Reprinted from Dec. 23, 2021
Question: My wife and I have been neighbors with a man (I’ll call Paul) for 40 years. We both bought our houses at the same time and became good friends. We attended the same church and our kids were friends as well.
Three years ago, Paul’s wife passed away from cancer. Now Paul won’t go to church, even though his adult children have urged him to on several occasions. Paul’s reasoning is he’s mad at God for letting his wife die. She was the love of his life.
Even though we think we understand his grief and feelings, we believe going back to church will help him. Please give us some ideas on how to talk to him. ~ Sympathetic Neighbors
Dear Sympathetic Neighbors,
It’s wonderful that your neighbor has such caring friends such as yourselves. It’s only natural that when we see our friends going through sadness we want to help them move through it quickly and get on with life. A church community can be a wonderful way to find meaning and belonging and thereby help us get beyond a sense of loss and hopelessness that we are facing; but remember, supporting a friend means loving them exactly as they are, not as we want them to be. We may think we know what is the best for them but they may need to go through the phases of grief that they are experiencing in order to grow into a sense of peace about losing their loved one. If you have ever seen a butterfly struggling in a chrysalis, you know that the struggle helps them build the strength necessary to get to their next realization.
In the book, “On Death and Dying,” Elizabeth Kubler Ross defines the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining (guilt) depression and acceptance. In it she explains that there is no time limit to the grieving process and that each person deals with the various stages of grief in their own way. You might suggest this book to your friend to give him insight into what he is experiencing and to know that he is not alone in his feelings. Anger is not only a normal reaction, but also a part of the healing process. His argument with God is a personal one and growing beyond his anger is one that he alone will have to come to terms with. The love and support of his friends and church community will be helpful but a relationship with God is an inside job. No one can find God for us.
In Religious Science, the formula for moving beyond a problem is to detach from the issue – take your mind off the problem and put your mind on God, knowing that your faith will bring you out of any darkness you are experiencing. Our thoughts create an energetic vibration that brings to us experiences at the level of our thinking energy. That does not mean don’t feel what you’re feeling, but don’t dwell on it. There is a spirit that resides in each of us, the knower, which provides a spiritual solution to every problem. When we center ourselves in both thought and feeling to realize the divine presence within we will find peace.
Let your friend know of your loving support and be available to listen to him exactly where he is. Remind him that it is important to remember our loved ones who have died with more love than pain. Let him know that when he leans into the divine presence within, despite the anger, sadness and turmoil he is experiencing, the God he is wrestling with will bring him peace the moment he seeks it.
Rev. Mary Morgan
Dear Sympathetic Neighbors,
Paul is fortunate to have a neighbor like you. God clearly brought you together certainly for such a time as this. People get mad at God all the time. God understands this. He thinks the heartaches we suffer in this life are real and difficult. Since you’ve asked for some ideas, let me give you several: 1) Invite your old friend over regularly. Have dinner. Show God’s love to him. God has not left him alone. He sent you! 2) Connect Paul with other widowers at the church. They can play golf or cards or have regular lunches together. There are lots of men who are going through what Paul is going through. 3) Losing a life-long spouse is so very hard; often professional help is in order. There is nothing in the world like a skillful Christian grief counselor. Encourage Paul to make an appointment today! Do some homework and supply Paul with some names and numbers. 4) It might be wise to have a conversation with Paul and ask him if staying away from church is what his wife would have wanted. I suspect we all know the answer to that. 5) We recall on Good Friday the death of a famous Son. God also knows what it’s like to lose a loved one. But God knew that his grief would be temporary because Jesus would be raised from the dead. This is at the core of what church is all about. Doesn’t Paul share the same resurrection hope for his wife? In the prayer of Jesus before his crucifixion in John chapter 17, He says something no one ever talks about. He says He wants those who are His to be with Him where he is, that they might see His glory. Paul’s wife was with him for a long time. Now, for a while, Paul and his wife are separated but Paul’s wife is seeing the glory of Jesus in paradise. How wrong is it that Jesus should now enjoy the sweet fellowship that He has been waiting for, for so long? Paul and his wife will be reunited soon enough. For now, could Paul share his wife with Jesus in paradise for a while?
