Friday Counseling Issues: How am I Going to Get Through This!

The tearful, heart-rending question is asked often in my office:  How can I do this?  How will I get through it?  Linda, tell me what to do!  Isn’t there some way to stop it?  How am I going to stand it?

At the time, it does seem to the suffering person that she just can’t go on; that he can’t find his will to live. The pain is so deep and so heavy that it’s hard to take the next breath.  And yet, we do. We do keep on breathing, we keep on going through some semblance of living a normal life, even when everything meaningful is being swept away in a tsunami of fear, doubt, hurt and pain.

Life can be really hard.

I try not to interrupt my clients who are grieving so heavily.  In fact, I encourage them to cry, to vent.  Sometimes I’ve just sat and waited while someone weeps for half the session.  It’s a good thing I have access to a big supply of tissues!  When the pain is so acute that my clients can’t do much more than gasp and sob, there is no point in my handing them the most applicalbe scriptures I know. There is no point in throwing them cliche’s like, “Just trust the promises of God.”

Did you know that saying something like that, at the wrong time, only serves to exacerbate the misery?  The implication is clear that the person is NOT trusting God, so now he feels guilty on top of everything else.  We need to be careful about our words when we are in the presence of such grief.

Once the storm of weeping has subsided, and my client no longer interrupts me with another torrent of words and questions, I do this:  I tell her how sorry I am that she is suffering.  If it’s applicable, I tell her that her great, overwhelming anger and hurt are justified. I tell her that her reaction is normal. That she can expect to feel this horrible sense of loss, depression, anger, and confusion for some time.  Normal.  You’d be surprised how helpful it is to know that what you’re suffering is normal.

Finally, we’re able to talk, and that’s when I get down to practical help.

First I remind my client that even though he feels as if God has forsaken him, there is no truth in that feeling.  I go over again the idea that feelings change, and cannot be trusted; that truth remains the same no matter what the circumstances.

I remind my clients of God’s unconditional love; of His promise never to leave or forsake us; of Jesus’ own suffering on our behalf, and His feeling that God had forsaken Him as He hung in agony on the cross.

Then I take the person to Psalm 13, a little gem of David’s retrospection of an earlier time in his life when he felt God had forsaken him, and how in six short verses he returns to the joy of God’s salvation, even though his circumstances remained unchanged.

Now I can offer specific scriptures:  Psalm 119:165; Philippians 4:4-8; Jeremiah 29:11-15; Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 90 and 91.  As I read or recite some of these passage aloud, I often get to witness the visible relaxing of my clients’ body as the Word of God does its work.

I also like to mention Oswald Chambers.  In his wonderful little book My Utmost for His Highest, he offers this advice:  When you don’t know what to do, you pray and do the next thing.

We all have a next thing. We have to fold laundry, pick up the kids, grocery shop, go to work, make a call, clean the toilet. You get through whatever the trial is with incessant prayer and doing the next thing, whatever it may be. Put one foot in front of the other, keep moving. One day passes into another, and as time moves on, the hurt becomes less unbearable.

I know. You’re in the middle of your horror story, and you don’t think it will ever get any better. My friend, if you know the Lord, if you seek Him during your trial, I promise you that it WILL get better. Not today, or tomorrow, or next week or next month.  Maybe not even next year.  But at some point you will wake up and realize you did not cry during the night.

Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). You have to walk through the pain.  There is no other way out but to go through it. The trick is to keep your eyes trained not on the darkness, but on the promise of Joy on the other side.

Friday Counseling Issues: Grieving a Child

My blogging friend Kathleen Duncan gave me a wonderful list of ideas  this morning for future blog posts. Here’s her first one:

What counsel would you give to parents who just lost a child to illness or accident? What actions would you advise and what words would you not say?

I have never had to walk through this particular valley, so I’m not going to tell you that I understand.

I’m not going to tell you, “Your child is in a better place.”

I’m not going to tell you, “You’ll have other children.”

I’m not going to tell you, “Time heals all wounds.”

I’m going to do my very best to avoid all the cliches that have no meaning whatsoever when you are reeling from the loss of the most precious  gift, the child made by the love between you and your grieving spouse.

I’m not going to ask how the mom is doing, but neglect to console the dad.

I’m not going to quote Romans 8:28 to you, even though I believe it is true.

I don’t think there is any advice that a grieving parent–and let’s not forget the grieving grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins–is able to hear early in the experience of such a dreadful loss.

So I’m going to keep all my wisdom to myself, and here’s what I will do:

I’m going to cry with the mourners.

I’m going to open my arms to them and hug them tight while they sob.

I’m going to tell them how deeply sorry I am for their loss.

I’m going to tell them, if I knew the child, that I will miss that child very much.

If I didn’t know the child (this happens when I’m counseling grieving parents) I will still tell them that I wish I had known their child.

I’m going to encourage them to tell the story of what happened, over and over again, as often as they need to repeat it.

I’m going to reassure them that God has not forsaken them. I will continue to do so as long as they are still feeling that God has deserted them.

Eventually, I will be able to tell them that grieving is a long and painful process; that they are not sinning or lacking in faith when they grieve so deeply; that they must allow themselves to grieve and not try to stuff it all down inside.

I’m going to tell them that when when well-meaning but ignorant folks say hurtful things, they are not required to smile and say thank you.

They are going to feel some degree of guilt, whether or not there was a single thing they could have done to prevent their loss.  I’m going to remind them that they are not to blame.  A zillion times, if that’s what it takes.

I’m going to look at their pictures, listen to their stories about how bright beautiful and amazing their child was.  I’m going to nod and smile and allow my own tears to fall because I’m a mother, too, and we all think our own kids are the brightest and the best.

When the time is right and they are beginning to be able to hear, I will share all the scriptures I know about peace and comfort and the great love and compassion of God.

I will not be impatient when they return to some stage of grief that they have already been through.

I will tell them that what they are experiencing is normal. Normal is a word I use a lot when I’m counseling grief-stricken people.

I will try to remember that grief-stricken is just as awful as it sounds.  Beaten down, overwhelmed, knocked senseless with grief. They don’t need to be told to be strong for their other children. They don’t need to be told to be strong for anyone. They need people to be strong for them.

I will not criticize them for the depression they may experience. It is not a sin for a believer to experience depression.

No, it is NOT!  You will do more harm than you can imagine if you tell a grieving parent that depression is just a sin problem. Please just be quiet if that’s all you can think of to say. And I pray it never happens to you, because you will not survive it.

The loss of a child is, in my opinion and observation, the hardest loss to endure. It is out of sequence. A child is not supposed to die before its parents do. This goes for miscarriages too, by the way.  It’s the loss of a child, and the parents will need to grieve.

Don’t get in their way.