We all want to be happy, but that can depress us!
A pastor in my counseling office forced a smile, “I’m happy to support our friends who left our church to help out at a new church.” Aaron sounded so mature, so loving. But I could see disappointment in his eyes and discouragement in his slumping shoulders.
Our body tells the truth, even when we try to hide it.
What do you do when you experience a loss? Maybe you’re afraid that if you talk about it you’ll fall into a pit of complaining, self-pity, and depression? Maybe you try to stay positive and busy?
How does it affect you when someone you care about is sad but won’t talk openly with you to seek your support?
For Aaron’s wife and their children it felt like there was a dark cloud in the house that everyone had to pretend wasn’t really there.
I helped Aaron accept and own his loss and deep feelings. Since new grief triggers previous grief I did some soul archaeology with him and pretty soon he was crying about his parents’ divorce and how they argued constantly when he was a boy.
He needed my help to not fight off his tears. He needed to discover how to be “happy-sad” because verbalizing our sorrow to an emotionally safe and gracious friend helps us return to joy.
Usually in distressing situations Aaron would elevate his mood with cheery rationalizations or doing something “productive”. But I helped him to be emotionally present. With a tenderized heart, I put words to his feelings, validated their significance, and offered the warmth of my presence. (That’s empathy.)
Gently, we peeled back the layers in the onion of his soul:
- “Those four families were the pillars of your church. They were your ministry partners. You’re really going to miss them.”
- “They’ve been a great encouragement to you.”
- “You’re hoping you can keep the friendships going, but it won’t be the same not having them in your church.”
- “When you’re parents’ divorced it broke up your family. Holidays and birthdays especially feel sad now.”
- “You felt anxious and insecure when your parents argued.”
- “No one asked how you felt. You were alone and you blamed yourself.”
- “So you learned that it was your job to take care of yourself, be happy, and make your family proud by being successful.”
The Abba of Jesus is filled with empathy for us (Romans 8:15-16, 26). Whenever someone gives tender-hearted listening and compassion it ministers God’s presence in a vibrant way — especially if we pray silently.
I suggested Aaron imagine Jesus blessing him as child while praying, “Jesus embraces me in Abba’s love.” (This is one of the Breath Prayers in Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke. It’s inspired by Mark 10:13-16 where cares for the little children and Mark 15:36 where Jesus cries out to his Abba for comfort.) I prayed silently along with him.
We were quiet in God’s presence for five minutes. That’s a long time for spontaneous silence with someone, but it wasn’t awkward — it was delightful. (Like the little child of Psalm 131 relaxed and content in his mother’s arms.)
“I’ve never felt so peaceful,” Aaron remarked. His shoulders were back now and his eyes were lit up with the “I’m glad to be alive” feeling.
He was ready to pastor again. Now he was able to have genuine joy for his friends who left their church. Most importantly, he saw the need to let his wife and children openly express their feelings.
That’s being “happy-sad”. I’m thankful for my friend named Jeremy Diebler who shared this resourceful word in our pastors’ Soul Shepherding Group.
In this post’s companion episode: Family: Grief Leads to Joy!, Bill & Kristi address unresolved grief as a threat to family harmony.