Our church family received a welcomed gift last month in the Norman Wright Seminar on Grief and Loss Counseling. Having taken a seminary class with him along with a few others from our staff on the same topic of grief, loss and, trauma, I was eager to have our church and extended community hear from him. We have so much to learn about living in our broken world, and I am so grateful for men and women such as Norm who can give us navigation tools. If only he’d had more time to share with us – there were so many questions left to answer! And although Norm’s goal was to answer questions about how to help those in grief, some in our midst were there to listen, burdened with grief and in need of help themselves. As such, I invite our church family to see this event as simply the beginning of a longer dialogue with one another and with God about the hard things of life.
We have opportunities to reach out to our community in the all too many losses everyone experiences. First, however, we must address our own shortcomings in this area, grow from grieving our own losses, and then be better able to come alongside others who are hurting. It is way too easy to run from the dark places, but Norm Wright gave us encouragement to enter them just the same, and in so doing, find that God Himself is already there. We, of course, prefer the happy places of joyful worship and healthy relationships when in reality, life is multi-faceted. The blessing is that we can come to know God better in those facets if we will allow Him in, rather than hurriedly rushing away from pain. In so doing, we will be better equipped to help others.
There are a number of significant experiences that have impacted our church family in the last few years that Norm was not able to address in his short time with us. He wasn’t able to address how to care for those who have lost a sibling or a child, a victim of suicide or violence, sudden loss of a parent, or those in other venues of loss that might not be acknowledged. We have much more to learn in order to care for our church family, as well as the community in which we live.
On Saturday of the conference, Norm pointed out the fact that we need to be sensitive to people who are hurting, including in matters of faith. He demonstrated this in a concrete way when he held up two books explaining that when he talks to the grieving, he asks, Which book would you be more comfortable with: one that is faith-based or one that is not? His point is that we need to meet each person where they are at in order to truly meet and care for them. Norm did not say to deny our belief in Jesus or prayer, but to hold these beliefs in a respectful way that allows others to observe our faith and know our compassion. I dare say this is what Jesus did. He believed and lived his life in a way that showed he was the way, the truth and the life, BUT the way he interacted with those he met was not one size fits all…he sought to meet them where they were.
Let’s press on both individually and as a church family to invite Christ into our losses and grief. Hopefully more venues will open up for learning and sharing about these things and our church family will grow to be an ever more safe place for the hurting. In this way, we’ll better represent Christ’s compassion to them. Dr. Linda Schupp described it this way, Commonalities create comment. Differences produce distance.
Thank you, Norm Wright, for starting a conversation I hope will last a long while.