Surviving the Separation by Donnie L. Martin

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Posted by Joyce Rhyne on 16 Nov 17 - 0 Comments

NOTE: The following article is a chapter from Meditations of the Heart: Thoughts On the Christian Life, written by Rev. Donnie L. Martin. I offer it here in honor of the lives so savagely taken by a lone gunman, as the congregation worshiped at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. May God use these words of comfort to aid those left behind as they deal with their inestimable loss.

Having been a part time chaplain with Grace Community Hospice Care for the last 10 years, in addition to serving as a full time pastor of a local church, I have witnessed firsthand the emotional pain brought on by the separation of death. One definition of the word “separation” is, “break; division; gap.” That is precisely what takes place when one experiences the death of a loved one. In a physical and emotional sense, there is a break from the norm of the relationship between the deceased and the survivors. The survivors and the deceased also experience a division of time and space. The deceased now exist in the realm of eternity and infinity, while the survivors continue to dwell in the realm of the temporal and finite. And lastly, but certainly not least, is the unquestionable emotional gap, void, or vacuum, if you will, left by the absence of the departed loved one, resulting in a sense of loneliness, or perhaps even a sense of abandonment.

What I’ve just described is often the reality of those suffering from grief. Why is it thus? How does one survive the awful feelings of separation that are the natural outgrowth of death? At times, the weight of our loss can seem almost unbearable. Is there anything that we can do to get through these obviously difficult and hurtful periods of grief? I want to give you some answers to these confusing questions. Though my answers will not be comprehensive in nature, I believe they will provide some help.

First, let me try to answer the question of why we experience sadness. In order to answer this question we must remember that God created mankind in the moral, spiritual, and emotional image of Himself (Gen. 1:26a-27). It is that biblical fact that sets man apart from the animal kingdom. In Scripture, God exhibited the emotions of anger, hatred (for sin, never for sinners), joy, and even grief. One of the shortest verses in the entire Bible says of Christ, who was God on foot, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Though some may find strong emotions uncomfortable, they are actually a part of a protective mechanism built into all of us, due to the wisdom and forethought of God. By analogy, our emotions serve much the same purpose as the release valve atop a pressure cooker. The valve releases pressure in the pot so its contents don’t wind up all over the ceiling, or cause injury to the cook. The valve releases pressure in a controlled manner, thus preventing an explosion. The same is God’s purpose for our expressions of grief and sadness.

Not only do we experience grief and sadness because God created us in His emotional image, but our feelings of grief actually help preserve our emotional health. Have you ever noticed the seemingly contradictory words of Ecclesiastes 7:3? That verse says, “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” God is not saying that sorrow is to be preferred above joy in our lives, but that sorrow has a certain healing quality about it. He is saying that the best way to handle grief is to allow oneself to grieve. Another version of the second part of the verse reads, “…for sadness has a refining influence on us” (NLT ). God never permits us to hurt in order to harm us, only to help us.

However, knowing the truths mentioned above will not make the very real emotional pain of the separation of death go away. How does one cope with it? To begin with, remember that experiencing grief is both normal and necessary. Do not let yourself panic over the present severity of your emotional pain, but realize that your ability to cope will increase with time. “Grief is a process, not an event.”

Also, be aware that your tears of sorrow are not an indication that you are an emotional weakling. Tears are a healthy expression of grief. Let no one tell you any different. If you feel like crying, give yourself permission to vent your grief in that manner. There should be no shame in the honest expression of sorrow.
Do not be afraid to verbalize your feelings of loss with someone whom you can trust with those feelings. You must not stuff your feelings, but talk about them. It helps to get your feelings out in the open, and to give them a voice. Do not be afraid to talk about the deceased person, or mention his or her name in conversation. Talk openly about the traits that endeared that person to you.

On the other side of the statement above, let me also say that it is important that friends of the grieving be listeners, not critics. A grieving individual may run the gamut of emotions, such as anger, self-pity, abandonment, depression, and even pseudo-guilt. The listener’s job is to console and comfort, not correct and chastise. There may come a time for correction of misconceptions or faulty emotional postures, but not initially.

Finally, remember that God knows what you are feeling, and He cares. I will conclude my remarks with some biblical truths. The Bible refers to God as “…the source of all comfort” 2 Cor. 1:3—NLT ). As such, God is “…touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15). Therefore, He says to the hurting and grieving, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7—NLT ). In so doing, you will survive the separation produced by death.

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