GROW: GOAL #3

Here is a plan for life after loss of a spouse: Goal #1: Survive. Goal #2: Cope (see
previous blogs). Goal #3: Grow. It is not the mere passing of time but what we do
with our time that determines whether or not we achieve our life goals.

No human being goes through a crisis without being changed. Extreme
stressful experiences have an impact. They can cause us to become negative
people. Bitter. Resentful. Critical. Apathetic. Crises, though, can also stimulate
growth. We do not choose our crises, but we do choose our reactions to them.
We can choose to grow after loss.

Spousal loss is an unparalleled painful experience. The loss is one thing, living
with it (every single day, every single night) is another. Both are crises. They
challenge those of us left behind. We have to decide how we are going to react.
Choosing to grow, i.e., changing for the better, is a wise decision. It is actually
taking the burden and using it to make a blessing.

  1. We can grow faith. An unchallenged faith can become weak, not unlike unchallenged muscles which lead to weakness of the body. Loss can motivate us to seek a closer walk with the Lord, the rely more on His direction.
  2. We can grow insight. One of the ways wisdom is gained is by experiencing hardships. A lot can be learned about life, ourselves, people, human nature, relationships, etc. while dealing with difficulties. The loss of a spouse can bring clarity to our view of earthly life.
  3. We can grow empathy. Loss can soften us up, cause us to not just have more compassion or sympathy for others but even empathy. It can prompt us to be more naturally vulnerable to the feelings or experiences of others. Empathy can become a motivator to minister to hurting people.
  4. We can grow ministry effectiveness. When we know little to nothing about what others are going through, it is hard to know what to do to help them. The experience of loss teaches us more effective ways of serving hurting people.
  5. We can grow gratitude. Life is a gift we should never take for granted. Yet, we do. When do we appreciate our health? Often, not until we lose it. I thought I appreciated my wife. After her passing, I found out…not nearly enough. I look back now with less grief and a whole lot more gratitude.
  6. We can grow endurance. If we survive…if we learn to cope…we are raising our endurance level. Runners build stamina by experience. Long distance runners challenge themselves with plans that can include pain. Increasing our ability to endure life’s challenges often comes from experiencing them.

Loss and all that goes with it can ruin us. Grief can become our taskmaster. We
can degenerate into a shell of the person we once were. That, though, does not
have to happen! We can choose a different reaction, a different result. It is
summarized by a book title: Growing Through Grief.

Work Cited:
Flatt, Bill. Growing Through Grief. Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1987.

COPE: GOAL #2

(This is the second in a series of three blogs about the widowhood journey.)

The first realistic goal for a recently widowed person is survival (see previous blog). There is no need to think of coping if we do not choose to survive the loss of our spouse. Make no mistake, it is a choice. A friend’s Facebook post recently observed: “I had rather die while I am living than live while I’m dead.” Not everyone feels that way. Some choose the latter philosophy. They die before they are dead. They die when their mate dies. Life no longer seems worth living. Consequently, they bury the living with the dead. They choose to merely exist.

    If we string together several days or weeks of surviving, we build self- confidence. We begin thinking we might be able to try to do more than just breathe. Maybe we can do more than baby steps in our grief journey.

    Visiting at a hospital one day, I remember seeing a flyer taped to a wall in the elevator. It had three words on it that caught my attention: “I Can Cope.” It was a flyer promoting a cancer patient support group ministry at that hospital. Love that affirmation: “I Can Cope.” Yes, we can. We are wired to be resilient. And when we add to that natural resilience, reliance upon God(Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 25:4-5; Philippians 4:11-13), we can cope with anything.

    What is coping? How is it different than surviving? Survival is just keeping our head above water. We are just doing what we have to do to get through each day. Coping is when we intentionally are changing our thinking and behaviors to successfully manage our circumstances. We have heard about people telling other people to “get a grip!” Well, when we are coping, we are “getting a grip” on things (most of the time). We are changing our minds and actions to meet the challenges we are facing. We are re-establishing a meaningful purpose and direction for our life. 

