A post for those who are interested in Christian perspectives. This is the second part of a series on managing our faith during a time of grief.
The shaking of my soul
In an earlier post. I wrote about using words from the Bible to express our own feelings. For instance, this verse from the Psalms is a heartcry that perhaps you can relate to: (This is Psalm 13:2-3 from the Passion Translation)
I’m hurting, Lord—will you forget me forever?
How much longer, Lord?
Will you look the other way when I’m in need?
How much longer must I cling to this constant grief?
I’ve endured this shaking of my soul.
That phrase jumped out at me: “I’ve endured this shaking of my soul.”
For many of us, the death of our loved ones – including the circumstances leading up to it – has truly shaken us. This shaking might be even more severe if we have had confidence that everything in life works out for the best, or if we believed that our prayers of faith would surely save our loved one.
‘Surprised’, ‘shocked’ or ‘shaken’ are at best understatements for what we are going through now. As questions swirl through our minds, we not be comfortable sharing what we are going through with other members of our church or faith group, even the leadership or pastoral care team, for fear of their reactions. The end result can be even more loneliness in our grief.
However, none of this is unusual.
There is a growing body of academic research on grief and faith that makes interesting reading if you’re someone who has been struggling in this way. Here’s one extract on potential problematic issues for the grieving person of faith:
The six most common themes included:
(1) Questioning God’s Character.
A weakened faith in God following loss can cause one to question God’s character — his goodness, caring, intentions, and reasoning.
(2) Negative Feelings toward God.
Negative perceptions and feelings in relation to God often emerge in the form of anger and confusion, leaving the griever devastated and shocked.
(3) Lack of Spiritual Sense Making.
Some bereaved individuals struggle to make spiritual sense of their loss, often because their constructs or assumptions about God or life have been shattered as a result.
(4) Misunderstood by Spiritual Community.
Well-intentioned yet fallible support can cause grievers to feel misunderstood by their spiritual community, especially when would-be supporters respond to their grief with invalidating clichés or questions.
(5) Negative Feelings about Spiritual Community.
Spiritually inclined grievers can have negative perceptions and feelings in relation to the spiritual community, specifically when they feel judged or condemned for being angry at or questioning God following their loss.
(6) Selective about Sharing Feelings.
Overall, mourners expressed a sense of frustration with the support received from their fellow church members, leaving them reluctant to show their true feelings because they feared receiving still greater hurt as a result
(From: “Spiritual Distress in Bereavement: Evolution of a Research Program”, a research paper by Robert Neimeyer, 2014)
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, I hope you might find a little solace in knowing that you are not the only one going through this sort of spiritual shaking following bereavement.
A spiritual crisis following a profound loss is not surprising
I think we can conclude that any spiritual crisis following bereavements or other profound losses in our lives is not surprising.
The book “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis is a classic example of a believer who struggled immensely – and was surprised by the struggle. By the end of the book (recommended reading!) Lewis has found himself in a better place spiritually.
This reflects many people’s experiences. We don’t always realise it at the time, and our spiritual path might be different now to what it was before, but there is a good possibility of reaching a deeper, more meaningful faith.
Another passage from the same research quoted earlier:
An unexpected finding was that a spiritual crisis does not necessarily indicate weak or immature faith. Rather, the participants conveyed that, although rarely acknowledged or respected by the religious community, even people with a solid faith in God can struggle tremendously, especially when facing life without a treasured attachment figure. Moreover, even individuals who feel that they can no longer participate in organized religion or maintain a relationship with God might return to both again at a later date, perhaps once the pain of the loss has lessened.
Coping with a crisis of faith
“But even if we don’t feel at ease, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, CEV)
When our soul is getting tossed around and buffeted by the waves of grief, the last thing we need is to be hard on ourselves. But we are not failing; we are just enduring what so many others endure. Grief isn’t a failure spiritually or psychologically; it is a natural reaction to loss. And nor is any subsequent ‘crisis of faith’ a failure either.
Coping with this crisis perhaps might start with being kind to ourselves.
Sometimes it helps to relax spiritually. Meditative prayer, as wrote about in the previous post in this series, can be a great help. Being out in nature or listening to beautiful music can be as spiritually feeding as reading a devotional book, and perhaps more so, if at this moment we are beset with questions and doubts.
Putting a focus on elements of our faith that are still meaningful and comforting at this time is also a good idea.
What is working for you? Continue! What is making it more difficult? Pause!
There is so much more to explore, but I will end this post here and continue next time.
Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.
(The next article in this series is called “The Deepening” and it will be posted in about 3 weeks times. You may want to subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss any posts.)