I am extremely thankful for my seminary experience. My short time at SBTS along with my three years at Bethel Seminary provided me expansive theology and practical leadership training. I left Bethel with a very clear understanding of what I believed and what I'd be willing to fight for. However, no matter how comprehensive the education, there are always gaps an eager learner must look to fill or life itself will eventually be the teacher. Two weeks ago, life taught me one of those lessons that I didn't learn in seminary.
The lesson? Grief is exhausting.
Grief is necessary. Grief is natural. Grief is painful. Unprocessed grief is even more painful. Processed grief can lead to closure and healing. Processing grief is, well, a process. Grief cannot be rushed, but it can't be stomped down either. If a person does not grieve in appropriate ways, withdrawal and depression can be a person's master. Trust me, I have seen unprocessed grief in others and in my own soul. I have seen people succumb to panic attacks and depression due to unprocessed grief. But, I have also seen families heal and move on in holy ways when grief is handled appropriately. The hard part is that grieving takes time and...It is exhausting.
Two weeks ago, our community lost someone who was beautiful, impacting, and down-right fun. The grief was over-whelming. I was asked to help many, including the family, handle the difficult time of saying goodbye. The process started early on Monday morning and did not stop until late on Thursday night. I did not feel overwhelmed at the time of helping because I was propelled on by doing what I thought was right. I was doing what I thought Jesus would do. After all, I was only helping the family and community process grief. I was not the one grieving. Why would I have to worry about grief's impact on me?
On Friday morning, after all the initial grieving by friends, family, and the community, I woke up COMPLETELY DRAINED. And, I still had a sermon to write and a HarvestFest event to help our church host. Why was I so drained? Why did I feel like I had just been in an emotional heavy weight fight? I wish I would have known that grief is exhausting.
I once heard a therapist named Diane Langberg state that a counselor's job is to go where Jesus went; into the tombs, expecting a resurrection. Langberg then proceeded to point out that pastors, counselors, and therapists encounter people when they are in the "tombs" of life; they are suffering or grieving and death is or has been in the vacinity. Langberg stated that "tomb work" can be exhausting and then she pointed out that Jesus often withdrew to be alone and pray. For Jesus, handling grief and doing "tomb work" was exhausting. If grief was exhausting for Jesus, experiencing or interacting with grief will be exhausting for all of us.
Below is what I recently learned while interacting with grief: 1. Grief is exhausting. 2. "Tomb work" is exhausting. 3. The power of a small community cannot be appropriately measured. 4. Everyone who deals with grief must, like Jesus, withdrawal to lonely places and pray in order to rest, heal, and engage with God, who brings hope and resurrection to lonely, dark, "tomb-like" places. Lastly, if you find yourself in a grieving state, please do not rush or avoid the process. You are most likely grieving because your lost loved one is worth the grief. So, do your best to honor and love that person by grieving and grieving well.
(Need help processing grief? Check out the book titled, A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, look into a grief processing workshop at your local church or community center, or contact HBC at 270-756-5230.)
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.