QUESTION: We’ve been friends with another couple for over 25 years. To help me explain, I’ll call them Jane and Joe. We’ve done everything together, including vacations with our kids when they were growing up, cruises, road trips and holidays. Four years ago, Jane passed away very unexpectedly from a heart attack and Joe has been grief-stricken since. We care so much about him and what he is going through. He won’t join us for anything anymore. We’ve invited him for every occasion and he just won’t come out.
We have two questions: How long is grief supposed to last? And do you have any suggestions for us that will help us help him?
~ Bewildered Friends
Dear Bewildered Friends,
I highly commend you for reaching out to your friend in his time of need and trying to ease his pain in face of a staggering loss. Your actions are a perfect example of the Biblical tradition of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Let me try to put into perspective what I sense is going on with your particular situation.
Sometimes in our efforts to help another we overlook underlying issues that are difficult and occasionally impossible to overcome. It is very evident that all the good times you two couples had together over the years were positive and special. However, now that your friend’s wife cannot be a part of these occasions, perhaps going on a trip with you will bring back memories of a time that is no more and his love that is no longer with him. While you are thinking that an outing will be a positive experience, it is very possible that for your friend it will bring back memories that for now – and perhaps even in the future – are too painful to handle.
People deal with tragedy in their own unique manner. How your friend decides to put together the shattered pieces of his life is his prerogative. Although you truly have the best intentions in mind, trying to impose upon your friend what you think he should be doing can be counter-productive.
I suggest that without making any specific recommendations you make it clear to your friend that you are there for him, think about him, love him and feel for him. Let him know that you are ready to help him in any and every way possible.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
Dear Bewildered Friends,
One of the most difficult situations to endure is the sudden, unexpected passing of a loved one. Having experienced this, I can attest to the fact that it’s possible your friend may never quite get over his wife’s passing and, even if his grief diminishes, there will be more than likely recurrences of his sadness. Your gift to him is your caring and compassion. The way you phrased your question was thoughtful, asking for suggestions to help you help him, instead of asking “How can we help him get over this once and for all?” Grief is a personal experience and takes as long as it takes. We cannot judge another for the time they spend in grief, and this is where patience comes in.
Your relationship with Joe, Jane and their children was obviously very special and I’m assuming you’ve stayed in contact with their children. Have you checked in with the children to see if they’re concerned about their father and what they may be doing for him? Often we get clues from other family members that will help. For example, I have a dear friend who enjoyed going to a local coffee shop with her husband on Saturday mornings for breakfast. For whatever reason, she decided without his company, she wouldn’t enjoy the Saturday morning breakfasts and didn’t want to have to answer questions that the servers who were familiar with them would more than likely ask. After talking to her daughter who told me her mother really missed those breakfasts, my solution was to ask her to join me on Saturday mornings at another restaurant, and she did.
Continue checking in with Joe on a regular basis and rather than inviting him to activities that you, he and Jane did together, be creative and ask him to join you for completely different activities. Persistence, caring and compassion will be the keys to letting your friend know he isn’t alone in his sorrow. Most importantly remember – don’t give up.
Rev. Beverly Craig
Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta
QUESTION: I’m the treasurer of a local church and almost to my dismay when I was elected to our board of trustees, I learned in addition to the spiritual aspect that church is a business. What is frustrating to me is our members don’t seem to understand the responsibility of being a church member. We present financials at our annual meeting and our books are open to any member who wants to see them so they know when there is a shortfall. We have members who could be giving much more than they do and still seem to be content to put a few dollars in the offertory at our services.
Would you please say something about the importance of tithing and how it can keep a church’s doors open and be financially stable?
~ Tithing Treasurer
Dear Tithing Treasurer,
I certainly understand your frustration, and you are right to be concerned about “keeping the doors open.” However, tithing or giving is so much more than just business. Whole books have been written about the importance of generosity and I don’t have time to cover all of it. But let me share a couple of important principles. First of all, giving is about the heart. You see, our culture tells that happiness, joy and meaning in life will come from the possession of things. The old bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins!” reflects this view. In reality “He who dies with the most toys” is still dead and things do not make us happy. But when I give to a worthy cause the hold of materialism begins to loosen. I start to become less self-centered and more others centered. And it is in giving, not only of my money but also of my time and abilities, that I discover real joy and meaning in life.
Which brings me to my second point. People do not want to give to budgets; just to pay for utilities, upkeep and/or maintenance of facilities. People give to support a greater cause. For example, in our church this month we are collecting funds to send to the earthquake victims in Ecuador. While at this point I don’t know how much has come in, I’m pretty confident that my church will respond generously to this need. We also have youth programs (this week our youth will be in summer camp), children’s programs, a food distribution program, a ministry to developmentally challenged adults and a ministry to Mothers of Preschoolers, among other programs. It is these programs that are making a difference in people’s lives that people give to; not to budgets. I would recommend that you sit down with your pastor and other ministry leaders and talk about the ways that your church is helping people and then begin communicating these stories to your church and how their financial support helps those vital programs.
Pastor Bill Flanders
First Baptist Church-
Dear Tithing Treasurer,
I have spoken on tithing many times. I have my theology degree and was a pastor for 13 years. I then went on to receive my psychology degree. So I will address this wearing both of these hats.
First, the Bible is clear on what tithing is and how it blesses us. Malachi 3:10 says, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much that you will not have room enough for it.’”
So, yes it is a command, but every one of us has some command we struggle with. To say we do not would be dishonest. We each bring a life context that affects our behaviors; it could be childhood poverty, abuse, being taken for granted, etc. and these issues lend to why an individual may not yet be ready to tithe.
Working closely with the administrative side of pastoring for years, I do know that not even a senior pastor wants to know who tithes and who doesn’t. There is wisdom in this because they realize they are human and will treat those who tithe and those who do not differently.
Tithing is good and right. But to avoid judging another we must realize they just may not have that level of faith in this area yet. Allow God to do that work. Focusing on judging others is a huge spiritual, psychological and emotional issue. It puts us in a place of thinking other’s sins are worse than our own. It takes our focus off our own issues that the Bible clearly points out in Scripture as wrong.
I believe it is very important for the church to teach on tithing and the blessings it will bring to our lives – and then pray. Allow the Holy Spirit to convict and lead others to the step of faith and blessings they will receive when and if they do tithe. But knowing who does and doesn’t tithe leads you to a dangerous place of judgment, which is no better than not tithing. It also is condemned in the Bible. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV).
The Bible must to be read as a whole. We cannot sit in judgment of one who does not tithe – only pray for them. According to Scripture, to judge is the same level of wrong doing as not tithing. And prayer and God, not judgment, can soften and grow people’s hearts and actions much more efficiently than judgment.
The Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian