This sermon was given as a part of a summer sermon series on “Lamenting the Losses” This sermon talks about grief.
Thoughts of the People: An excerpt from Susan Beaumont’s book, “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going: Leading in a Liminal Season”
Sacred Text: Deuteronomy 1:24-33
Leading Quote: “Humans have a responsibility to find themselves where they are, in their own proper time and place, in a history to which they belong and to which they must inevitably contribute.” –Thomas Merton
I’ve started working with teenagers at my new job. Many of you know I changed jobs to working at a residential treatment program for eating disorders with teens, where I do individual and family therapy and I also teach groups.
One of the groups I teach is a skills group that focuses on emotional regulation, it’s taken from the practice of Dialectical behavioral therapy, sometimes known as DBT.
It focuses on how we regulate our emotions like self soothing skills, mindfulness skills, and ways we can become aware that we are upset in the first place.
I’ve taught this group in a variety of settings in the last two years of my practice, but it always surprises me how I have to remind students that the goal is not perfection.
When we learn about managing our emotions, the goal is not perfection.
Therapeutic skills are about repetition. It’s about skill building. It’s about awareness and mindfulness.
None of these things require perfection.
After all, we can’t master something we don’t have control over.
We don’t have control over our feelings. I like to use this analogy when I teach:
When you got up this morning and went to your closet or your dresser, what did you do?
You picked out your clothes. You decided what to wear.
We can’t pick out our feelings like we pick out our clothes. Feelings are automatic. They just happen.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t wake up last Wednesday and say, “Wow! I really feel like being sad today. That sounds terrific.” No, instead I became aware that I was feeling sad. I was more tearful. Moving slower. I had a lot of thought clouds. And with that awareness, I slowed down. I went and got a coffee before work. I listened to my favourite music on my drive and sang along. And I was gentle with myself when I teared up in a group meeting talking about interventions for clients with eating disorders– because sometimes working with teenagers is really hard. Sometimes, being a human being is really hard.
I was sad last Wednesday, but not because I picked to be sad. I became aware I was sad.
The awareness is a skill we learn. When we can name our feelings and accept them, we can begin to regulate and manage them.
But we can’t perfect.
Instead, we have to practice.
Practice leaves room for mistakes, knowing that mistakes are signs of trying. Signs of intent.
Practice leaves room for being human, for being kind and gracious to ourselves and others.
Reminding ourselves that we don’t get to pick and choose what feelings we have, but can we pick and choose how mindful we are, how we acknowledge our feelings, and how we deal with them.
We also can choose how we tell our stories about our feelings.
How do you tell the story of your feelings? Do you beat yourself for feeling certain ways when the truth is our feelings are automatic? Do you shame yourself for feeling or not feeling a certain way towards your partner, your friends, events happening in the world?
Oh my sweet friends, let us remember that while we have beautiful complex brains, we still exist inside human bodies and we can’t choose the way we feel.
We can only come to an awareness and acknowledgement.
The same is true for grief. Our texts for today center around this liminal space of grief. Letting go of what has been and not quite yet grasping what is yet to come.
It’s a practice that we work on, not something we ever perfect.
I am always surprised when folks say to me, “I don’t know how to grieve. I don’t know if I am crying too much or not enough.”
Or folks who say, “I am so sad, but I am not able to cry. I think I am doing this whole feelings thing wrong.”
I remind them what I just shared with you– let your body lead and give awareness with your brain of whats going on in your body.
It’s okay to be really sad or upset and to not cry.
We all grieve things with different feelings, and our feelings are automatic.
But what happens when we have trapped grief? What if we aren’t aware of the grief we carry?
What if the grief we carry is ungrieved grief? Have you heard that term before? Ungrieved grief.
A wise teacher and pastor once shared with me that a lot of suffering in our world was due to ungrieved grief.
As people we experience a lot of losses in our life and we aren’t always allowed to feel our losses and experience our grief.
So we tuck it away. We push it down. Or we attach ourselves to unhealthy things: unhealthy ideas, unhealthy ways of coping, maybe even unhealthy people.
And loss isn’t just the death of people. It could be the death of a dream
The loss of communication between someone you once called a friend.
In pandemic times, the loss of normalcy.
Maybe as a child, you were shamed to put your tap dance shoes away or told that boys don’t wear bright colors or girls shouldn’t have short hair.
All those little things we grow up hearing we carry with us. Even into our older ages. Even now.
Our ungrieved grief can show up with other emotions, like anger and frustration.
One of my favourite sayings, and I think I’ve shared this in this community before is,
“I sat with my anger long enough to know her real name was grief.”
What kinds of grief are you sitting with today? What kinds of grief have been carried in your body all these years, tucked away behind your heart muscles or pushed deep down into your soul?
We are complex, advanced human beings– and yet sometimes our bodies know these things before our minds do. I invite you to take quiet moments today or this week, sit with your body and let it tell you your story. What losses do you need to grieve more?
Breathe in and know that your healing is not dependent on you alone. We have each other and we have God guiding the way.
Read the stories of others who have gone before us
We are not the first generation to experience grief and sadness. We turn towards our Biblical ancestors to hear story after story of all they endured and all they couldn’t endure. They were human beings, too.
The groans and complaints were present 2,000 years ago just as they are today. The grief, just as real.
People moving from known parts of their lives into the unknown parts of their lives. Leaving one part of the world for another. Traveling through liminal spaces.
As we look around today, we see this narrative still at play in our world.
People arriving in new lands from Afghanistan, carrying nothing but each other.
People crossing water and desert for the sake of safety and a better future for their children.
Parents handing their babies over walls saying the same prayer over and over and over: Please, let them make it.
Where will you align your story? I invite you into your humanness. To claim your hope and your grief.
Faith doesn’t lead us to knowing everything. I am always skeptical of anyone who can answer all theological questions.
Most of the time I shrug. Sometimes, I’d rather be with the unknown.
I find comfort in the mystery of faith, the blankness of a new church building, of changing times.
Like I shared in our children’s sermon, get comfortable with your ghosts. Get comfortable with your pain. With your grief. Get to know their names, what they are like. Offer them some water, some food. Converse with them. Stay in the moment.
I liken these things to spiritual practices.
The Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, a United Church of Christ minister in New Hampshire, authors a social media page called “Notes from the Chaplain.”
This week she posted an entry titled, “Spiritual Practices After Political Chaos and Destabilization.”
I can’t think of a truer name for providing spiritual practices in a time of deep grief.
Rev Heidi made a list of 10 things, I want to share two of them with you and I invite you to check out her page, “Notes from the Chaplain” on Facebook for more.
The first is, “Lean into your hope muscles.” She writes, “Hope is a disciple. We have to practice it. Hope is not the same as optimism. It doesn’t promise all is well when nothing is well, but it helps us remember how to keep working for a better world.”
The final one is this, “Rage is Holy, Hate is destructive. Rage can be sacred. It allows us to heal the world and be fueled for the revolution. Practice tapping into your rage at injustice and harm to others.” I would also include harm to ourselves. Heidi concludes, “Then use it to begin healing.” Rage is a part of grief.
We can’t heal what we can’t name.
We can’t name what we don’t know that we feel.
Our feelings are automatic. May we go into this week knowing that we don’t have to be perfect. May we know that there’s no one way or right way to grieve or to experience sadness.
May we be as kind to ourselves as we are to others, and remember that we are not alone.
God loves you, God grieves with you, God delights in you just exactly as you.