Stress from Loss
In our last chapter we talked about the stress that is caused by loss. Basically the relationship between stress and loss is that loss (any kind of loss) produces grieving and grieving is stressful. I mentioned several things about grieving:
- It's a process that has five identifiable stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
- It was necessary for recovery. Grieving is the body's way to cope with loss. Each stage has a purpose.
- Everybody grieves whether they're conscious of it or not, and we're never quite ready for the experience when it comes.
- Grieving produces stress and a way to lower this particular stress is to understand the process because most of the stress is caused by the fact that we don't understand what's happening to us.
In this chapter we'll look at how other people react to us as we grieve, and study a biblical strategy for grief recovery.
Usually the first stage of grief is denial. We don't want to believe that what's happening has happened. Some typical responses:
- Refuse to face the facts
- No he's not dead
- I can still do everything I used to do (often the attitude after a first heart attack)
- Avoiding the subject
- Denial by neglect
- Putting off grief through activity
- Overdo work, hobbies, abuse things like food, drugs, improper sex, etc.
It is important to get beyond denial because we cannot heal until we do. Sometimes our family and friends who are witness to our loss go into denial themselves. For example, a person's pain is minimized by others in order to rush them though the grieving process and thus denying its legitimacy. The idea is if they get better fast then it's not really that bad.
At other times the pain is "explained" away by using platitudes or rationalizations that serve only to protect the helper from dealing with the unpredictability and difficulty of life, and offers no real comfort to the one grieving. Little phrases to make you feel good like:
- Think positive
- Don't let yourself go
- Think of the children
- Grow up
- It's better this way
The book of Job provides a wonderful illustration of this kind of ineffective consolation given by friends (Job 8). Job has lost everything (family, health, home, wife). His friends come to console him as he sits in dust and ashes covered with sores over his body. At first they sit quietly with him but then begin to speak to him. One of his friends, Bildad, begins to talk to him about his (Job's) attitude because Job had been lamenting and crying out to God for an explanation of the things that have happened to him.
1Then Bildad the Shuhite answered,
2"How long will you say these things,
And the words of your mouth be a mighty wind?
3"Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
4"If your sons sinned against Him,
Then He delivered them into the power of their transgression.
5"If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
6If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate.
7"Though your beginning was insignificant,
Yet your end will increase greatly.
8"Please inquire of past generations,
And consider the things searched out by their fathers.
9"For we are only of yesterday and know nothing,
Because our days on earth are as a shadow.
10"Will they not teach you and tell you,
And bring forth words from their minds?
- Job 8:1-10
Bildad is concerned that Job's questioning shows a lack of respect for God's justice so he leaps to God's defense. Bildad thought (as was the thinking of that era) that God visited immediate justice and blessing on people (rich = righteous / Illness, tragedy = sinfulness).
He tells Job to "own-up" to what he's done wrong and it will all be okay. His theory is nice and neat and enables him to avoid emotional entanglement with Job - he just points out his mistakes. Job doesn't buy it (even though, he used to believe in the same theory) because he's done his best to serve God and yet he's still suffering.
This story highlights some ineffective methods that friends and family have of avoiding the grieving process themselves when loss occurs close to home.
There are ways that we can help grieving people that will assist them in times of need and help reduce the stress caused by grief.
- Offer physical affection (hug, arm around the shoulder, holding the hand). Communicate caring without words.
- Say, "If you need to just talk, call me." Be available; repeat and present the opportunity to show sincerity.
- Offer a specific service (food, mow the law, etc.).
- Express your love with words of encouragement.
- Share some of your own feelings and experiences in similar circumstances.
- Include the person in your life (dinner, sports, etc.).
- Offer to pray or study the Bible with them. Help them to make it to church and stay with them.
These are some of the things a person can do to support the one who is grieving. Here are some things you can't do:
- You can't grieve for them. They have to experience it themselves. Don't "wish" you could do the suffering for them.
- You don't have to give them the answer to the question "why?". Only God knows all of the why's and if He wanted to reveal the why of the person's suffering He could do it without our help.
