Part 2 – Moving Forward
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Chapter 04 – Practical Grief Counseling
We continue now on counseling in a grief situation. There are a couple of extra things to consider. But of course the most important thing is the final phase, which is the rebuilding phase.
I want to just give this tip in passing, especially if you are a pastor or leader and have been given the task to do the funeral.
When you are having a funeral, everyone is thinking about eternity. Those who have not been living right are feeling guilty, and everybody is wondering if they are ready to die.
Some pastors think this is a wonderful opportunity to ram the gospel down their throats and scare everybody into heaven. But please do not be mercenary. If your normal preaching isn’t good enough to get people saved, don’t try and capitalize on someone else’s grief to try and get people to the front.
You are not there to condemn. You are there to comfort. You should certainly be giving the gospel appeal, but you should be doing that at every meeting, no matter what you are preaching.
If there are unbelievers there, they should always be given the opportunity to accept the Lord and make Him Lord of their life. So certainly people are likely to be more open.
You may have people in church who aren’t normally there, because they have come to honor the person by attending the funeral. But don’t be tempted to use this as an opportunity to get in there and preach a condemning or harsh message.
You are there to minister to those who are bereaved and the others are just guests. And yes always bring the Lord into it and always preach the positive message of the gospel, because the word gospel means good news.
Good news is not saying,
“You are going to hell.”
That is bad news. Rather uphold and exalt the fact that here you have your church member who died knowing the Lord. Emphasize the fact that we will meet them again in heaven one day and that right now they are rejoicing with the Lord.
Say to them, “If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior you could be doing the same. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, we are going to give you a chance to accept Him.”
You should by all means use that opportunity because there are going to be unbelievers at the funeral. But do it wisely. Minister to the family and the relatives and those who are bereaved.
Preach a message of comfort and upliftment. That is what you are there for.
Rebuilding Your Life
We come now to the final phase of grief, which is the rebuilding phase. This is a very important part of the pastor’s role. As I said in Part 1, you should be making plans to visit the person soon after the funeral.
You should be available to give counsel. And now your counsel is not going to be advice. It must be directive counseling. This means you had better have learned some principles of counseling. You need to have them in your head and your heart, because they may start coming out.
You won’t have to say to them,
“I see you have a problem with depression. Just a moment, let me go and look up quickly about how to counsel depression.”
All of the teachings are available online and you can watch, listen to or read them. Go through and make a summary of some of the main points, because you are going to need a lot of these when you come to counseling someone in grief.
You must be directive, which means you must give them direction. Directive counseling must always be based on the Word. If you don’t have a Scripture to back up your direction, then don’t try and direct.
A person may come to you with a problem and you might say to them,
“How much time do you spend in prayer every day?”
They might say, “Well I really don’t get much time to pray.”
“You need to pray at least an hour a day, or from midnight to 3:00 in the morning.”
That is not directive counseling. It is stupidity, because there isn’t a Scripture that says, Thou shalt pray for an hour a day. You also don’t have a Scripture that says you must pray from 12 to 3 in the morning. You can only give them Scriptures like these.
Pray without ceasing.
The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Give them some powerful Scriptures and say,
“According to the Word we really should be spending more time in prayer.”
You can give that as an instruction and a direction because the Word says so. In all of the counseling scenarios, if you cannot give Scripture to backup what you are giving them, it is not counsel. It is just advice. A true counselor says,
“Thus says the Word.”
“Thus says the Lord.”
And what the Lord says comes via the Word.
No Hasty Decisions
Here is one of the biggest mistakes that people make, especially when they face a major bereavement like a spouse dying, or someone very close to them that was very much part of their life.
When that happens, a lot of people just want to escape all the memories. They just want to get away from it all.
You can’t go on living the life that you had because that person has been snatched out of all your pictures. So you may think,
“Why don’t I just sell the house, get rid of it and move somewhere else. Why don’t I just sell the car because that belonged to my spouse and it reminds me of them.”
You start wanting to make hasty decisions that you haven’t thought through.
You think, “I just want to get away from it all. Everything I see reminds me of my spouse. I want to make a total change.”
That might be a good thing, but don’t be in such a hurry about it. That is where you must give counsel and say,
“Wait, what does God say?”
