1God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
 4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.     (Psalm 46: 1-7)

 

So far, 2020 has been a difficult year for Emmanuel Presbyterian Church.  We have lost active members from our midst and that has been painful.  We have wrestled with uncertainties brought on by Covid-19.  We have been forced to change familiar habits and worship opportunities far too rapidly for comfort.  We have needed to learn to care for one another and witness to Christ in our community in new, previously unimagined ways.  The speed of these adaptations has left little room for reflection and intentional decision making.  We miss having more control.

The same has been true outside of the Emmanuel community.  It has been a difficult year for many individuals, for churches in our Presbytery and all over the land, for businesses and industries, for our nation, and the whole world.  Maybe we will develop a slogan for future usage that describes a difficult and grievous situation as “a real 2020”?!

None-the-less, we all understand that life is like this sometimes.  In our individual lives and in our collective life as a church, we experience seasons of loss and grief.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  It’s just a part of the cycle of life.  However, how we manage our stress and grief is of vital importance.  It is a mark of our trust in God and our spiritual character.  Trying times test our spiritual constitution and reveal our robustness (or lack of it).  While experiencing painful loss and grief, are we able to hold onto the hope of our faith with sturdy conviction?  Are we able to trust in God’s grace until the clouds scatter, especially when the storm is long and intense?  Do we know deeply and intuitively that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed a way of thinking about grief and loss that has become classic.  Her work identifies 5 Stages of Grief:

Denial – Anger – Bargaining – Depression – Acceptance

Understanding grief and how it manifests in our bodies, souls, and minds can help us navigate this time of unprecedented upheaval, to say nothing of how we can help the people around us navigate it, particularly children and those who may not have the emotional capacity to recognize the side effects of the trauma.  In that vein, understanding the grieving process can help us accept how we feel, how those around us may feel, and how we can move through this time with as much spiritual health as possible.

First, though, let me say that “stages” is a bit of a misnomer.  The phrase “stages of grief” implies that coping with loss is an orderly process in which each step is completed before moving to the next. While the general direction of healthy grief is a movement toward acceptance, it is not uncommon for one who is grieving to move from stage to stage, in and out of order, particularly as the level of trauma increases or as events occur which bring that trauma to our attention.  Our current circumstances are particularly difficult to navigate because many of us, not just a few select individuals, are experiencing trauma piled upon trauma.  Periods of acceptance may be followed by reoccurring anger, fear, or discouragement with what appears to have no rhyme or reason…and this is happening at different times for different people!  Grief in normal circumstances does not follow a straight line…and these are not normal circumstances.  Have faith that over time these wild gyrations will diminish, and that in the end many of us will be able to find the emotional stability that marks the majority of our lives.

Secondly, every loss must be grieved.  Some of us are suffering poor health and getting sick (and not from Covid-19).  Some have had loved ones die.  Some have lost their jobs or income.  The mental health of some is severely compromised by isolation.  All of us have grieved the loss of meaningful relationship on a consistent basis.  Grief comes with far more than death.  All loss causes grief.  Disappointment causes grief.  Even a change of circumstances which would be described as better overall can cause grief because of what must be left behind.  Grief is not something we can escape; it is an essential part of human existence.  Katie McLaughlin writes, “Difficult feelings are tunnels, and we are the trains traveling through them.” The only way out of the grief process is through it. Try and escape too quickly and things get worse in a hurry. We are experiencing a period of intense, simultaneous trauma on several fronts: medical, academic, economic, religious, and social crises are all part of our shared reality.  All losses that come with these traumas will require grief.  Be kind with yourself and with others who are grieving.

Third, everyone processes grief on their own schedule.  This can be particularly disorienting for groups of people experiencing a shared loss, as we are experiencing at present. Grief lasts as long as it lasts.  You may find yourself in a position where your emotional state does not match that of the people around you.  You may feel acceptance while others are obviously angry or hurt, or vice versa.  This doesn’t mean either one of you is “wrong”—no two people process grief at the same pace.  Be at peace with your own emotions and with the emotions of others as much as you can.

Finally, unprocessed grief can lead to further trauma down the road.  Emotional trauma is an injury like any other injury—it requires time and treatment to heal properly.  Shooting an injured athlete full of painkillers and sending them back onto the field is a recipe for disaster; the same is true for us when we are injured emotionally.  As we move through this period of trauma caused by losses related to Covid-19, it is imperative that we regularly take time to examine our emotional status and to process what is happening.  Athletes build strength by taxing muscles and allowing time for recovery.  We build emotional strength in the same way, by validating our emotions and giving ourselves time to process what we’re feeling.  We also build spiritual strength by exercising an honest and trusting faith – clinging to the eternal promises and comforts from our sovereign God.  We see every day how God is helping us endure our current trials.  We live confidently that; God will help it (the city – us) when the morning dawns.”  This is not the same as naively or thoughtlessly.  Instead, with full disclosure and uncompromised trust, we grasp onto our true strength in times of trouble.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.


The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 

Amen.

 

Pastor Anita