Think of the difference this way. You are in a small boat in rough waters. All you can do is keep yourself in that boat as it tosses aimlessly in the turbulence. That is survival. Coping is when you discover there actually are oars and an anchor in the boat and you choose to use them. Now you have some control over the boat. You start rowing in an intended direction. When you are exhausted from rowing in your desired direction, you can let down your anchor and rest without becoming dislocated. All along you had oars and an anchor available. Your inability to see them and think straight were due to your high stress level. You have been so consumed with surviving this frightening experience that you did not realize there were oars and an anchor available. Now you are beyond merely surviving. Now you are coping! Now you are making progress.

SURVIVE: GOAL #1

(This is the first in a series of three blogs about the widowhood journey.)

Overwhelmed. It can feel like you are drowning and you don’t have what it takes to keep your head above water. Despair. It can seem like there is no hope. Shock. This is not real. This can’t be happening. Numb. Heartbreak past feeling.

    It is an awful thing to lose your beloved spouse. Sometimes it happens suddenly. For others, it may be something expected for a long time. Either way, you may think things you have never thought and feel things you have never felt. It is not uncommon bearing that heavy burden of grief that you question yourself. “Am I going to make it?” “I don’t think I can handle this.”

    There is good news! George A. Bonanno, a clinical psychologist, has written a book titled: The Other Side of Sadness: What the Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life after Loss. In it he observes, “Humans are wired to survive…Resilience is the norm” (p. 155). We may not feel that way, though. It may not be what the circumstances would lead us to believe. It is true. Instinctively, we will fight to survive.

    The first realistic goal for a recently widowed person can be summarized in one word: Survive. Surviving is hard. It takes focused determination over a sustained period of time, yet, one day at a time. Jesus advised, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt. 6:34). At times, it may seem so bad it is better to think in terms of one hour at a time. In the movie, Finding Nemo, Dory advised, “Just keep swimming!” My advice to the widowed early on? “Just keep breathing!” Not often is this wise, but it is in dealing with serious loss: expectvery little of yourself. Don’t press. Just keep breathing. Early on, survival is all that is necessary.Look at getting through each day as a victory. Accumulating victories builds confidence.

In the exhaustion, weakness, even desperation that can come with grief our greatest source of strength is the Lord. “Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:1-2). His grace not only saves, it sustains. In a painful time in the apostle Paul’s life he was reminded by the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When deeply grieving our loss, there is nothing we need more than greater reliance on the Father of grace whose strength is made perfect in our weakness. #survivedailybygrace

WIDOWHOOD WORKSHOP PURPOSES

Why does the Widowhood Workshop ministry exist? What is it trying to
accomplish?
(1) Raise awareness about widowhood. How many people think much about
it, until they are forced to experience it? How many Bible classes at
church have studied or discussed the subject? How many people have
read a book or even an article about widowhood? This ministry is about
educating the inexperienced about what it is like to lose a spouse and live
with that reality every day.
(2) Challenge married couples to cherish their marriage before one of the two
is left behind. When is health appreciated? When it’s lost! Human beings
without determined intention naturally seem to drift toward taking things
for granted (e.g., health, wealth, friendship, home, mobility). This ministry
is about deepening gratitude for the treasured blessing of marriage
before the experience of loss.
(3) Provide pre-widowhood preparation. Is there practical value in premarital
counseling to assist with the transition from being single to being
married? If there is, some familiarity with widowhood can help in
transitioning from being married to being widowed. Loss is a storm. The
best time to prepare for a storm is before it comes. This ministry is about
offering some training for the experience of becoming involuntarily single.
(4) Motivate local churches to develop ongoing widowhood ministries for
their own members and communities. Why are there all kinds of
ministries targeted to specific needs (e.g., education, benevolence, youth,
seniors, recovery, leadership, families)? Life has its changes and
challenges. Some are chosen, others are forced. This ministry is about
helping local churches effectively address the uniquely difficult life of the
widowed.
(5) Encourage the widowed. What does a person need when they are no
longer half of a whole? The whole no longer exists. They need to know
they are not alone. They need to be reminded they can survive
heartbreaking loss. The death of a spouse is among the worst of human
experiences. This ministry is about providing much needed
encouragement to those hurt deeply by loss.

