped the film would offer Diane hope and the strength to persevere in her new chemo treatments.

Saying Goodbye

On Monday, February 12, 2007, my mother called me as I commuted to work in Washington D.C. with a colleague. She told me that Diane had taken a turn for the worse. What had begun days earlier as an adverse reaction to chemo had by Sunday night left Diane with blood clots, a heart attack, and a stoke. As she lost consciousness, she asked for her two brothers, for John and for me.
I returned to Centreville, dropped off my colleague, and picked up John. Together, we then traveled to Springfield, Pennsylvania, where Diane lay in the intensive care unit of the local hospital. Our parents waited for us, having traveled earlier in the week on a visit.

When John and I arrived at the hospital mid-morning, Diane lay unresponsive on life-support. The person I saw lying in the hospital bed no longer looked like my sister and the doctors opined that nothing more could be done. I consoled my brother-in-law, Hugo, while we waited for their pastor. Once he arrived, we read Psalm 23 and prayed. Then, we instructed the doctor to remove Diane from life support and sat with her as she took her last breaths.

The Funeral Services

Hugo and my father worked to schedule funeral services for Thursday at Diane’s home church, First Presbyterian Church, in Springfield, Pennsylvania and for Saturday at LPC in McLean, Virginia, where Diane would also be interned in the family burial plot. I thought to attend the LPC service, but my father insisted that I eulogize Diane at both services.

As I prepared my eulogy, I realized that the two, enduring friends of my youth, Diane and our cousin, Carol, had preceded me in death although I had preceded them in life. Carol died years earlier at the age of 31 of an undiagnosed heart condition leaving behind John and Jackie, ages three and four; Diane left behind a teen-aged son, William, who grieved fiercely. My grief ran silent and deep. The passing of Diane and Carol brought my mortality more clearly into view, sharpening my sense of urgency in attending to life’s work.

At the Springfield service, the only people that I knew were family members and my friend, Jon, from high school, who pastors a Lutheran church in Pennsylvania. As I grieved Diane, I drew comfort from the fellowship of about 350 saints who also mourned my sister. As I looked out from the pulpit in McLean, I could see the entire Hiemstra family, many friends in Christ, and about a dozen friends from my office.

Wedding at Cana

Diane’s funeral service served as a “Wedding at Cana” moment in my ministry. Just as Mary drafted Jesus into solving the wine problem at the wedding, my father drafted me to lead Diane’s eulogy. Later I noticed that the colleagues who saw me in the pulpit and heard my eulogy stopped using profanity in my presence.

Over the following year, I began to think differently about part-time seminary studies. In March of 2008 I drove to Charlotte, North Carolina with a friend to attend an open house at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS). Walking through the door, GCTS students greeted us.  We felt truly welcomed seeing many second career students and learning that the entire curriculum could be taken during long weekend visits. Unlike at other seminaries, at GCTS we could continue working while we studied.

Also unlike other seminaries that I visited, African Americans made up about a third of the students. African American students were largely absent on other seminary campuses. Having worked in Washington D.C. for twenty-seven years, I had many African American colleagues, felt comfortable in their presence, and respected their deep spirituality. Seeing the African American students at GCTS gave me comfort that I had finally found the right seminary home.

When I returned to my home in Centreville, I applied to GCTS, was accepted and began classes the following August. I never experienced such joy as I felt on entering seminary.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

Continue Reading

Prayer to Increase Faith

Oak Tree in Oakton, Virginia

Prayer to Increase Faith

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

I praise you for the gift of another day,

let the newest of the day (Isa 43:1) be expressed in new faith.

I confess that I have to  frequently blocked your access to my heart

in despair, in self-pity, and in cynicism not worthy of your love.

Thank you for not giving up on me (Eze 37).

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

give me instead a stronger, more vibrant faith (2 Cor 4:8-9),

where I am able to make you Lord over increasing parts of my life (Acts 4:36-37)

and drain the despair, self-pity, and cynicism by laying my griefs at your feet (Ps 31:9-14).

In Jesus’ name, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), Amen.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Read my April newsletter at: http://mailchi.mp/t2pneuma/monthly-postings-on-t2pneumanet.

Continue Reading

Prayer When We are Alone

Almighty Father,

Reach out to me this morning and comfort me in my solitude,

lonely, missing one so dear.

I know that I should not be sad for a life well lived,

for someone strong who showed me how to live and then how to die.

Yet, I am sad, because it is my turn to be strong and I do not want to be.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

grant me time and space and strength to grieve and to let tears flow.

For the season is at hand for such.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading

Mark 15: Holy Saturday

Frank_and_Gertrude_Hiemstra_grave“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath[1] and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.

Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts.  In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.

The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)[2] These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition[3], Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.

Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times:  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave [4].

Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?

[1] Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).

[2] Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.

[3] Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.

[4] What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.

Continue Reading

Prayer for Those in Pain

wedding-009Heavenly Father,

Prepare our hearts, oh Lord, for the coming holidays when we

must face that empty chair,

must answer questions that intrude too much,

and much remember events from the past that refuse to be history.

Turn down the lights a bit,

Let the old music play bit more gently,

Give me some space when I seem a bit distant.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

Remind me, oh Lord, of your love in Christmas lights.

