Jonathan Neef of Christ Community Church in Olathe, Kansas on the Process of Grief

Jonathan Neef from Christ Community Church in Olathe, Kansas writes a blog post about the process of grief. This post is just a reflection on what is said especially as I am dealing with grief due to the loss of my Mom and Dad almost back to back. One issue that Jonathan needs to cover is how spiritual abuse can affect grief and mourning.

“Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”

William Shakespeare

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

“Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Queen Elizabeth II

God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4 NLT

Christ Community Church in downtown Kansas City, Missouri

My Dad died on November 21, 2018, and his funeral was on December 5, 2018. This time in life has felt like a fog. I have been processing my Mom’s death from April 1, 2017 and now find myself overwhelmed with my Dad’s.  When Dad was declining we were in the process of putting him into hospice when he died. He never made it to hospice. Later on a family member found out that the hospice has a grief workshop for those who lost a loved one. My sister dragged me to it. As I sat there listening to this Methodist pastor speak about death I felt like I was in a haze. What is normal? What is life? Will life return to normal? How do I live with the fact that both Mom and Dad are now gone? These are questions that I am facing. Losing both parents back to back for me has been devastating. For me these last few days have been a step by step process. I feel like its putting one foot before the other. I had to face the fear of attending my Dad’s funeral which you can read about in, “Facing One of My Deepest Fears – Attending Dad’s Funeral.” I have had to come to the reality that death is not like I thought it was. I watched two people die in my life and was stunned by what I saw. You can read about that in, “In American Culture Death is Warped by Movies and Entertainment.” I have been using this blog as a journal as I deal with Mom and Dad’s death. You can find the posts I have written about death, dying and mourning filed under “Mom and Dad’s Illness and Death.” Plus I also have created a category that explores the topic of evangelicals and death.

 

Who is Jonathan Neef of Christ Community Church?

I have written about Christ Community Church in the Kansas City metropolitan area previously at this blog. I visited the Downtown location in October and listened to Tyler Chernesky preach. I wrote about that in, “Tyler Chernesky of Christ Community Church in Kansas City on Friendship and Proverbs. Seeing What was Taught in a Sermon Play Out in Kansas and Missouri.”

Today I want to focus on Associate Pastor Jonathan Neef and a post that he wrote at the church blog. Let’s give some background on Jonathan. Jonathan grew up in Wichita, Kansas but lived in the Chicago area. He attended Moody Bible Institute for an undergraduate degree. Afterward he attended the flagship seminary for the EFCA that is known as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he obtained his Masters of Divinity. He is married and is a recent transplant to the Olathe, Kansas area. He has been a part of Christ Community Church for almost two years now. 

 

Jonathan’s Post on Grief at the Christ Community Church Blog

Jonathan Neef wrote a post for the Christ Community Church blog called, “The Process of Grief.” Since this blog writes about the EFCA I scan blogs at a wide assortment of EFCA churches at a regular basis. I saw this and wanted to write about it especially as I am dealing with this topic. Let’s look at what Jonathan wrote and then let me share what I am learning about death, grief and mourning.


It hit me out of nowhere.

One minute I am joyfully planning my daughter’s first birthday party, and the next minute I am overwhelmed with different emotions. My shoulders are tense with anger, my gut feels hollow with anxiety, my body feels drained of all energy. I am starting to feel numb, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch, eat ice cream, and watch sports.

All motivation for party planning, and all of my other responsibilities, has disappeared. I feel worthless. And it hit me out of nowhere.

I know why. “Why” isn’t the problem. I am grieving because my mom died when I was young, and I want her to be here for my daughter’s first birthday. I want her to meet my daughter, to celebrate with me, to be proud of her first grandchild and to be proud of me. So I know the “why.”

The conversation about the party ends rather abruptly, and my wife knows something is up. We both know something is wrong, but I don’t want to talk about it. Why not? Because I should be over this. My mom died when I was a kid. I have been through years of counseling and already worked through this grief. I don’t feel that I should be grieving again, nor that this grief should ruin my ability to plan my daughter’s birthday.

Why am I rambling on about this? Why are you hearing some grief story from me? Because I don’t think my story is unique. I think many of us deal with grief on a day-to-day basis. Sure, your grief probably looks different than my example. Some of us are grieving the loss of a friendship, having an identity crisis, mourning the loss of a life stage, or hurting from a divorce.

