Archives For pain

Angel of Grief by Mike Schaffner, Creative Commons/flickr

Sometimes there are no words. There are only tears and hugs. Sometimes the best answer to the question “Why?” is, “I don’t know.” And sometimes goodbyes aren’t forever.

Every pastor learns these lessons at some point in his or her ministry. Most of us learn them on the fly or from a wise sage who through long years of faithful service has learned how to care for the grieving well. More often than not we learn these lessons by watching, doing, struggling, and failing. Classroom lectures often fall short when people’s lives are falling apart.

I’ve learned most of what I know about pastoral care by trial and error. Lots of trying and lots of error. I think I got it wrong more than I got it right. Walking into Billi and Bob’s house just minutes after Bob died, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But out of that experience I learned that sometimes caring is more about being rather than doing.

I learned it the day I drove to the hospital after receiving word that a young couple in our church had lost their baby. I learned that sometimes there is no good answer to the question of why, but that in the absence of answers there is still Jesus. And because of Jesus there is always hope.

I learned it in the wee hours of the morning when Leonard pulled off his oxygen mask to tell those of us standing around his hospital bed goodbye. As he went around the room that night, his message to me, his 33-year-old pastor, was, “I love you. I’ll see you later.” We all prayed the Lord’s Prayer. My dear friend began the prayer with us on earth and ended it with his Savior in heaven.

Sometimes there are no words . . . there is only presence. Sometimes there is no why . . . there is only Jesus. Sometimes a goodbye is not really a “goodbye” . . . it’s a see you later.”

With the incarnation, Jesus gave us His presence. At the cross, God the Son chose to enter into suffering, grief, and loss for our sakes. And with the empty tomb, He communicated a redemptive hope that trumps all loss, sorrow, grief, and pain.

Pastor, when there are no words, give them your presence. When there is no “why,” love them well in Jesus’ name. And when all hope seems lost, remind them that the empty tomb can turn “goodbye” into “see you later.”

Please join me and Dave Branon along with our host Tim Jackson for an upcoming webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST. I believe we have some unique insight to share with pastors and ministry leaders. To register for the live event, click the link above. Our prayer is that you will be a little better equipped to enter into the pain of others and to bring the comforting presence of Jesus Christ into the darkness of grief.

Unavoidable Pain

Tim Jackson —  February 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

In my role as a father, I’ve always considered protecting my three children from harm and from things that would hurt them as one of my primary missions. Hot stoves. Sharp knives. Power tools. Bikes. Cars. People. All of them have the potential for good or harm. Knowing how to handle each is crucial to minimize the risks of pain.

At times, I’ve succeeded. But all too often I’ve failed miserably. Or at least that’s how I feel when I’m helpless to prevent something from hurting one of them.

On Friday, I felt that helpless feeling again. This time it was a text from my youngest, my baby girl. (Yea, she’s 22, but she’ll always be my baby! You dads know exactly what I mean.)

The text was urgent, simple, and pointed:

“Please pray. One of my friends Micah is in the hospital after passing out in the pool. They haven’t been able to fully revive him yet. Please, please pray!”

A few moments later, she wrote, “He didn’t make it . . . Please pray for his family.”

My wife and I were on our way to meet my son and his wife for dinner. We were anticipating a wonderful time together. Now we were stunned, kicked in the gut. We ached for our daughter, but we felt a deeper grief for Micah’s parents who we’ve never met and who just lost their precious son. (His older sister had been on my daughter’s floor last semester.)

As we parked the car, my wife and I clutched hands and prayed. We asked that God be present with our daughter, and that He would hold and comfort her, her friends, the student body and staff of the Christian college she’s attending, Micah’s family, his roommate, the young men on his floor, and the students who pulled him out of the pool and did their best to revive him. All are reeling in pain from the loss of this vibrant young man.

We prayed that God would surround them with His loving embrace so that they would know they were loved even in the middle of their pain.

Recently I’ve been working through some material on the loss of a child in preparation for an upcoming program. In his book Written In Tears, Luke Veldt writes about the tragic and sudden death of Allison, his 13-year-old daughter. He makes an astounding and terrifying statement: “It took the death of my daughter for me to begin to understand the love of God” (p. 24).

