My wife and I conducted GriefShare classes through our church for a number of years. GriefShare is a wonderful Biblical Christian counseling ministry, focused primarily on helping people deal with the loss of loved ones.
What we discovered is that nearly all those attending our meetings were not from our church. As we explored the problem more deeply with those who confided in us, it seems that there is a resistance for Christians in turning to their own church in times of deep grief.
Many felt embarrassed that they did not have the ability to move on in their lives. Some had not cleaned out their spouse’s closet years after their passing. Some could not sleep in their bed any more. Others, had eating disorders, uncontrolled emotions from trigger events, anger, isolation, etc. For some they felt their church friends were tired of hearing about their loss and simply wanted them to just “move on”. Some found their old friends became uncomfortable around them, not knowing what to say. If it was the death of a spouse, their old friends who were couples no longer invited them, as singles, to get-togethers.
Lack of Trust
There was also a sense that gossip within the church prevented them from showing up, much less opening up in a meeting with other members experiencing the same level of grief. People in the church might see them coming to GriefShare and feel sorry for them or feel they were too emotional or too needy. We sadly live in a world which often punishes weakness, even in the form of justified grief.
Lack of Compassion
Church is supposed to be a place of compassion and grace. It is called to be a place where members can share their deepest issues and receive a level of accountability. But more than that, love. From the food pantry, to meals-on-wheels, to visitation, hospital visits, elder care, small groups, and on and on, our church does all the right things. The churches our GriefShare participants came from were largely of the same caliber. But, when it came to deep, unrelenting grief, church members went where they were not know, in order to go deep. They went to groups who did not know them, their past, their family, and their lost loved ones. Anonymity was more important than relationships, even in a Christian setting.
I am only expressing what we saw, and was confirmed by other GriefShare leaders from churches nearby. This is not intended to be a condemnation of the church. I strongly support attendance in Biblical Christian churches. I think it is critical that we come together in fellowship, teaching, and accountability. To be on your own as a Christian is to be subject to being blown around by “every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14).
Further, I am sure many Pastors who spend more time counseling members that preparing for their Sunday sermon would strongly disagree with me (at least I hope they would). But there seems to be a difference between publicly asking for prayer for Aunt Sally and her upcoming surgery, and the depths of despair the loss of a loved one can bring. It does seem concerning that when we are at our lowest, the church we attend and the Christian friends we have made are not always the place we seek for comfort.
After writing this post, but before publishing it I happened to be at an UpWard Basketball game, watching my granddaughter cheer. During the halftime, as is always the case, there is a devotion and prayer offered. Today, it came from a women in her early 30’s offering the love of Christ to those willing to listen. Her illustration was based on the recent, unexpected loss of her husband and the love and support her church family provided. She finished by saying had they not have been there to provide support through her (and her kids) loss, she would “like not be standing here today”. I think God was speaking to me that perhaps there are times when the church (individuals within the body) do successfully take hold of those in deep grief and for that, I praise God.
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