IT HURTS!

If you’re reading this post I’m confident you have experienced and endured pain many times. I’m in one of those times myself this week and thought it might be therapeutic for me to write about it.

Pain has many faces with multiple levels resulting from a variety of causes. Our first thought when we think about pain is physical pain, but as common as it is, physical pain is not the only kind of pain or always the most hurtful.

In addition to physical pain, there is also emotional pain. And while there are other kinds of emotional pain, today I’m thinking about the emotional pain that accompanies grief. The basic definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” I’m confident all of us have grieved the death of someone we loved and cared about.

The pain I am dealing with this week is not due to the passing of someone, but the death of our dog, Macy. In the same way that readers have grieved the loss of someone they love, most readers have also grieved the loss of a beloved pet.

A couple of quotes from an article I read Monday evening after Jan took her to the vet to be put to sleep helped me accept the deep pain I felt and the tears I shed. This observation was certainly true of Macy: “For many of us, a pet is not ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat,’ but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives.” And then the author described my response to our loss, “Most of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions, so it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a cherished pet dies.”

I didn’t need the advice of another writer, but appreciated the thought, “you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.” A third writer’s insight is not especially encouraging, but may prove to be helpful: “The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.”

This post may seem odd as the description of my blog is “Considering the Christian Life, the Bible, and the Church.” The death of a loved pet is not necessarily about the Bible or the Church; but it is part of the Christian life. I needed to write this and I hope you got something from it. Macy was a cherished part of our family the last 11 years and it hurts that she is gone.

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LOSS, GRIEF, AND LAMENT

Following a span of four days in which we had three funerals at our church I saw an article that got my attention. Written by Ed Stetzer and entitled Recovering the Good in Seasons of Lament, I thought this is a piece I need to read. I read it and I’m glad I did.

The reality is that everyone experiences losses in life and grieves those losses. The losses we face, however, are not limited to the passing of loved ones. I have moved three times in the past 40 plus years and as excited as I was about where we were moving to, leaving each place was a significant loss.

Grief and lament are not limited to our losses, but they are part of life. Perhaps another way to say it is that we all do and will go through times of discouragement, confusion, uncertainty, pain, disappointment, and failure.

Even though they challenge us, such seasons should not surprise us. A verse I often emphasize in my teaching is Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” That suggests to me that our decision to trust and follow Jesus does not mean we will be exempt from things that hurt us – things that cause us to grieve and lament.

As much as we wish it were not so, and as much as it grieves us, neither should death surprise us. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us “each person is destined to die” (NLT). We can prepare for it and expect it, but neither takes away the loss death deals us.

Stetzer notes that when those close to us experience loss “it’s natural to want to step in and provide encouragement,” but we don’t know “what to say or how to go about saying it.” And giving me as a pastor some comfort, Stetzer rightly notes, “The truth is that we don’t have all the answers.”

Offering a challenge that makes sense to me, Stetzer surmises, “Perhaps the church needs to allow space for people to lament – to wonder why, to ask questions, and to work through their grief. Maybe we needn’t be a people of quick answers but instead of soft hearts and listening ears.”

To grieve and lament in life is appropriate. In Ecclesiastes 3:4 the teacher notes, there is “A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.” The shortest verse in the Bible tells us that at the grave of Lazarus “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). That’s an example I have often followed in my own grief and one I will continue to follow in the future.

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IT HURTS!

I’ve been writing a weekly blog for just over 18 months now and my most read and commented on blog was entitled “It Still Hurts.” The title of this one is similar, but the basic idea is the same. Loss hurts.

A couple of hours ago Jan and I had to put down our cat. She had been sick for a couple of weeks and got worse and worse and nothing the vet did helped. We didn’t want her to suffer and we believe we did the right thing. But believing (knowing?) you did the right thing doesn’t take away the hurt.

