Grief Work

words by: Ferree Hardy

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There’s a story told about a man to whom God appeared one night, filling his small cabin in the wilderness with glowing light. God gave him a task: he was to push with all his might on a large rock that stood right outside his door.

Every morning the man stepped outside to face the rock. For hours he’d push on it with every ounce of strength, first from one side, then another. When his shoulders and upper body got tired, he’d turn and flatten his back to it, bend at his knees, and then extend his legs with a powerful burst. Then, after a quick lunch, he’d return: thrusting sideways, then front, back, and from below. This went on day after day.

Do you have a heavy weight in your life that you must push against too? Yours might not be as visible as a boulder in the front yard. Perhaps it’s a problem you’ve prayed about all year long that hasn’t gone away yet, or a problem person who doesn’t seem to change. Do you carry an invisible load of worry, or a heavy heart of sorrow? All these things, and more, weigh us down. Like the man pushing against the rock, they are an ever present challenge in our lives.

Sometimes it may seem like the Lord has given us more than we can bear. Sometimes we bend and begin to stagger. The story relates that the man also became discouraged. He’d fall into bed exhausted and sore each evening only to wake up to more of the same the next day. Eventually the old Devil himself came along to taunt him. “How could anyone keep doing the same thing day after day with absolutely no results?” The man began to wonder if it was time to give up. He started to feel like a failure.

The story about this man and the rock isn’t exactly about grief, but I’m sure that many people who have grieved can relate to a time when they felt exactly the way he did. You get drained. You can’t go on. You don’t see that anything will ever change. You’ve tried and tried, and you just can’t do it anymore.

Even if you’re surrounded by people, it’s like a wilderness. This is one of life’s loneliest times; your heart is in one of life’s loneliest places. 

Please let me encourage you that it won’t last forever. There are some exercises, some “grief works” you can do. Like the man pushing the rock, it’s not time to give up yet.

The Grief Work of Learning

Learn about the emotional, physical, and financial effects of grief and loss. Whichever seems most applicable to your situation would be the place to start. Borrow some library books; attend workshops, support groups, or counseling sessions; consult with a financial advisor through your bank or other organizations. Schedule a doctor’s visit even if you are in good health, this way you’ll have a baseline to compare for the future. Be aware of your sleeping patterns, and learn about nutritious eating habits. 

The Grief Work of Expressing Yourself 

There are many ways to express oneself, but let’s not overlook the basics: talking, crying, and creativity.

Talking. This might sound unusual, but for married couples made up of a “talker” and a “listener,” often living alone is a big adjustment for a quiet and more introverted, widow or widower. There was security in letting their spouse do the talking; he or she was good at it and enjoyed it. How we miss their enthusiasm! Now that they are gone, must the quieter one speak up to replace them? No—that would be impossible. 

Now is time for the quieter spouse to begin to work on reaching out and opening up part of their personality. Talk out loud. If you live alone, you have to get used to hearing your voice. I’ll tell you my secret: I sometimes pray out loud, read out loud, talk to myself, and I also yell at squirrels! 

Start simply. Talk to other widows and widowers and share your story; this will encourage them to tell you their story, and then you can relax and use your wonderful, more natural gift of listening.

Crying. Crying is important; it’s the body’s natural, healthy release of stress. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. People who don’t cry at their loved one’s funeral aren’t necessarily strong. It’s more likely that they were able to cry beforehand, or that they are still cushioned by some shock and will cry later. 

Crying can come along unexpectedly, so expect the unexpected. Memories of your loved one can catch you off guard and cause you to break down, but this is perfectly normal. Roll with it and let the tears flow. They will probably last fifteen to twenty minutes; these occurrences will become less frequent after several months. Crying times are something to work through, not hold in or avoid.

Creativity. Express yourself through hobbies and crafts. For example, if your hobby is writing or poetry, begin a daily or weekly journal to collect your thoughts, prayers, or poems. 

Do you love quotes or Bible verses? A few years ago, I received a beautiful book put together by a widower. His wife had collected close to a thousand various quotes and Bible verses over her lifetime, so he had them printed and bound in a book. He shares it now with others, as God leads. It was a comfort to him to put it together, and now it’s a help to people. 

If you never got to say goodbye to your loved one, an especially healing activity might be to write a goodbye letter. You could say how much you miss them, what you’d like to do in the days ahead, and tell them goodbye until you meet again in heaven. Put this letter in an envelope with his or her name on it and keep it in a special place. 

There are many more creative things to work on, like sewing shirt fabrics into quilts, quilting throws, crocheting teddy bears, or making other creative gifts. But what sets each of these acts apart as a “grief work” is that there is intent behind it. It’s personal. It’s not something to do just for pleasure—it’s more like medicine. You might want to shrug it off, but deep down you sense it has significance, no matter the visible result…just like the man pushing on the rock every day. Whatever happened to him anyway? 

The story goes on to tell that after days of almost giving up, he finally took his troubling thoughts to the Lord in prayer and said something like this: “Lord, I’ve done what You’ve asked. I’ve given it my all. Yet, here I am, a failure. The rock hasn’t budged. Nothing has changed.” 

The Lord responded tenderly, “My child, your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it…And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled….your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition, you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have…your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you have done…” (italics added, https://bible.org/illustration/unmoved-rock)

Like the man, we push and push and push against all the grief, challenges and problems in our lives. It’s hard! We don’t know if the rock will ever move, if our prayers will ever be answered, or if we’ll ever be happy again. Will we be able to pay all the bills? Will our children be obedient? Will we see our marriage restored? Will our lives be healed? Sometimes it seems like the answers to life’s difficult questions will never come…Yet, if we don’t quit, if we can just push through one day at a time, God will see that our efforts are never wasted.

If we do the grief work, the grief will be worked out, and a strong, muscular faith that accomplishes exactly what God has asked of us, will be worked in. 

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” 2 Corinthians 4:16,17 (NKJV).

 

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Ferree Hardy has helped thousands of widows through her book, “Postcards from the Widows’ Path,” small groups, speaking, and personal coaching, but touching one life at a time is what matters most to her. She holds a BA from Moody Bible Institute, and was a pastor’s wife in Ohio for over twenty years before her first husband died. She’s happily remarried now, and her readers know that moving seems to have become a hobby for her. But she also enjoys backyard chickens, aims to read fifty books a year, and loves to bake. Learn more by visiting her blog.

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