LEARNING TO GRIEVE
WAITING FOR GOD IN THE CONFUSING IN-BETWEEN
I am not an expert when it comes to grieving. Far from it. My wiring is to be a naturally upbeat person. In fact, positivity is one of my top strengths on the Clifton StrengthsFinder.
The American culture I grew up in seemed to reinforce my natural positivity wiring. We believe that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. From preschool TV shows to graduation speeches, I was told that I can be anything I want to be.
As I got older, I read many leadership books. Some core underlying beliefs I absorbed are that we are “in charge” of our own destiny, outcomes can be chosen and controlled, and gifted people who try their best are always successful in what they set out to do.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t have a very big category for things like pain, loss, sadness, disappointment, and…grief. But since the COVID pandemic began in early 2020, the waves of pain and loss have been relentlessly hitting the shores of so many lives, including mine.
The Asian Wesleyan Church leaders with whom I serve have reported so many losses. Members have lost their jobs; key leaders have died. We have shared many tears together over Zoom, since due to travel restrictions, we cannot be with one another in person.
My brother and my friend
I first met Praveen Lal on a trip to Chhattisgarh, India, in 2013. Praveen was about my age, and his family had served The Wesleyan Church for many years. His father, Joshi, was a key leader in the district, and Praveen was serving in administrative roles for Wesleyan ministries. He was kind, smart, and soft-spoken. Dedicated to the church and the mission, he was willing to serve in behind-the-scenes roles. Praveen, his wife, Jaycee, and I worked closely together to plan an All-India pastors conference in 2018. I grew to love and value this family.
On April 21, 2021, I received a text from Praveen’s son, Preetish. Praveen had died from COVID. His death was shocking. He was young and he had only been sick for several days. Less than two weeks later, Praveen’s father, Joshi, also died from COVID. How could this happen? I grieved deeply for this family who had lost so much in such a short period of time.
There are so very many families with similar stories. The amount of loss seems overwhelming. We can start to feel numb.
Dreams delayed and crushed
Sometimes, the losses have been in our ministry. We planned a major conference for Asian leaders from every country to take place in Bangkok in late February 2020. This event held major strategic significance—it was an opportunity for Asian leaders to collaborate about how they will grow churches and send missionaries to reach their continent. Our missionary team poured so many dreams, prayers, and hours of work into this event—only to see it cancelled four weeks before it was supposed to start.
We rescheduled the event for February 2021, thinking 12 months would be plenty of time for us to get through the pandemic. It was not—we rescheduled again for 2022. And the pandemic is far from over—some of our Asian countries are having their worst outbreaks to date. We have missionaries who still have not been able to return to their fields of service. I long to bring groups of leaders together so that we can minister to one another and dream once again about how we can expand God’s kingdom, but every trip we have planned has been cancelled. My plans and predictions for when things will be “back to normal” have not been followed. As a result, I feel thwarted, angry, sad.
In this season, I’ve been praying that God would teach me—the consummate optimist—how to grieve. Author and teacher Pete Scazzero (emotionallyhealthy.org) gives a helpful three-step outline for dealing with grief that I’ve summarized and personally applied:
- Pay attention to grief and associated emotions. I must slow down. These losses interrupt my day and interfere with my productivity. They do not schedule an appointment in advance. I have found journaling to be an especially helpful practice. As I journal in God’s presence, I pour out my heart to him, as his followers have done for thousands of years.
- Waiting on God in times of disorientation. I am learning to pray with greater fervency, “Not my will, but yours be done.” As my human methods fail, and my resourcescannot produce the outcomes I want to see, I am learning to trust God more, and experience the joy of fully surrendering my will to his perfect will. I am discovering that his strength truly is made perfect in my weakness.
- Letting the old birth the new. Here in Asia, most of us are still in step two—we are waiting on God in the disorientation time. This is hard. It goes against my leadership wiring to admit that I don’t know what the future will hold, and I don’t know how to lay out a sure-fire strategy. We have all heard a lot about the “new normal.” When I hear that phrase, I sigh. It’s a reminder of unending loss and change.
Filled with HOPE
But, as followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, we have great reason for hope. What is the “new” that God wants to bring to our “normal?”
Many years ago, God gave this message in Isaiah 43:18-19 to his people who were grieving:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
I believe he is still speaking this message to us today. As we wait for God in the confusing in-between, may our hearts be filled with hope—not in what we can do, but in what he is already doing in us and through us.