For Youth Workers Post
GRIEF & LOSS
“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for December 15–21, 2014.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
“I like to say that the world stopped spinning on the day my mum died. Within two years, my dad died. Their deaths wiped out my foundations. I had never been taught to grieve. I had never been taught how to grapple with death. And I found that most Christians were lousy at helping me grieve, in part because they had not been taught either. Most of the time, we’d rather say someone has ‘passed’ than ‘died.’ We don’t even like the word death.
“A decade later, I joke that I’m better at death, grief, and funerals than I am at birth, joy, and weddings. One thing for sure, we cannot do one well without also doing the other well.” —Sally
MEET THE WRITER
Sally Chambers has been practicing youth ministry for nineteen years as part of her life with God and people; she is currently on sabbatical. By trade, she is a counselor and spiritual director. She is also a lover of art, photography, people, hosting, adventure, stories, a cup of tea, beauty, all things English, her niece and her Grandma, abbey ruins and cathedrals, creation in its grandeur and wildness, playlists, and her furry four-legged companion Doodlebug. Sally is a co-author of the leader’s guide to The Way of Pilgrimage and the creator of The Pilgrim’s Way, an approach to leading pilgrimage with teenagers and adults. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently on staff and worshiping with St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. She dreams of creating altars in the world where pilgrims may gather together, rest for a while, find renewed vision, be healed in body, heart, soul, and mind, and offer to the world the hope of God in Jesus Christ. Be sure to check out Sally’s blog.
STUFF YOU WILL NEED
- candle and matches
- pens and paper
- copies of the Bible references and discussion questions in “Exploring the Word”
- large sheets of paper or newsprint
- Print-Friendly Version of this session
- Check out this video by Rob Bell. It’s a great way to get the conversation rolling on a subject we’re not very good at talking about.
- Excellent resources are available for learning how to grieve well. One of my favorites is Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion Through Life’s Losses and Sorrows, by Joyce Rupp; Ava Maria Press, 2012.
> Thoughts from the Author
> Buy the Book
Begin by inviting the group to say responsively:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Have someone light the candle. Invite people to close their eyes, to take a deep breath, and to relax. Invite them to pay attention to their breathing. Suggest that as they exhale, they imagine breathing out the distractions that occupy space in their mind, body, and spirit and that as they inhale, they imagine breathing in the peace of God. Allow for a couple of minutes of silence.
Then ask each person in turn to say his or her name and to answer these questions:
What is the most important item you have lost? Did you ever find it?
Then introduce the session, saying, “The session today is about how we as Christians handle loss. We are going to talk about grieving well.”
EXPLORING THE WORD
Begin with a question:
When you hear the word death, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
After group members answer, ask these questions and invite people to raise their hands if their answer is “yes”:
Have you had a pet die?
Have you been to a funeral?
Have you had a relative die?
Have you had a friend die?
Have you seen a dead body?
What’s your first memory of death?
Say something like this: “Some of you may feel uncomfortable with the topic of death and grieving. Some of you may feel sad because the topic brings up memories. Some of you don’t want to be sad, so you’re irritated and want to leave because of the topic. Some of you have never had pets or relatives die and have never been to a funeral. All of those responses are OK. Nonetheless, this is an important conversation for us to have. Death is inevitable. You will know people who die, and you yourself will die one day. Death affects everyone. For Christians, death can be even more confusing.”
Any ideas why death might be particularly confusing for Christians?
Give group members a chance to respond. Someone might suggest that as Christians, we are supposed to be happy and not sad. Point out that the Bible is full of people who are sad, depressed, and angry.
Then say: “Being a Christian means that we have hope—hope that God is setting the world right again, hope that Jesus defeated death on the cross and rose to a new life. Jesus even says that if we believe in him, we will never die. But death doesn’t feel hopeful; it feels final. Death doesn’t feel as if God were setting the world right. If Jesus defeated death, why do we die? Lots of people who believe in Jesus die. Christianity makes death a little confusing.”
What do you think about the confusion?
Say: “In one session, we are not going to be able to tackle all of our questions and confusion about death, but we can get started. Having questions about death and feeling confused about people dying is OK; it is part of following Jesus. I imagine that the disciples were often confused. Let’s start by looking at what the scriptures tell us about death.”
Ask people to form four small groups. Give each group one of the following sets of instructions. Have members of each group jot down what they learn about death. Encourage them to dig deeper, beyond the surface level.