Shelter me in your arms again.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

 

Continue Reading

Salinger Explores Mystery of Self and Grief

Jerome David Salinger. 1945. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Black, and Company—Back Bay Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An adage among those who listen carefully to people states that one cannot help but tell their own story. For example, Savage (77) writes:

“Everyone tells stories—children, youth, and adults of all ages. Hidden inside those stories, like diamonds in the rough, are the deep truths of the unconscious. Storytelling is a form of self-disclosure.”

 Especially obvious are stories that begin—I know a man who—which almost always are stories about the one telling the story (Savage 95). Fiction stories are, of course, no different.[1]

In his book, The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger introduced us to a moody young man, Holden Caulfield, who is about to be kicked out of a boarding school, Pencey Preparatory, not too far from New York City. When we drop in on Holden, it is the last weekend before school lets out in December and he narrates his interactions with roommates and professors, but something is not right. His roommate pressures him into writing a composition for him, arguing that he is too busy with his love interest to write the report, which makes no sense if Holden is flunking out because of a lack of academic ability. His professor feels guilty for flunking him, which makes no sense if Holden is flunking out because he just doesn’t fit in. When we learn that Holden is a junior and has flunked out of three other schools, we begin to wonder why exactly Holden just cannot make a go of it at Pencey.

Holden is due to return home for the holidays on Wednesday, but gets bored and anxious saying goodbye to friends and faculty at Pencey so he takes the train into New York City and, rather than good home, rents a room in a cheap flop house. Riding the elevator up to his room, the elevator operator offers to hook him up with a prostitute. He agrees, checks into his room, and waits for his date. As he is waiting, he notices that the hotel across the street is a source of immediate entertainment, as people have left their blinds up and are engaging in all sorts of mischief. In particular, he witnesses a man dressing up in women’s clothes and a couple having fun squirting their drinks all over each other.

Meanwhile, his date shows up and begins undressing only to find Holden not in the mood for sex, but quite willing to pay for her company. The prostitute gets bored and asks for her money, at which point Holden learns that the price he was quoted was not the price now being asked. He refuses to pay the additional cost and, when the girl leaves only to come back with her pimp, he ends up getting beat up in an odd display of principle, because he has repeatedly shared with us as readers that he lacks courage. Even odder is that in the middle of his beating he never tells the pimp that the prostitute did not earn her wages.

In telling the story about his experience with the prostitute, we learn that Holden cannot stand the idea of making love to anyone without actually being in love with them—Holden is not as loose and wild as we are led to believe. But it is like we as the readers learn this important insight before Holden himself becomes aware of it. In fact, in his brooding and wandering around New York visiting bars, calling up friends, and dropping in on former professors we learn that Holden is fixated on a friend, Jane Gallagher, who he never quite gets the courage to call. Yet, he calls an old flame, Sally Hayes, and even meets with her. Holden is a young man seriously out of touch with himself.

Being out of touch with himself, Holden does not process grief well. Early in the book, we learn that Holden is still grieving the death of his brother, Allie, who died of leukemia. Late in the book we learn of the death also of a friend, James Castle, at one of the previous schools who, after being bullied by classmates, jumped out of a window to his death. The reason for the bullying is never stated, but the professor, Mr. Antolini, who retrieved the boy’s body remained a close friend of Holden even after he left that school and Holden later suspects him of being a pervert. Furthermore, Castle’s death appears to have been the source of Holden’s inability to concentrate and to complete his education. Just like the reason for the bullying remains a mystery, so does their relationship. Was Castle more than a casual friend?

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye proved to be a good read and is now, in spite of a lot of foul language and exploration of sexual themes, a book which is frequently required reading for young adults. In my case, it was a father’s day gift from my son and, as a novel, a diversion from my usual nonfiction fare. The origin of the title and the allusion posed by the cover are both revealed at the appropriate time in the narration which you might enjoy learning for yourself. I certainly did.

[1] Salinger admitted as much in an interview in 1953 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._D._Salinger).

References

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Continue Reading

Prayer for a Friend

God of all Mercy and Compassion:

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 this friend with us during his season of life. We praise you for his compassion, his quiet dignity and devotion to family, his constant smile and companionship, and his daily presence in our lives.

In the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us a season of grief with his passing. 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; protect our relationships; protect 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).

And we know that through Jesus Christ death is not the final answer. And we like Him will one day be 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)

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us strength to turn to you in our grief, following the example of Christ at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:3), to live life in view of the resurrection and the eternal life that is ours in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

In the strong name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

 

Continue Reading

13. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webResurrected Lord,

Thank you for the hope that comes in the midst of life and death. Be especially present with those that grieve—grieve over the loss of a loved one, grieve over a life not lived according to plan, grieve over sin and brokenness and shame.  Show us the road to recovery, wholeness, and restoration; show us the plans that you have laid out for us—plans for welfare, not evil, for a future, and a hope in you.
Grant us godly grief that produces repentance and redemption and new life in joy.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, wipe away our tears so that we might behold the Father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Continue Reading

11. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion,

Draw near to me in my grief. Let me not mourn alone, but instead turn to you. I remember how you walked with me during sunny days—days when the trees were bright with leaves and the flowers bloomed along the beach and the hills and the forest. Now that autumn has come and the days grow shorter, be ever near as a I walk along along stormy paths that wind through the shadows and under leafless trees. Forgive my aloofness, ever at a distance, thinking that the sun would always shine and warm breezes would stay near. Forgive my tight-fisted attitude, grasping at time, grasping at resources, grasping for myself.  Grant me a clear mind, a generous heart, and helpful hands through your Holy Spirit, Almighty God. That I might be like you. Now and always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading