Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Grief of Dying to Self

Recent events in my life brought me to meditate on a concept I wanted to share with you--the grief that accompanies the spiritual process of death to self.

In the Church, we often use the term "die to self" to describe the decisions and processes we go through to say "yes" to God and His will, and "no" to desires that are contrary to God's will for our lives. In the 24 years since coming to know Christ personally, and in 16 years of ordained ministry, I have never heard a teaching or sermon on the grief that comes with dying to self.

When we say yes to God's will for our lives, there is often a loss involved.

There is much literature written in the realm of social science dealing with the emotions of dying and grief. The
Kubler-Ross stages--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all emotions I have experienced in dying to self. Dr. Roberta Temes in her book "Living With an Empty Chair" describes three particular types of behavior exhibited by those suffering from grief and loss. They are:
  • Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)
  • Disorganization (intensely painful feelings of loss)
  • Reorganization (re-entry into a more 'normal' social life.)
It is my prayer that my thoughts in this blog will help someone who has been experiencing these emotions within the context of dying to self. Maybe a new Christian who has experienced the joy of salvation is also feeling the loss of old friends and lifestyle. Maybe a mother has become convinced it is God's will to forgo her career and stay at home and raise children and this decision while right has resulted in feelings of grief and loss. Maybe there is a seminarian who is preparing for ministry and under the surface emotions of loss are making you question your call. Maybe someone has left a a large church to become part of a CEC mission and while you know God wants you serving in your church, there are emotions of loss and grief following the changes that come with leaving a church to serve in a new context.

In all of these situations and many more, it is normal to feel the emotions of dying and grief. I encourage you to talk to your pastor and close Christian friends about your grief, and begin grieving the very real losses that death to self brings. The message of our faith is that out of death comes life. May the resurrection power and hope of God bring us to new places of faith as we learn to grieve our way to the death of self.

Peace and good things,

Fr. Kevin