I readily admit – I would not choose ANY times of grief that my husband and I have experienced over the past 18 years of ministry. I also can admit that my ‘grief vision’ is flawed and retrospective. God foresees and oversees each moment of grief in a way that my heart is learning to welcome.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines grief as a “deep sadness especially for the loss of someone or something loved.” And showing love is what pastors and wives do, right? Good grief! (more on that later) A pastoral couple’s calling to love the sheep opens a great capacity to be hurt by the sheep, leading to grief which opens a great capacity to be healed by the Shepherd.
Grief has some sad synonyms: sorrow, anguish, woe, regret, distress of mind. Basically, everything we want to avoid. Yet to impede the grieving process only prolongs the heartache. So how should we grieve?
#1. With truth from those we trust. I shed many tears during our first year of marriage because I felt so inadequate at the thought of being a pastor’s wife. My kind-hearted husband would ask me to sit on his lap so he could wrap his arms around me and hold me in a hug. He let me cry and listened as I asked, “Why did you want to marry me knowing you were called to be a pastor?! I’m not good enough to be a pastor’s wife! Why did you choose me?” My husband would whisper in my ear, “I wanted to marry you because I love you for exactly who God made you to be—with your own set of gifts, not someone else’s.” Grieving hearts need to hear truth spoken by those they can trust. This truth can be found in God’s Word (Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentations, etc.). We all need times when those who love us will share truth aligning with Scripture. Pastoral couples have each other’s help to cope with grief; both a blessing and challenge as grief’s comfort can be stolen by marital dissension.
Prayer: Lord God, bring pastoral couples together harmoniously like Aquila and Priscilla who faithfully served, loved, and were hurt by the Body. Help us to speak truth to each other especially in times of grief. Sanctify us in the truth of Your Word. Thank You that Your Truth can set us free! Remind us that You never leave or forsake us; we don’t grieve alone. Amen. (from John 17:17, 8:32, Deut. 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5)
#2. With hope. Perhaps we never grieve so deeply as when we feel strongly that a situation will never change. Like that one couple in church that comes to you and your husband for marriage counseling in a desperate state…again. Like the phone call you get at the exhausted evening hour from a parent whose home where youth are gathered and who are experiencing terrors from demonic influences. And they want you to drive there now. Like the community member who stumbles to your doorstep drunk and shoeless at 2 a.m. because he heard the pastor and his wife care. Each time we face ‘hopeless’ situations and grief threatens to cloud our thoughts, we can help each other recall where HOPE comes from. C.S. Lewis describes well the consuming emotion of grief in A Grief Observed: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” An ‘absence’ or loss can feel like the only thing we can give thought space to, and for a time that might be reality. When ‘hope’ does break through our clouds of grief, we might not recognize, welcome, or trust it will hold – but with God’s faithfulness hope always ‘holds’.
Prayer: Lord God, thank You that our tears and grief travel to You as prayers and that Your Holy Spirit speaks on our behalf when we can only cry out. Thank You that the Spirit intercedes for us according to Your will. We praise You that we are born again to a living hope- You are the God hope; bring Your living hope to every hopeless situation pastoral couples find themselves in. Break through our clouds of grief with the sunshine of Your hope that our faith may be found genuine and result in praise, glory and honor to Jesus Christ. Amen. (from Romans 8:26-27, I Peter 1:3, 6-7)
#3. With healing as the end result. Back to ‘good grief’ which is the title of a little booklet written by the late Granger E. Westberg. It’s on its 50th anniversary edition and I highly recommend it to pastoral couples (or anyone) to read. ABC News Senior Medical Contributor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, MD writes on the back cover, “This gem is written with the heart of a pastor, the insight of a psychologist, the humanity of a father and husband, and the hope of someone who has seen so many survive the process of grieving.” And more than to survive the grieving process, God wants us to heal. It’s vital for pastoral couples to study out the grieving process not only for personal healing from their own hurts but also to help point others to healing.
Westberg shares in the intro to Good Grief, “Faith plays a major role in grief of any kind. But religious faith – at least the Jewish-Christian faith – has never said that a truly religious person does not grieve. What it has said is that there are good ways and bad ways to grieve and that what a person considers to be of most importance in life will definitely affect the way he or she grieves.” We need to faithfully remind ourselves that God, as the object of our faith, will be faithful to heal our grieving hearts.
Prayer: Lord God, we ask You to bind up our broken hearts and heal our wounds, which can be great in ministry. May Your healing be greater. As Paul was, so can we be afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Lord God, help us to not lose heart, though our outer nature is wasting away; renew our inner nature with Your healing power- day by day. (from II Cor. 4)
God has been faithful to bring my husband and I through our share of deep grief – from the loss of a parent and a baby miscarriage to adult onset of diabetes and intense loneliness while facing overwhelming ministry challenges. God has not forsaken us! Let’s together, as pastoral couples, be known for recounting stories of how God brought us through times of grief with: TRUTH, HOPE, and HEALING.
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