Grief can look different for each of us, but we all grieve. And I would wager that we all get tired of the grieving process. It is the word “process” that I want you to remember. Grief is a process. 

This blog can’t talk about everything regarding grief, but let me make a few observations based on common questions.

What is grief?

The dictionary defines grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” But I also love this quote from author and chaplain Kate Braestrup, who says, “Grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.” Basically, grief is an intense emotional response to change. Often, the change makes a feel a sense of loss and the loss occurs because we have loved.

What can often be the difficult thing about grief is that we view it as a negative emotion that we shouldn’t experience. And if we do experience grief, then we expect grief to occur quickly, quietly, and for us to be over it without making a scene. But that’s not how grief works.

Grief is complex, and different stages of our life can bring fresh waves of grief crashing over us. One of the most important insights in my own life was when my counselor talked about each stage of my life bringing new and fresh pain to the grieving process. Let’s examine that further with our second question.

Why can’t I get over my grief?

Grief is a process. The five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Denial is where we suppress our feelings in order to survive. This denial is actually a grace to us because it allows us to  push down our emotions until we are able to handle them.

Anger is often thought of as something to be avoided, but actually, anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Anger is often a secondary emotional response to loss, sadness, or fear so expressing our anger helps us in the journey to understanding our grief.

Bargaining is when we start to rationalize and make promises of what we will do instead of dealing with the pain and loss.

Depression sets in when the sadness feels overwhelming and hope is diminished. It is important to remember that these feelings are part of the grieving process and that they will not last forever.

Acceptance is not to be confused with being “ok” with what happened. Rather, this is about accepting the reality of what has occurred and that it is the new permanent reality.

With all these stages of grief, the point is to remember that grief is a process and that no one grieves exactly the same way as someone else. While there are many unhealthy ways of grieving (addiction, substance abuse, self-harm, etc.), we need to remember there is no one right way to grieve. Therefore, we can show grace both to ourselves and to others if we grieve differently. This understanding of grief has helped me see how each new stage of life brings a new stage of grieving.

Sometimes I’m not sad (though I think I should be) on certain occasions like Mother’s Day. And other times I am sad or angry when it hits me out of nowhere (like planning my daughter’s birthday). I hope this understanding of grief gives you freedom to know that grief isn’t something we get over, rather it is something we work through.

Is grieving wrong?

People often feel ashamed that they are grieving. After all, there are Bible verses that say “count it all joy” through various trials (James 1:2) and “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). So, is grieving wrong?

Without getting into the details of those particular verses, it is important to look at the entire canon of Scripture when it comes to grief. When we do this, we see that many characters of the Bible experience grief, pain, loss, and suffering (look at Job, the prophets, or David for a few examples). In fact, many of the Psalms are meant to teach us how to grieve. We also see that each member of the Trinity expresses grief throughout Scripture.

Therefore, if examples of grief are found throughout Scripture, and we see that God can grieve, surely this gives us the ability to grieve without sin or shame. I realize that grief is difficult, can feel shameful, and is often frowned upon in our society, but I want you to hear that grieving is not a moral issue, and that God can handle your grief.

My own journey has taught me that God is able to handle my grief, and can take whatever I can throw at Him. Furthermore, I don’t need to feel guilty for not being sad when I think I should. Nor do I need to feel guilty when I am sad and I don’t think I should be.

God loves me and gives me grace wherever I am in the grieving process. This is still hard for me to accept, but every time my grief hits me it is a new opportunity for me to realize the love and grace of my heavenly Father, and to be reminded of the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

What do I do with my grief?

Grief is part of what it means to be human. We experience grief as a result of the sin and brokenness of this world. There will come a day when we will no longer experience grief.

But while we wait for the day, we are not meant to experience our grief alone. God made us relational beings, to know and be known by others. Therefore, we need to process our grief with others. We see this in the Psalms. The Psalms give examples from others of how they processed their grief and poured their heart out to God. Hopefully, the Psalms can give you words to express your emotions both to God and others.