All your friends and neighbors have advice for you. They will say things like,
“You don’t need that big house anymore. Why don’t you just sell it.”
“It is just you by yourself now. Why don’t you sell that big Mercedes and buy yourself a little run around car.”
It is amazing how everyone has advice to give, but people know nothing.
You are get bombarded from all sides with everyone telling you what you should do and not do. But they need you to be a stability and to say,
“Wait, do not rush into anything. God has a plan. The Lord knew this was going to happen before it happened, and He has already made a provision for you.
Let’s find out where God wants you to go from here. It might be a good idea to do that, but don’t rush into it. Why don’t we just put it on the back burner for a while and wait. Let’s see what is going to be the best thing to do right now.
Let’s examine now some of the goals that you have had. Let’s look at some of the plans that you had for the future that included this person in it.”
Your Plans Will Change
The person might say,
“Well we used to go on a holiday down to the coast every second year.”
“But you can’t do that anymore. If you try and go on that holiday by yourself you are not going to enjoy it at all. Let’s cancel that holiday thing for now and let it go.”
You try going on a holiday by yourself and see what it is like to sit at a dinner table eating by yourself.
I know what it is like after being divorced and that was bad enough. You see all the couples and the families, and there is you sitting all by yourself. It is not fun anymore, so let some of these things go for now.
You might say, “We always went out for a meal every Friday night.”
There is no ‘we’ anymore, so forget the Friday night meal. Let it go. It is an old goal and an old practice. It is an old picture, and that person has been snatched out of the picture, so you can’t use it anymore. Let’s dispense with it.
There has to be a taking away, but there can also be an adding back in its place. So you will have to sit down and work it out with them.
Say to them, “What were the things that you used to do together? What were the things that made life living and that made you happy?
Let’s identify some of those things that you can’t do anymore and let’s just let them die. But what can we add back in its place to replace it?”
Looking at the Future
This is going to depend on what the person is desiring. You will have to them and say,
“Let’s look at some of your motivations and some of the plans you made for the future. How do you see your future from here?”
The person probably won’t have a clue and will see,
“I just can’t see it.”
“Let’s look at it now. You were married and your spouse has died, so what are you going to do now as a single person?”
They might say, “I haven’t been single for years. I have always been used to being married, coming home and someone being there. I am used to someone sleeping in the same bed as me and now they are gone. They are not there anymore.”
Well some things will have to change. Do you want to stay single?
You see when you have lost someone like that, a loneliness will begin to come upon you that becomes quite devastating. And it doesn’t take long for you to realize,
“I don’t like being alone. I enjoyed being married and having someone there. I want to get back into that again.”
There is nothing wrong with that person saying,
“I’m going to let the old person go and put them behind me. They are happy with the Lord now, but I have to get on with my life.”
If you are young enough, or even if you are old, would you like to continue a life of singleness, or would you like to be married again? You don’t need to rush off and find someone right away, but have an honest look at it.
Are you planning to stay single? If you are then you have to change your whole lifestyle.
Because from now on you are going to be doing everything on your own. Your holidays are going to be on your own, and every project or everything you do is just going to be on your own.
Are you ready to handle that? The person may want to commit themselves to the Lord and get involved in ministry. They may think,
“I don’t have time now to get involved in a relationship. I am going to throw myself into the work of the Lord.”
That might be a good thing, and you can then counsel them on it and say,
“Let me help you. Let’s get you trained up for it. Why don’t you enroll in one of our training courses and we can get you involved in a ministry that will keep you busy. That’s a wonderful idea.”
Wanting to Remarry
However the person may say,
“I don’t like being single. I want to be married again.”
Now you have some important counsel to give them. How are they going to find a new spouse?
When you were younger it was easy. Everyone was together and you kind of met the right person. You eyed the beautiful young lady sitting in the pews and said,
“I wouldn’t mind going out with her.”
Or you had your eyes on that good looking guy and liked him. But now you are old and there is nobody who will look twice at you. Also most of them are married anyway. Where are the single people? That is a whole new problem isn’t it?
We have covered being single in a teaching called Finding God’s Perfect Match. If you are single we have already covered that, and if you want to study more of it you can get your hands on it.