Yikes! I want to know the love of God, but must it require that pain and loss be inflicted on my heart to truly know His love? Luke’s book describes his personal journey through grief and “how I came to know God better, not just despite my loss, but because of it” (p. 25).

Luke goes on to quote A. W. Tozer who wrote: “The Bible was written in tears and to tears it will reveal its best treasures” (p. 22). It’s the journey through grief that often drives us to the God of the Bible for answers. But there are no answers that will bring our loved one back or remove the pain of their absence.

Yet God is there. He’s not silent. And He weeps with us because He loves us. He’s not impotent or uncaring because He didn’t prevent the pain. Even though He’s a perfect parent, God never promised to protect us from all pain. But He’s with us in our pain.

The journey through painful loss was never meant to be taken alone. We need others to go with us, reliable guides who have walked this path and found hope in the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). How Can I Live With My Loss? is a booklet we’ve prepared to help you navigate your journey through grief.

And a request: Please pray for Micah’s family, my daughter Tracey and her friends, classmates, and the staff at Moody Bible Institute as they take this journey through grief together. Pray that the pain of this loss will bind them into a healing community that is empowered by the loving God who welcomed Micah home with joyful celebration.

Emotions–Good or Bad?

Jeff Olson —  February 23, 2012 — 6 Comments

In his book Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge points out that it was “God who gave us a sense of humor.” He goes on to ask, “Do you really think Jesus came to take it away?”

Of course, the answer is no way! Jesus was hardly dry and humorless. But Eldredge’s question got me to thinking about emotions in general – are they good or are they bad.

Emotions often get a bad rap, but the fact that Jesus was deeply moved by a close friend’s death show that He didn’t come to take them away (John 11:33-36). Emotions are a legitimate part of being made in the image of a God who feels emotions –“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” –Genesis 6:6.

As God’s image bearers, it is good and right for us to feel the full range of emotions. In fact, it is a mistake to bottle up one’s emotions. This is a form of denial that can keep us from learning important things about ourselves from what we feel.

Strong emotions can be a signal that something inside of us needs serious attention—maybe a need for love and comfort or something unholy in us that must be owned and confessed.

So pay attention to your feelings.

God might be using them to show you something important!

Hiding behind Humor

Jeff Olson —  January 20, 2012 — 7 Comments

Hunter Adams, a physician whose life was the basis for the 1998 film Patch Adams, has spent his career encouraging doctor-patient relationships that rely heavily on the use of humor and play. Adams believes establishing this kind of connection with a patient is essential to their physical and emotional health.

Laughter and humor are an important part of life. The book of Proverbs says “a cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Generally speaking, all of us could use more laughter in our lives.

Certainly there’s a time for laughter, but we sometimes use humor to hide.

Sometimes laughter or making a joke is part of a cover-up. We can joke around as a way to hide from others so they won’t take us seriously. Many of us have learned to play the clown and hide a lot of deep heartache behind our humor or wit.

While it’s true that “a cheerful heart is good medicine,” the book of Proverbs also says, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains” (Proverbs 14:13).

Although laughter can mask the pain, it eventually wears off. The pain is still there, and the most healthy thing we can do is acknowledge it to ourselves, to others and to God.

Are you hiding some pain behind humor? Perhaps it’s time to turn your laughter into mourning (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4) and allow others and God to get close enough to carry your burden and comfort your heart.

Jesus is not a pain killer

Jeff Olson —  November 3, 2011 — 18 Comments

Have you ever tried to used Jesus as a pain-killer? I know I have.

In an attempt to survive a time of feeling let down by others or myself, I’ve immersed myself in spiritual disciplines like prayer and scripture reading. I’ve even listened to a few Jesus centered tunes to soothe my soul. At the time, it may have looked good on the outside, but inside I wasn’t really looking for Jesus and what he wanted to show me in my situation. I was looking for a distraction. I was simply looking to busy myself with something so I didn’t have think about or feel the weight of my hurt.

Bottom line—I wanted t get as far away from the hurt as possible…and Jesus was going to help me.

Over the course of my walk with Jesus, however, I’ve learned that following Him is not about denying the reality of our pain and sorrow. Instead, it is to lean into it. After all, Jesus Himself was no stranger to pain and sorrow (Isa.53:3, Lk.22:44). He felt the heartache of life, and felt it deeply.

