You learn something new every day! I remember one of the helpful things that I learned while doing my Theology Degree was about the various stages of the grieving process, beginning with numbness, which gives way to anger etc etc until eventually you come to the place of acceptance and adjustment. I found that helpful over the years when helping people who did not understand what was happening to them as they mourned the loss of someone they loved.
However I was told a couple of days ago by someone who worked in Hospital Chaplaincy that is out the window now! Instead of a linear moving from one part of the process to the next, the more recent thinking is that all of these elements of grieving are in a circle. In other words you can find yourself going through the same stages more than once and perhaps can even experience the various stages running into one another or against one another at the same time.
I must admit that to me this sounds much more realistic, and as I think back it is much more true to my experience pastorally. Numbness and anger and an overwhelming sense of loss can return even after a person thinks they have come to a place of acceptance.
Actually, since coming to Wester Hailes, I had already changed the “model”myself before I knew of the new way of thinking amongst health and spiritual care professionals. I had already started to use the imagery of a spiral staircase when speaking with people who were struggling with grief and felt they were not making any progress.( Actually most people do make progress albeit at different rates.) As you go up or down the spiral if you look up the way to the ceiling or down the way to the floor you might feel you are coming back to the same point because you are noticing the same features. Actually you are going higher up or lower down, and it is not really true to say you are back in the same place.
Where is all this leading? Well, the spiral staircase has got wider applications than mourning over the loss of a loved one. There can be a mourning over difficult years, mourning over all sort of losses, even mourning over what has never been. Sometimes over the years I have seen people make real progress by the help of God in dealing with these deep sadnesses, deep wounds of one type or another, usually from childhood. There comes a point often when they seem to lose that victory and they feel they have plunged right back… but actually they haven’t. It is rather that they need and they are ready for the healing, the help to go deeper, or their victory to lift them still higher whichever way you prefer to look at it. The feeling of being back at the same place is illusion. The progress has been real, but it is time for a deeper healing still. Damaged souls, traumatised minds, worn out or understandably rocky or sensitive emotions can no more take a whole series of operations of grace in one go, than a badly damaged body could take a whole series of operations in a short space of time. It is a human being that God’s grace is healing, not a machine that can be fixed with no regard to how it is handling the process. I usually saw the feeling of being back at the same place as a sign that perhaps a person was about to experience deeper help still, which perhaps could only come as they faced a deeper horror still of what had actually happened to them.
It could be that the spiral stair case will help some reading this blog to realise with relief, “I am not slipping back.” I experience the spiral staircase in some ways myself at the moment. At times I am very accepting of having had to give up parish ministry because of health issues; at other times not so. Sometimes fresh thoughts or sadnesses about it all come to the surface or confusing thoughts that I have not faced before, but as I do go through these days I have come to expect a greater measure of settledness and peace is waiting for me… and so the process goes on. It is certainly not a straight line, or at least it has not been for me.
I actually think someone needs to hear a word from God: It is this:
God really has helped you. The healing you have experienced from trauma is real not imaginary… but the trauma was deep and there is an even deeper healing and freedom still to come.
One of the most helpful prophetic words that I was every given was one from John Paul Jackson. He spoke into a situation that was concerning me and said amongst other things, “Trust the Process.” I want to say that to someone, perhaps to more than I know, through this blog today. I pray though it may be difficult for you, that as time passes you will be able to trust that the God who loves you has His hands on the process you are going through. Deeper healing can indeed come, even for you…may God help you even today not to give up hope for that.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and with me this day and always.
Thank you Kenny, yesterday something happened that seemed to take me back to the pain of 13 years ago as if it had just happened. Your words have brought me comfort today.
Such insight . For 6 years I have been going through the process of grief. Grief at what should have been. Two steps forward then one step back, still brings you forward. Thank you Lord for being in the process. Thank you Kenny for sharing.
Thanks for writing Judith. Glad the blog helped….
Thank you so much for this honest blog.its so helpful having lost both my parents now..my mum passed away 3 months ago the grief has been emence..ive had a lot of losses in my life time but this tops them all..
Reading this I feel there is hope to get through grief.
Gid bless you Kenny.
A ‘word in season’ for all of us – thank you Kenny.
One observation and one question if I may.
Observation – your words remind anyone who has bought into much of modern Kirkianiity (but of course not only north of the border or even solely in the UK) – that the journey through brokenness into a place where we may be presented ‘mature in Christ’ is a life’s work – perhaps on a spiral staircase for quite a bit of or even all of the time. if we but grasped the awesome nature of the distance between a Holy and Sovereign Lord of All and our sinfulness in not truly honouring God in all we do and say – everyday – then not only would we be blown away by Divine ‘meekness and majesty’, but many of our Teaching Elders would not keep pretending that there is no such thing as sin, or a need for repentance or that not living in God’s world according to Divine foundational principles and procedures are not without consequences.
As I am sure you know, H. Richard Niebuhr famously summed up the basic underlying deceit of a hopeless liberal theology into this sentence: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” No wonder I have sometimes sat in pastoral situations and a Minister has had nothing to say! We thank God that you are infused in God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Question – which text comes to your mind when trying to encapsulate the insights shared in your blog today?
Thank you again for a timely word into my heart today – it was more timely than you will ever know – but that Kenny, is one of the outrageous pastoral joys of ministry is it not. ‘To God’ indeed, ‘be the Glory’!
Hi Martin… basically the whole bible story of the people of God in the Old and New Testaments. I guess there are more specific texts such as Paul speaking about carrying treasure in earthen vessels, grace being sufficient, being transformed from one degree of glory into the next, his encouragement in his writings to the church to be “more and more” what they are etc. Also Jesus himself being made the perfect high priest through suffering etc. God bless you and thanks for writing, K
Hi Kenny, Thanks for the Spiral Staircase–beautiful! I’d like to send you a paper I wrote that I think you would like called, Psalm 88: Living with Alzheimer’s. Met you once in Wester Hales along with my Minister of the time, Jim Ritchie.
Please do so Aileen!