We also did an entire course called Heavenly Marriage. It is also available and we covered everything in that teaching, like handling marital problems, etc.
So you as the leader or the pastor should be there to give advice now and say to them,
“How do we go about it?”
If that widow in your church is wanting to get married again, have you thought about the fact that she may not find her new husband in your church. You might say to her,
“We don’t want to lose you.”
Because she is a good tithe payer, right?
When I first met Daphne she was in a fairly big AFM church. I met the pastor and we chatted a bit. I had been in ministry and I still wanted to go back into ministry. I wanted to come and take her out, but he said,
“We don’t believe in exporting. We believe in importing.”
So I thought, “Fine, give me a chance to take your pulpit.”
Not a chance! I think we had a chance to a sing a song item once. That was about as far as we got. I mean she was his pianist and you can’t steal the pianist. But I did steal her.
We couldn’t continue there. It was foolish. Of course I had to take her with me because I had my own ministry and calling.
Get ready for it, and even give counsel to them and say,
“If you find somebody else in another church you can go with my blessing. I just want to be part of it and be there for you. If you want to go and visit another church on Sunday and meet some good looking single people, I want you to know that you can go with my blessing.”
Wouldn’t that be the right attitude? Also keep your eyes open. There is nothing wrong with a bit of match making. You can say to them,
“We know a person who was widowed recently and they are looking for a partner. Would you like to meet them? We can arrange it.”
If you have contacts you can do that. You can be very helpful to them. But you must help them rebuild their future now and have a goal to aim for.
Don’t say, “We are used to her sitting in that pew every Sunday. If she leaves she will be missed.”
No! What a way to rejoice that she has found someone new, and she can go on and rebuilt her life with that person. Yes it would be great if they can both come back into the church so you can get an extra member.
But don’t impose that on them. Be very careful how you counsel people on this. You want to be there to help them. And if you are there with that kind of attitude, the chances are they will come back to you.
Even if they don’t, you will always hold a place of honor in her or his eyes; also in the sight of the new spouse. They will always honor you because you were the one who was there for them and who cared for them when they were down and out.
When everybody else turned their backs on them after the funeral, you said,
“I want to come and see you to come and chat with you. Let’s sit and talk about the future. Let’s help you to rebuild your life now and get it going. What does God have for you next?
Let’s work on it, find some new goals and get some prophetic revelation. Now that you don’t have to commit yourself to taking care of your spouse all the time, perhaps you have time to learn a new musical instrument or develop a new skill that you always wanted to do.”
Having Children in the Picture
What are the possibilities of doing that? There may be children there and it may be quite difficult to do. In which case now you have another complexity. Your children are going to need a father.
You might say, “I can bring them up by myself as a mother.”
Yes, but you can never be a father to them. Whether they are girls or boys, by the time they reach adolescence and move into maturity they need a father.
Unless you have another family member like an uncle or someone who can take that place and give that image to your children, you had better seriously think about getting married again, even if it is for the sake of your children.
You as the counselor need to explain this to them and let them examine it. You are not imposing on them, but you must allow them to think through and say,
“What if we do this? What if that happens? Let’s think through the possibilities. What new goals can we aim for and what new plans can we make for the future? What does God have for your life?”
If God has called you to a ministry, the best ministry is always done as a couple. Don’t look at what Paul says. Paul was explaining his own situation and he had a particular calling. He didn’t have time to settle down and get married.
But that doesn’t mean that all of us are in that situation. When I lost my first wife through divorce, it was like a death and I couldn’t wait to be married again. I hated being single.
What did I want to do that for? I wanted to give and be a blessing. I didn’t want to live a selfish life and say,
“Now I can go out with the boys and do what I like.”
If that is your attitude you had a bad marriage in the first place.
Can you see all the possibilities that you as a mature man or woman of God will have to help the person think through.
You don’t even have to be a pastor to do this. Even if you are doctor you will have people coming to you to share their problems and you can be there to counsel them.
Don’t just describe anti-depressants and medicines. You have far more to give them than that. Help them to rethink their alternatives and not to rush and go off at a tangent.
../ Go to Part 5