1. John 11:1–37
- Jesus wept; the God of the universe cries over death and dying.
- Mary was talking about resurrection. Resurrection was a hope long before Jesus died on the cross. Resurrection referred to the Jewish belief that, one day, death will be no more and we will all be raised and united with God as we were meant to be.
- In verses 25–26, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus is getting at the idea that death is not the end of the story; our story continues beyond the grave. Our bodies may die, but life continues. Death changes how we live, but death isn’t the end. This is a hard concept to understand; it’s OK to be confused about it.
2. Psalm 23
- Death isn’t a moment. It’s a valley we walk through, a journey.
- The shepherd doesn’t fix or stop death, but he comforts and guides us through the valley.
- The shepherd is present with us as we walk through the valley of death.
- Another word for walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, KJV) is grief.
- Psalm 23 is read at most funerals.
- The word blessed in the beatitudes means “God is with you. God is for you.”
- Even in “the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with you.
- God comforts us as we grieve.
- Grief won’t last forever; we will laugh again.
- Scripture talks about heaven coming to earth, not us going to heaven, which raises the question about going to heaven when we die.
- It promises that one day there will be no more death or crying or grieving. We have hope that death will not be the end of the story, that more is to come beyond the grave, that one day we won’t need to be sad, that we won’t lose the people we love.
- Notice the tense of the last verse: God doesn’t say, “I will make all things new.” God says, “I am making all things new.” God is setting the world right now, today, even though death, sadness, grief, crying may keep us from seeing God at work.
Bring the groups together, and invite group members to report what they have learned. Record notes on large sheets of paper.
Then invite discussion:
Given all this, as Christians how should we respond to death? How do we grieve well?
Conclude the conversation by emphasizing these points:
- It’s OK to grieve; to be sad, angry, confused; to cry; to ask questions. If Jesus grieved, so can we.
- Death is unavoidable. We try to cushion death with language, such as “He passed on.” “She went to be with the Lord.” But death is death, and death is painful. Death breaks God’s heart too, because death was not part of the plan for this world.
- Grief takes time; it’s a journey through a dark valley. As much as we may not like it, the only way to find the life Jesus is talking about is to go through “the valley of the shadow of death.” If you don’t go through it, then you’ll be stuck where you are. Jesus died and was raised again. He had to die, to go through the valley, to get to life on the other side, resurrection.
- We don’t go through the valley alone. Few words make us feel better when facing death. But the presence of other people and the presence of God can comfort us. We can borrow others’ faith when we are confused by death.
- Death is not the end of the story. God is “making all things new.” Death makes way for new life. The sun does rise after the night. People do laugh—even at funerals. Laughter and tears can go together. Even though death may feel like the end, we trust that it is not. Anne Lammott said, “Death is just the end of dying.” One day, the world will be right again, and we won’t have to grieve or cry or face death anymore.
SHARING IN PRAYER
Say: “We have been talking about people dying, but many things die. Change is a form of death. Graduating from high school and going to college is a death. Divorce is a death. Moving is a death. Getting married is a death. Some deaths have more joy in them than others. But if we are fully living, then we are surrounded by death. It happens all the time.”
Ask group members to consider a “death” or loss in their life. Ask them to think of one word that represents or describes that death.
Then invite them to join you in prayer. Begin the prayer, saying: “God, we know that even in the midst of life, we are dying. And in the midst of death, we are living. Show us how to grieve well with both tears and laughter. Show us both the death and the life that surround us. Help us not to be afraid.”
Invite group members to offer their words as part of the prayer. Be sure to give them enough time since sharing these losses may be difficult. Then close by saying: “Thanks be to God!” and ask the group to respond, “Amen.”
TAKING IT FURTHER
- Often the topic of grief and death raises the question “Why?” Though asking “Why?” is a part of the grief process, it’s also an easy place to get stuck. One way to take the conversation of grief and death further is by asking these questions: How does grief shape us? How does God use and win over death in our lives? Rob Bell’s video or his book Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering is a great place to begin the conversation.
- Hang a net in a corner in the room. Place a basket beside it with some short pieces of yarn. Invite group members to tie pieces of string to the net as a way of remembering those who have died or other significant losses in their lives. Remind them that as the net holds the pieces of string, God holds everything and everyone that we have lost. Through God we are still connected with those who have finished dying.
—from devozine In the Habit (November/December 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.