Focusing on Grief
By Kristen Hintze
MA Mental Health Counseling Student
& Student Life Assistant
When restrictions, city ordinances, and organizations began closing their doors due to COVID-19 precautions, my first response was relief. I have several friends and family who are part of the “vulnerable” populations who are likely to not survive the virus, as well as loved ones who are first responders. What I was hearing from them was sobering. I also began to notice those around me who seemed resentful towards various restrictions, and even defiant. They seemed convinced that they could continue life as normal. All of a sudden, resentment began rising in me. How could they be so inconsiderate? Don’t they understand what they are risking, if not for themselves, for others in their communities? These judgmental thoughts became pervasive as I saw friends choose to ignore precautions. I felt like the sacrifices I was making were completely undermined.
Some of you might relate to these feelings, especially if you, like me, have vulnerable loved ones. But some of you might feel defensive and upset at my response. And that’s okay. What I have learned through all of this is that pervasive thoughts and emotional responses, left unattended, end up dominating our behaviors, postures towards others, and attitudes. They become heavy, and distracting during classes, when we’re trying to complete assignments, and overall draining. In the midst of realizing how heavy I felt, I asked God for guidance. I prayed that He would give me something, anything, to understand what was happening, not just in the world but in myself. How was God working in me through all this?
Then, in a moment of quiet, listening to the Spirit, I heard the word grief. Then I began to understand, and empathy returned to my process. I, along with others in my community, are responding out of grief to all the things that have changed so drastically in the last month. My grief process looks different than others, and while that can be frustrating, knowing that grief is the process everyone was experiencing allowed me to appreciate what others are going through. It’s been a few weeks since the Spirit spoke this word to me, and then this article popped up on my Instagram about, you guessed it, leading in grief during coronavirus.
Pastor Jonathan Dodson reflects some of the responses we might have to closures and restrictions during a pandemic:
Denial: This virus won’t affect us.
Anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities.
Sadness: I don’t know when this will end.
Acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right?
Dodson, J. K. (2020).
In reading through these, I resonated with some, and identified responses in others around me. Resentment was replaced with empathy and understanding. The pain I was feeling was the same as the pain they were feeling. The heaviness I felt began to lighten. I felt like the invitation from the Spirit was to stop trying to hold the pain of others, and surrender it to God.
So here is my invitation to our community:
First, notice how you’re responding out of grief. Pay attention to it, don’t just let it take control of your day-to-day functioning. Trust me, we are all responding in some way, and if you don’t see it, ask others around you that you trust how they see you responding.
Then, notice how others around you might be responding out of grief. Do they display some of these stages of grief? How can you become aware of their pain in a moment of frustration or disagreement?
Finally, ask God what the invitation for you is. Spend some time in a passage of scripture that speaks to you or listening to the Spirit. What do you hear? How is God shaping you, and others around you?
Because the one thing I have learned in all this is that God is still working. Our normal routines and places of work might have changed. Our communities and families are restricted. Our communication is all online (who else is so sick of zoom?). But God is so much bigger than all of those things. The Kingdom of Heaven cannot be stopped by our shifting, fleeting structures. Even from my computer screen, I have seen God work in powerful ways to transform lives, bring healing, and promote growth. But if I don’t stay present to my own responses, it becomes easy to lose sight of that. Let’s stay present to our own grief, to the grief processes of others, but keep our sights on the One who gives us Hope (Psalm 33).
For more on leading through grief, see full article at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2020/april-web-exclusives/grieving-is-leading-coronavirus.html