Spiff (a crazy name given to her by Jan) had been ours for almost nine years. A couple of months earlier we had taken in a stray dog someone had dropped off at our church property. Then this stray cat starting hanging around our house. I didn’t like cats and discouraged Jan from feeding her, but she stayed. Finally I told Jan the cat could stay in our garage but we were not going to have a stinking cat in the house. It didn’t take long for me to fold and she was welcomed into the house. She and Macy (our dog) hit it off with no problems and I became a cat lover.

I have tears rolling down my cheeks as I reflect on the way that cat became a part of our family and my life. Rob played with her, Jan took care of her, and I loved on her as she sat in my lap as I read, studied, and watched TV. I’m more emotional than I ever thought I could or would be over the loss of a cat! But loss hurts.

It seems a little strange to me that I am writing about my hurt from the passing of a cat when at the same time I have a friend grieving the loss her husband and another friend grieving the loss his mother. Our loss is not in the same category as theirs; but the truth is loss hurts, doesn’t it?

Loss and the hurt that accompanies it are a part of life. But it doesn’t take away the joy, satisfaction, and enrichment that what we lost gave us. If I had it to do over again I would encourage Jan to feed that cat right away and skip the time in the garage!

(If you would like to read “It Still Hurts” you can at https://bobmmink.com/2016/04/06/it-still-hurts/)

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IT STILL HURTS

Eighteen months ago I stepped down from the church I planted and led as pastor for 30 years. Since then numerous people have asked me how I am doing. Here’s my response: I’m doing well and I believe I made the right decision, but it still hurts.

Our elders and I planned and carried out the transition over the period of about three years. I knew leaving the place, the people, and the wonderful privilege of doing what I was doing—all of which I loved so much–would be a loss to me. I just didn’t know then how big a loss it would be.

I read something yesterday that gave me some insight into my loss. The authors suggested that being a pastor is a role in which many place their entire identity in the job; and when they let go they feel they have lost their identity. I suspect that partially explains the loss I felt but it’s about much more than my identity.

Early in the last 12 months of my ministry I read a book entitled A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. It’s about the tragic experience of the deaths of his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident. My loss in leaving Discovery Christian Church pales in comparison to his loss, but his book was a great help. Inside the front cover I wrote “reread chapter 6—good for any loss.”

In the preface to the first edition of his book Sittser wisely observes “Sooner or later all people suffer loss, in little doses or big ones, suddenly or over time, privately or in public settings. Loss is as much a normal part of life as birth.”

Is there anyone who will read this post who has not experienced loss? I distinctly remember the loss I felt both the night I graduated from high school and the afternoon I graduated from college. I remember the loss I felt when I left Bridgetown Church of Christ as youth minister and when I left Delaware Valley Church of Christ as minister. When I think back on those times of loss I still feel some sadness even though I had something new just ahead.

During our almost 42 years of our marriage Jan and I have had three dogs we loved and love who were all an important part of our family, two of which have died. Readers who have had beloved pets know the pain of losing one.   

One of the greatest losses we experience is the death of a loved one. At the age of 65 I have lost numerous relatives including both my parents as well many friends who meant much to me. During my years as a local church pastor I led many funeral and memorial services and shared the grief of those left behind. One thing I often said to a surviving spouse that I hope became helpful was “You’ll never get over this. With the passing of time you will adjust, but you will never get over your loss.”

In the preface of his book Sittser suggests it is not “the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives” but “how we respond to loss that matters.” Like I used to tell surviving spouses, Sittser says his “book is not intended to help anyone get over” their loss. His “aim is not to provide quick and painless solutions, but to point the way to a lifelong journey of growth.”

It hasn’t been easy, but I think I have grown through every loss I have experienced so far. And I know I will experience more losses in the years ahead. How I respond has been and will continue to be what matters. But even though I have grown through my losses, including my stepping down from Discovery, it still hurts.

If you think others would appreciate these thoughts share them on social media. And feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email (bobmmink.com).

Photo courtesy of the boy’s mother, my daughter.