Please visit the ministry’s website www.widowhoodworkshop.com and/or
“like”/“follow” the public Facebook page: Widowhood Workshop Ministry. Feel
free to email deanmiller@widowhoodworkshop.com, if you have questions or
would like to schedule a workshop.

Workshop vs. Retreat

    What is the difference in a Widowhood Workshop and a Widow/Widower Retreat? The Widowhood Workshop ministry has conducted both. It would be easy to confuse the two. Let me explain.

    Generally speaking about their primary (not exclusive) purposes, one is educational…the other inspirational. One is a something-for-everyone event…the other strictly for the widowed. A Widowhood Workshop is the former. A Widow/Widower Retreat is the latter.

    A Workshop educates attendees about widowhood, what the loss is like, and the challenge to live a meaningful life after the heartache of such a personal loss. It highlights both the divine and personal perspective about widowhood. This increased knowledge, hopefully, helps the non-widowed to more effectively minister to those who have lost their mates (in their families, churches, and communities). This education should also help those who are married to cherish their mate more, invest more heavily in their marriage with the reminder it will end at some point and one of them will be left behind. Greater knowledge will also help better prepare the one left behind to deal with the harsh reality of loss.

    A Retreat is designed to inspire those who have suffered loss. They already know about loss. They are living it. They often struggle in silence. Their loss makes others feel uncomfortable. We humans do not like discomfort, so most keep our distance. Widowed people can become socially estranged. The Retreat atmosphere is unique. Everyone has suffered severe loss. Everyone there knows everyone else has suffered loss. It’s a social atmosphere without the typical awkwardness experienced by the widowed in public. The activities at a Retreat are faith-building, spirit-lifting, and thought-provoking. It is all about encouraging the widowed. We have Youth Meetings, Family Encampments, Ladies Inspiration Days…Why not have a Widow/Widower Retreat?

    There is more information about both Workshops and the upcoming Retreat on the ministry website.

http://www.widowhoodworkshop.com

Why Have a Widow/Widower Retreat?

Dr. Ira North, probably best known for his lengthy ministry with the old Madison church in Middle Tennessee, recommended to churches that wanted to grow to go “all out” for young people. I agreed with that when I first read it in his book and still believe he was “spot on.” One of the effective ministries that has been blessing our youth for decades has been youth meetings (of various sorts). They complement the efforts of conscientious parents to train their children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). Parents and churches have cooperated to host such events, provide transportation and in some cases even housing.

Why not a Widow/Widower Retreat to build faith and provide encouragement to those who have gone through the excruciating loss of their spouse? Why can’t families and churches work together to provide this kind of experience for those of their number who are trying to do life after loss? A “youth meeting” for the widowed! Those were the kinds of reflections that led the Widowhood Workshop ministry to host its first-ever retreat in August of 2018.

Last year’s retreat brought together over 70 widows and widowers from 14 different counties in Tennessee and eight different states. Attendees ranged in age from their 30’s to 90’s. They represented 2,414 years of marriage and 408 years of widowhood. Our exit surveys indicated it was overwhelmingly successful. Again, the LaVergne (TN) church of Christ (Rutherford County) is graciously permitting the Widowhood Workshop ministry to use their building to host our second retreat August 2-3, 2019.

We have a responsibility to care for those in unusually difficult life circumstances (Ja. 1:27; 2:15; cf., Mt. 25:31-46; 1 Jhn. 3:17-18). What are we doing for the widowed? Can we do more?

For more information on the upcoming retreat click the link below. www.widowhoodworkshop.com/retreat