I Need a Word … Yes, Even Professional Counselors and Pastors Weep and Mourn for their Clients and Congregants!!
“In all their distress He was distressed,
And the angel of His presence saved them,
In His love and in His compassion He redeemed them;
And He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
(Isaiah 63:9 AMP)
Did you know that God experiences the pain and emotion of the mourning process? Did you know that professional counselors and pastors experience the pain and the emotion of the mourning process? Yes, even God, professional counselors and pastors weep!
The following scriptures provided evidence and support that our Father God does in fact grieve:
- “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain … .” (Isa 54:3a NIV);
- “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering … .” (Isa 53:4a NIV);
- “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed … .” (Mk 3:5a NIV);
- “Jesus wept.” (Jn 11:35).
What is Grief?
Grief refers to the “experience of one who has lost a loved one to death” (Worden, 2009, p. 17). Elwell and Beitzel (1988) describe grief as the “emotional suffering brought on by bereavement [i.e., the loss to which the person is trying to adapt], mishap, or disaster. To grieve is either to cause or feel sorrow or distress.” The concept of grief can also be applied to other losses such as the loss of a job, a relationship, divorce, retirement, lifestyle, etc. This specific blog will focus on the losses due to death.
The Christian Doctrine of Creation
We know that in the beginning, God created everything that exists and he saw that it was good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving (Gen 1:21; 1 Tim 4:4). God’s creation is good and is to be enjoyed. When sin entered into the equation of God’s perfect and good creation through disobedience and rebellion against God’s structure (Gen 3:6), this resulted in four broken relationships with:
The problems caused by sin and rooted in the same selfish, disobedient, and conflicted decision-making skills as Eve have only worsened throughout history, and even today. These broken relationships as well as the selfish and disobedient behaviors grieves God: “and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Jud 10:16b KJV). Jesus also experienced sorrow and distressed of a death of a friend (Jn 11:35) which is the focus of this blog, the death of a “friend” (i.e., a client and/or congregant).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is a man of sorrows, acquainted and familiar with grief (Elwell, 1996). Pleasants (1996) notes that God’s plan was to reinforce the importance of human “victims” by identifying with them (i.e., the core meaning of the cross). Pleasant (1996) further suggests, “that God’s heart is wounded by the hurt of the victim … .” Thus, when we, the “victims” suffering from a death, hurt, God also feels our pain and hurts as well. In fact, anyone who has seen Jesus Christ has seen the father (Jn 14:9) and we as Christians are to be the very image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 13:5; Gal 2:20), a reflection of God and possibly a minuscule reflection of God’s feelings and emotions.
Worden (2009) states that normal grief encompasses a broad range of feelings and behaviors after a loss such as sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock, relief and/or numbness to name a few.
Additionally, somatic, bodily distress or sensations of some type is a characteristic of normal grief that may include hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the chest and/or throat, oversensitivity to noise, breathlessness, feelings short of breath, weakness the muscles, lack of energy and/or dry mouth (Worden, 2009).
Finally, other characteristics of normal grief include disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of presence, sleep and/or appetite disturbances, absentminded behavior, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, sighing, searching and calling out and/or crying (Worden, 2009).
The grief and mourning process can become especially complicated with professional counselors and pastors when they experience the loss of clients and congregants. It is not the grief itself that people experience that is abnormal, their experience of grief is their experience of grief; it is the mourning process where there is something that is impeding the mourning process (Worden, 2009).
A type of grief that could impede the mourning process is called disenfranchised grief. This form of grief refers to those losses in a mourner’s life of relationships that are not socially sanctioned, openly acknowledged, or publically mourned (Doka, 1989; Worden, 2009). Because safeguarding the integrity of the counselor-client relationship or the pastor-congregant relationship and practicing in a competent and ethical manner is vital the role of professional counselor and pastor (i.e., confidentiality and privacy), openly or publically mourning the loss that includes expressing the pain and emotion of the death of a client or congregant could be challenging or even complicated.
The Good News
The Good News is that the Lord does not want His people, including professional counselors and pastors, to have to go through this painful process. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Our Wonderful Counselor, our Father God is compassionate and has compassion for his children. “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isa 63:9).
Strategies for Working Through Grief
If you are a professional counselor or pastor, remember, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Also, make sure to remember that as you grieve and mourn, to engage in healthy self-care strategies and allow yourself to experience the pain and emotion of the loss while you adjust to a new environment without the deceased and find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life (Worden, 2009).
Factors that may hinder the loss include: Avoidance or minimization of one’s emotions, use of alcohol or drugs to self-mediate, and/or the use of work (over function at the workplace) to avoid feelings.
Guidelines that may help to resolve grief and assist with the mourning process include: Time, acknowledging and accepting all feelings both positive and negative, confiding in, and processing with, a trusted individual, expressing feelings and identifying any unfinished business to come to a resolution of the loss. If you feel stuck, seek professional help from a clinical mental health professional, Christian counselor, or pastoral counselor.
In conclusion, if you are a family member or friend of a professional counselor or pastor, try to understand the what grief is, the stages of grief and loss (i.e., shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance) and the mourning process, including emotions, that your family member or friend may be experiencing and may not be able to share or discuss due to ethical and legal issues of privacy and confidentiality. Also, try to be patient as the grief process takes time and may include set-backs. Don’t expect that your loved one or friend will set an “I’ll be over it” deadline when they leave work and succeed when they get home.
Moreover, it will be important that everyone remember that one, no person’s grief is like another person’s grief, there are individual differences. Two, we cannot walk alone on the journey of grief, loss, and mourning. We need to walk in agreement with each other and humbly with God.
Doka, K. J. (1989). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow. Idaho Falls, ID: Lexington Books.
Elwell, W. A. (Ed.). (1996). Grief, grieving. In Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Grief. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Pleasants, J. (1996). Religion that restores victims. New Theology Review, 9/3, 41-63.
Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Company, LLC.