Jesus didn’t come to numb our souls. He came to bring us life (John 10:10). And to be fully alive in a broken world involves facing our pain, not running from it.


A Better Day Coming

Allison Stevens —  June 27, 2011 — 3 Comments

My heart is heavy this morning. One of my best friends has cancer and doesn’t have a hopeful prognosis.  According to her doctors, she’ll be lucky to live out the rest of this year.

Another friend’s father and brother were killed in an auto accident last night. I can only imagine her horror and grief.

This world is ravaged by sin and death. It hurts and I hate it. I feel helpless to stop it. I know I’m not alone; anyone reading this has been affected by tragedy and heartache in some way.

My heart is soothed this morning by what I read in Revelation 21:4:  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

I look forward to that day. I long for it. I hope you, too, find comfort from this promise of God.

The Last Goodbye

Tim Jackson —  December 28, 2010 — 12 Comments

I just got an email from a dear friend who shared with me that a mutual friend of ours just said goodbye to his wife and sent her home. He wasn’t putting her on a train or plane. He wasn’t sending her home to the place where she grew up. Nor was he sending her off to visit her parents. He said his last goodbye to her just today as she went home to be with Jesus after a valiant battle with cancer.

Talk about holiday heartache. I’ve shared before on this blog about the heartache that we experience the first time we go through a holiday without a loved one. It totally changes the color and feel of the holidays. Now my friend will not only have the holiday to look forward to but also the anniversary of his wife’s departure to heaven.

And, as sad as it has been for Ned to lose Kathy, he and the family know that she’s not longer suffering with the cancer that ravage her body. They take comfort in knowing that she’s at peace and free to enjoy all the delights of heaven that they still can only dream about now. And although Ned is a Jesus follower knows that he will see his bride again because she did trust Jesus as her personal Savior and Lord, he and his family still grieve over the loss of enjoying Kathy’s presence here and now.

Paul, a New Testament author,  described the  grief of a Jesus follower as “grief with hope” instead of “grief without hope” (1Thess. 4:13-18). He reminded us that we are not exempt from grief because of our faith. We still grieve. But we grieve differently. We grieve with hope.

Our friend grieves the loss of his wife, as does her children and grandchildren. They have lost a beloved wife, mother, and grandmother for a while. But they know with confidence that she is with the Lord in a place of unimaginable joy and peace that the Apostle John described in Revelation 21:4 as a place without tears . . . “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

So, if you will, please remember Ned and his family in your prayers as God brings them to mind. Ask “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4) to comfort them as they’ve said their last goodbye to a wonderful woman that they will see again, but not just yet.

Holidays & Heartache

Tim Jackson —  October 8, 2010 — 15 Comments

I’ve sat on this post for over a month. Didn’t know if I really wanted to post it or not. It just opens up areas of woundedness for us all that sometimes I’d just rather say nothing about. But then again, if we . . . I mean . . . if I really do believe that God is up to something good all the time (ya know, it’s a real pain when the Holy Spirit uses something you’ve previously written to remind you of your need to step into hard things), then this post is for all of us who are broken by grief and loss that is relentless. So, here goes . . .

The Labor Day holiday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. I love holidays–the food and the fun with family and friends. It’s such a delight. But there’s the sadness that another summer is ending. I love the warmth and will miss it in February when the icy Michigan wind is ripping at my face. Yet, the holiday also ushers in the first glimmers of fall–my favorite time of year. Fall–with it’s crisp cool mornings, the pallet of colors soon to be splashed over the maples and punctuated by the brilliant red of the staghorn sumac, the sounds of football on the weekends and geese making their pilgrimage south. And the tastes of apples, pumpkin pie, and my favorite drink–cider.

Okay, I think you get the picture. I like the last blast of the summer holiday. You bet.

But this past Labor Day holiday’s delight with my family and friends was pierced with a call from a close friend who lives just a mile from our home. She was describing to my wife the trauma of being first on the scene of a tragic accident on their way to church that Sunday morning. At the end of their rural country road, a car had failed to stop at a T-intersection and struck an embankment so hard that it was launch through the air, landing on the other side of the embankment completely out of sight of the road. It was the out-of-place plume of smoke in the woods that caught her husband’s attention and sent him exploring. He soon discovered the burning wreckage and immediately dialed 911. But it was too late to rescue the driver.

