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Grief AND thankfulness: How to pray for people we love

Lynne Baab • Friday January 24 2020

Grief AND thankfulness: How to pray for people we love

Let’s imagine you have a friend whose beloved mother just died. Your friend is really grateful for the medical care her mom got in her last months of life, and your friend is also grieving deeply. She wonders how long she’s going to feel this bad, and also wonders if maybe she should try to hurry the grief along faster.

Or maybe you have a friend or family member who just lost a job, suffered a major career setback, has a new major health issue, or had a big argument with a significant family member. How can you pray for friends and family member in these kinds of situations, when you long to see them hold grief and thankfulness in two hands and learn from both?

The first thing to realize is that most people are dealing with multiple sources of grief at the same time. Maybe your friend who’s a dedicated runner is experiencing a stressor at work, a relationship challenge, plus a pulled hamstring that prevents running, which functions as a huge stress reliever for that person. That same person has wonderful things to be thankful for as well, perhaps a solid marriage, a new pet or something fulfilling at work alongside the stressor.

World events and local politics are sources of grief as well: earthquakes, fires, plane crashes, divisive politics, gun deaths, damage to our fragile earth, the inability to find solutions to homelessness and overpriced housing, and many more.

Recognizing that most people have multiple sources of grief along with multiple gifts to be thankful for, here are some of the things I pray for:

1. That God would mute the power of the consumer culture, which tells us two really unhelpful things: that if we feel bad, buying more things will help, and that we shouldn’t focus on the good things we have, we should focus on what we lack. Part of the power of consistent prayers of thankfulness or lists of things we’re thankful for is that these practices shift our focus away from what we don’t have, so we can notice the gifts already present in our lives. Just sitting with grief, allowing ourselves to feel it and then let it go, is so counter to the advertising myth that one more purchase will make us feel better quickly.

2. That God would mute the power of the optimism messages that Americans get all the time. We are always supposed to be upbeat and positive, we are told. Because American movies and TV shows are popular around the world, other cultures are influenced by our optimism mandate. I am committed to using positive language and nurturing positive thoughts as often as possible – and thankfulness prayers help us to that – but I am also committed to honesty. And when we’re honest, we have to admit that almost every day we have something to grieve about.

3. That God would enable our friends and family members to be honest with God and with people in their lives about what they are really thinking and feeling. The stiff upper lip attitude, which permeated my childhood and which influences so many people, creates isolation and lonely suffering. Sharing honestly with friends, family members, small groups, counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, and others creates community and connection, which helps us live with grief and see things to be thankful for.

4. That God would help people we love recognize and let go of the inner voices that tell them it’s not okay to feel sad. My own inner voices often tell me that if I’m thankful for something, I shouldn’t be  grieving for something else. These inner voices of mine have an all-or-nothing quality. They don’t seem to be comfortable with ambiguity and messy emotions. We can pray for those we love that they will allow the messiness of grief to co-exist with thankfulness for God’s gifts in the midst of hard times.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away. . . .
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139: 1, 2, 11, 12

Next week – Grief AND thankfulness: how to listen. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.

Some previous posts that focus on consumerism:

This is the twelfth post in a series on grief AND thankfulness. The first post is here, and the others follow after.

Lent begins on February 26 this year. If you’re looking for a Lenten devotional for yourself or for a group, consider Draw Near (available for free download as a pdf), which I wrote and my husband Dave illustrated. Each day of Lent has a psalm for you to ponder, with questions for reflection/discussion.



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