So please talk to someone! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to a friend or loved one who is a safe person for you
  • Meet with your pastor
  • Meet with a counselor (your pastor can help you find one)
  • Attend GriefShare at our Leawood Campus
  • Above all, express your grief to God

While I do not know the complexities of your grief, there is One who does. Jesus knows your pain. Jesus came to suffer for you. Jesus died for you. And Jesus conquered the grave to assure us that one day every wrong will be made right and every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4).


My Thoughts on Grief

When I attended the grief workshop at the hospice center I listened to the Methodist pastor speak. It was hard to process as I felt like I was suffocating because of how emotional the topic is. I can speak to my Mom’s death and loss and what I learned about grief there. In the case of my Dad I am in shock. I am numb. For me with the death being so recent I feel like I am in a fog, lost and crawling my way through it. I didn’t think Dad would die the way that he did. It very much remains a shock to me. Based off what I heard at the hospice I think my grief is going to be complicated.  I lost Mom and Dad back to back almost and I feel stunned. I was still dealing with Mom when Dad’s brain tumor grew back aggressively and sadly took its course. Its too early to speak about Dad but I can speak about Mom. After all I am twenty months out from Mom’s death on April 1, 2017.

One thing I appreciate from Jonathan’s post is that grief comes in different forms. Often I associated grief with the process of death. However, I now think of grief in a much different form. People can grieve the loss of a job. The death of a friendship or the breakup of a family. Transitions and changes in life can also impact grief. And some people I think can even grieve the loss of a sports team or a political election for those who take it that seriously. There is one aspect that I wish Jonathan would have addressed in his article and its this topic. What do you do when spiritual abuse impacts or affects grief? Let me elaborate. This blog was born out of an incident years ago. I had a co-worker trying to get me involved in a Sovereign Grace Ministry church break away called Redeemer Arlington in the Washington, D.C. area. The relationship ended with a false accusation that was psychologically terrifying. Reading and listening to Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler will do that to you. Now since the relationship was not ended properly, and risked becoming a legal situation there was no closure and it dragged on. From 2013 until my Mom’s time in the hospital in 2017 it still existed. My Mom at one point was concerned about what I endured a month or so before her death. I was livid that the problem popped up in the hospital. So here is the question that Jonathan should also address. What happens when spiritual abuse affects grief and mourning? Evangelical Christians do not talk about that at all. One of the bright spots (and I hesitate to use the word bright) is that in Dad’s death the spiritual abuse situation did not impact or affect it. So in that case I can just deal with Dad’s death and just the pain of it by itself.  

Grief can take time and feel like it comes in waves. What I have found helpful for grief is journaling and I choose to do that here at this blog. Greif can be triggered by memories, anniversaries, smells, thoughts, and reminders. The other day I was in my parents former bedroom and I was smelling my Mom’s perfume. It was like Mom was back again in a heartbeat. That brought back a lot of memories. Grieving is unique and comes in different forms. I am coming to the conclusion that it can also take years to process and work through. My Mom’s birthday, holidays and Mothers Day are hard to go through. Holidays I have learned are best to be shaken up. For example this Christmas will likely be spent in the San Francisco Bay Area. It gets us out of the house and away from the memories of loss of Mom and Dad.

From a theological perspective I am glad that Jonathan is looking at grief from the long term perspective. In many situations for some evangelicals grief can be almost non-existent. The happy-clappy kind of evangelicals only add to a person’s suffering and loss. By Jonathan raising the Psalms I find it refreshing that he creates an environment where people can mourn, can be open about it and realize the immensity of a loss. The loss or a Mom and Dad can be devastating. I also appreciate that Jonathan says that grieving is not sinful or a moral issue. Grieving is a part of humanity and being human.  Every single one of us will deal with the loss of a loved one and their death. The raising of the beatitudes is also a comfort in many ways. Blessed are the mourning is a source of comfort and reassurance. This does not put up walls in the grief process and acknowledges it in many ways.

I have handled my Mom’s grief by speaking with a grief counselor. I am planning to speak with a grief counselor while I am in California helping my family out. That is something I plan to do long term in this difficult situation.  That is it for this post. I appreciated this opportunity to write about a topic that sadly I am dealing with. But I also have to say that as I write about the EFCA I am impressed with what I am reading and hearing about that comes out of Christ Community Church.

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