We later learned that the driver was the 20-year-old daughter and only child of a man who had lost his wife just four years earlier to cancer. The news sent me reeling. How horrible! How unfair! How sad! I was angry. I felt like I wanted to scream. I just imagined if I was in his shoes and that it was one of my daughters. How horrific! How excruciatingly difficult that would be for me . . . and I still have two more children and a wife. How alone when there’s no one else but you. How could this happen! This dear man whose daughter’s life held such promise for him is now gone. No time for goodbyes. Just gone. And he’s all alone. No wife. No daughter. Just alone.

I couldn’t get him off my mind for the rest of the weekend. From now on, every holiday–not just one or two for a while–but every holiday will be stained with the emptiness and loneliness of the absence of not only his precious wife but now his daughter as well. Celebrations will feel futile. Why bother? No one’s here to celebrate with. What’s the point?

When we think of holidays we can easily think of those wonderful, warm, glowing times that are so meaningful to so many. But what about those who struggle with facing their first holidays alone, without the loved ones who have been so precious and irreplaceable to them? When we’re enjoying the good times, do we ever stop to remember those whose hearts are breaking over their grief?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a depressing mood during the holidays. Just that we remember that holidays can be filled not only with joyful celebration but also with heartache that’s crushing for those who have lost someone special to them. And that first year is especially difficult to navigate. To remember brings both joy and pain. And yet, to not remember some how diminishes the worth and value of that unique one-of-a-kind spouse, child, sibling, parent, or friend who is noticeable absent.

To suffer in grief seems to be so unfair. Why would God allow us to suffer and not relieve our grief, our sorrow, our pain. Nicholas Waltersdorf, a professor at Yale wrote about his journey through grief in the wake of the death of his son Eric, who died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. In describing his suffering as a father over holiday get-togethers Waltersdorf would say, “Now, when we’re all together, we’re never all together.” He says he came to understand the suffering of God, the Heavenly Father through his own suffering . He wrote:

“It is said of God that no one could behold his face and live. I always thought this
meant no one could see God’s splendor and live. A friend said that perhaps it
means no one can see God’s sorrow and live, or perhaps God’s sorrow is His
splendor. Maybe the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer
with us when he did not have to.”

It is the message of the greatest holiday celebration of all–the invasion of our planet by the Creator God Himself who came to remind us that no matter what losses we may face in this broken world as wounded and hurting people, there is always a reason for hope and joy. Why? Because we are never totally alone. God is with us . . . Immanuel (Matt. 1:23). And God weeps (John 11:35). And, when I think about it . . . maybe it’s true . . . the greatest thing about God is that he would choose to suffer with us when he didn’t have to.

Maybe you have a story of grief and loss that God has brought you through that you would be willing to share with others. Or maybe you’re in the middle of your journey through grief and just want to ask for prayer. Please feel free to share your story or concerns with the community of those who blog and post on this site.

A Change of Plans

Tim Jackson —  August 18, 2010 — 7 Comments

Does your life go just the way you had it planned? Mine sure doesn’t. The question is, how do you respond when your plans change? Or maybe better said, how do you respond when your plans get changed?

I recently returned from a 20-day vacation to the American West with my wife and 3 adult children. (Now you know why I haven’t been posting anything over the past several weeks.) We’ve dreamed about and have been planning a trip like this for years and finally all the stars aligned to make it possible. We drove 5,000 miles (Yes, that’s 5 with 3 zeros!) and were privileged to enjoy the rugged beauty of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. All in all it was a fantastic, memory-making trip of a lifetime for us.

But we also had our fair share of hiccups along the way . . . primarily in the area of vehicle challenges with the vintage 1973 motor home we inherited from my in-laws. Both before we left and occasionally throughout the trip, we encountered obstacles that we had to overcome. At times I had visions of our adventure becoming a sadistically laughable tag line for yet another Chevy Chase/National Lampoon vacation movie gone bad.