- You can't shorten the time of suffering. If you try to do this, you simply put more pressure and stress on the grieving person.
- You can't fix everything. Some people are natural born fixers. When something happens to someone else, instead of helping the other to arrive at acceptance they try to fix everything (broken marriage, lost dreams, etc). Some things can't be fixed and part of acceptance is realizing that.
So much for the things we need to avoid in helping others grieve, let us now look at a strategy for renewal - especially for Christians who experience over-stress brought about by grieving and loss.
Strategy for New Hope
Much of the grieving process is designed to help us deal with the past and assist us in adjusting to the present. Loss, however, affects the future and much of the stress caused by loss comes from the anxiety we experience when considering what will happen to us in the future.
In the secular world the answer to this anxiety is usually said to be within oneself:
- Believe in yourself - sports heros
- Become a "new you" - exercise education
- Find yourself a new person - get out there
These are fine things but they assume that there resides within ourselves or in others all of the resources needed to renew ourselves after the pain of loss.
As Christians, of course, we have similar experiences and emotions as others do but our perspective on these is different as is our strategy to find renewal.
In order to find new hope and renewal after loss we can follow the example of the Apostles after their loss of Jesus. They had a love and fellowship with Him that was deep. They had great hopes and expectations for themselves, their faith and their people. When Jesus was taken and killed:
- They lost a friend and leader.
- They lost self-esteem and faith because of their own cowardice.
- They lost hope for the great Kingdom they were to build.
After His resurrection, however, Jesus sent them to wait for Him in Jerusalem and while there the process of renewal was taking place in the following ways.
1. They were together
12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
- Acts 1:12-13
Luke says that they were gathered with others in the upper room. Grieving is not a solitary action. We need fellowship not only to help us during the grieving process but it is through our interaction with other Christians that our faith is strengthened and our desire to carry on is encouraged. We don't realize how much we love and need the brethren until we grieve. They carry us until we can walk by ourselves again.
2. They devoted themselves to prayer
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
- Acts 1:14
Prayer doesn't change the past but it does help shape the future. Loss brings change, change brings decisions and making decisions is stressful - especially when they have to be made in the difficult circumstances of a death, divorce or serious illness.
James tells us:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
- James 1:5
Note he says that God doesn't give the answer, nor does He make the decision, God gives us the wisdom we need to make the best decision in the light of His Word and the circumstances that we are in.
Most of the times our dilemma isn't about right or wrong, but what's best and when we're grieving God helps us to see more clearly our options. This clearer vision comes through long and thoughtful prayer time with our Lord.
3. They took action
15At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 16"Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry." 18(Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. 19And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20"For it is written in the book of Psalms,
'Let his homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it';
'Let another man take his office.'
21Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." 23So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." 26And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
- Acts 1:15-26
Despite their discouragement and in the wake of their constant prayers, Peter found the courage to stand and take action. They hadn't received the Spirit or preached the gospel yet but they did what was necessary and at hand - they filled the vacant space left by Judas in preparation for their great mission.
The longest journey always begins with the first step. New life, new hope, renewed action has to begin somewhere, somehow and it usually does with one small action:
- packing up the old stuff
- writing away for information
- throwing out what you're not going to use anymore
Many times we want renewal in one instant but usually it begins with a series of small actions that are in the direction of the new goal. With the help of the brethren and prayer for wisdom we can usually find a step that's small enough to handle but in the right direction that will take us to a new hope and life.
Loss creates stress but we can reduce the stress created by that loss if we:
- Understand the natural grieving cycle that accompanies all loss great and small.
- Use a biblical strategy for our renewal - fellowship, prayer, action guided by God's wisdom
Finally, please realize that all of us suffer loss from time to time in life, don't be surprised, angry, disappointed or guilty when this happens. To lose something or someone important is a natural part of life. If you accept that loss is not beyond God's notice or concern, the stress caused by these events will be manageable and your recovery from loss less painful.