Prior to the trip, the old machine spend over a month in the shop to diagnose and fix a faulty electrical system. After getting the green light to go,  we subsequently blew a power steering hose as we were literally pulling out of the drive way. I’m not kidding! I envisioned our trip draining out with the fluid leaking all over the road. We quickly rushed to the garage and begged our mechanic to craft a new hose (because, of course, you can’t find a hose at the local parts store for a 1973 motor home on short notice). Masterfully he completed the task the same day and twelve hours later than we’d planned we again departed on our long anticipated adventure . . . before something else could go wrong and scuttle the whole dream.

We encountered several additional “mechanical” challenges along the way (like a broken alternator one day out and a faulty battery connection that stopped us dead in our tracks for a couple of hours when we were just 10 hours from home). But, those are only part of the story.

We returned on schedule  and I had visions of blogging about all the things God had inspired me to write about and share with you all . . . and then my plans were changed.

I had allowed for a couple days at home to take care of unpacking and cleaning up the home front prior to getting back into the saddle at the office (pardon the shameless western metaphor but I couldn’t resist). Much was needed after being gone almost 3 weeks–mowing the overgrown lawn, repairing the motor home, weeding the 3-foot high weeds that were threatening to totally overrun my vegetable garden. Sunday afternoon I bent over to pick up a bolt that had fallen to the floor in my garage. I tried to straighten back up but couldn’t. Ouch! Literally! The familiar sharp pain in my lower back told me I was in trouble. Shoot! That’s not what I had planned.

I’m not unfamiliar to back pain. Six years ago I went down with a bulging disk in my low back. It took 6 months to rehab it. While this present pain was not as bad, it was another warning bow shot that I had been neglecting to take care of my body during vacation. Now it was time to pay the price and there was no discussion about it.

So what do you feel when your plans are foiled? I must confess that quite often the first place I go is frustration. “Awe come on! No! Not now! I’ve got too much to do!” My response can quickly dissolve into complaint that morphs into anger and then sinks into despair. “Fine. Forget it! Why bother? It never works out anyway!”

Fortunately, I don’t stay there as long as I use to. And thankfully, God has been patient with my slow growth. Being willing to ask, “Okay, God, what are you up to now?” has been a major shift in my heart and demeanor. Back pain has been used of God to force me to “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10).

In times of disappointment, struggle, pain, and changes in my well-laid plans, a belief that has grown into a deep and abiding conviction over the years is this simple but reassuring truth: God is up to something good all the time no matter what. Whether I feel it, see it, or experience it at the moment, doesn’t change the reality that God is always involved and at work in all the details of our lives. I believe that. And that sure helps me handle the changes of plans that get thrown my direction.

So how about you? I’d love to hear how you’ve battled, struggled, and worked through your response to game-changing plans in your life.

Heal, heels

Allison Stevens —  August 9, 2010 — 5 Comments

Just came back from the physical therapist with my husband who broke both of his heels in May. It was a difficult thing to watch:  the therapist moving my husband’s ankles, heels, and toes and seeing my husband wince in pain.  A lot of pain.

The therapist explained that it’s necessary to massage his feet like this so that the swelling can go down and more blood can circulate through to the injury to speed up the healing. Healing is a result, but so is pain. A lot of pain.

There is intentional, growth-producing pain and then there is pain we tolerate because we’re too afraid to really face it and do the difficult things up front. But what we may not realize is that doing the hard thing up front (i.e. going to physical therapy) provides healing that goes deep to the wound and we can hopefully be pain-free.  If we avoid the hard stuff now, it will inevitably lead us to pain on top of pain.

If my husband does all the physical therapy, follows the doctor’s orders, and exercises, he will greatly increase the likelihood that his heels will heal faster, and that he will walk again soon with little or no pain. Will it hurt at first?  You bet!  Earlier, when I said he “winced” with pain, I was being nice.  He really cried like a little girl (just kidding, honey.)

If he doesn’t go to therapy and sits around with his feet up al the time, sure the bones will eventually come back together, but he would never walk normally again, and he’d do so with a lot of pain. And pain for what?

I won’t try and draw all the possible parallels to our emotional, relational and spiritual lives, but the parallels are there. If I’m going to feel pain, I want it to be the kind that is redemptive, pain that brings me life. I want to have the kind of courage my husband has. It’s not the easier path, but it is one leading towards hope and freedom.