God’s view on the death of his believers is different from ours. We find in Psalm 116 a wake up call on the subject of death: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Life in this world is not all about us. It’s about God and his glory. And that’s what Paul’s wife now enjoys, the glory of God.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
Reprinted from Feb. 17, 2022
Question: Over the past year, I’ve sent two wedding gifts, three baby gifts for showers that were held virtually and two graduation gifts. Out of these, I’ve only received one “thank you.” It’s not so much the thank you as it is knowing the gifts were received.
Have times changed? I always send a thank you regardless. This all started when I was a child and my parents had my brother and me always write a thank you for each and every gift. My parents set a good example because they did as well and often helped us with what to write.
My concern is that perhaps there are those who no longer think this is necessary. What is your thinking about this? ~ Puzzled
I can very much understand your anger, disappointment and even hurt at not receiving a thank you for the gifts you have given. Sometimes such things can make us feel that both the gift and ourselves are undervalued and unappreciated. I agree it would be lovely if everyone were raised to at least say thank you. But that is not the case and probably never will be in this world. Sometimes human beings can behave in ways that are either, intentionally or unintentionally, thoughtless, uncaring and insensitive.
A number of years ago, when I was a poor college student, I ran into a classmate who was so depressed he hadn’t felt like eating for a couple of days. To compound that, now that he felt hungry he didn’t have money for a meal. On hearing this, I invited him to lunch as my guest even though buying him lunch was a major financial sacrifice for me at that time. Afterwards he left without even saying thank you. Considering the sacrifice, I felt hurt, outraged and resentful.
Eventually I recognized that when people are depressed they can be so self-focused and self-absorbed in their own internal suffering they may be incapable of acknowledging and even appreciating a kindness shown to them. What I interpreted as rudeness and a personal slight was, in fact, nothing more than a sad and crippling limitation on their part. As human beings, we are all flawed at times. We all can come across as insensitive, selfish and uncaring. So how do we get ourselves to the point of acceptance and forgiveness over what has happened? How do we deal with it so it doesn’t close our heart to giving to others, much less upset our peace of mind or sense of self worth?
Ernest Holmes, founder of the Science of Mind, once said if we wish to change our experience of the world it always begins with a change in our mind, in our perspective, in our attitude. Here are a few points to help you alter your perception in hopes it will provide you with some comfort:
Holmes believed that, at the core of it, behind all illusion to the contrary, ultimately God is the giver of all gifts, who will meet every need when asked. In the old hymn “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” there is the great line reminding us that God is continually pouring forth “streams of mercy” (i.e. grace and forgiveness) never ceasing.” Saint Bernard tells us that grace is nothing more than that which is freely given to us without obligation. Indeed, if we had the eyes to see, in spite of all the sham, dross, predation and lack in the world, the world is still filled with wondrous and marvelous examples of continuing gifts of grace (blessings) pouring down upon us all, never ceasing. The divine pours its grace upon us without ever requiring, expecting or even hoping to receive a thank you.
Likewise, whether we believe it or not, we are each chosen and destined to be God’s agents for good in this world. He does for us only what He does through us. When any divine gift is given to us or another it is always through the agency of a person in some way or form. In other words, God sometimes uses your hand to bless another … whether that person may seem in need or not, deserving or not, grateful or not. There is always a reason for the gift and we may not always be privy to the reason. Often times we fail to recognize this important role each of us plays in delivering God’s gifts to His own creation. Instead of the beggar, we are given the opportunity to become the divine giver.
To put it another way, God is the giver; we are merely the errand boy or girl.
It is always lovely to receive a tip at the point of delivery in the form of a thank you. But if we don’t, let our role in all this be an act of gratitude on our part for the privilege of being chosen as a channel for the divine gift. Let it be our own return “thank you” to the Father for the good we may have received in our life, especially when it was needed.
Anthony Kelson, RScP
I am sad to say this, but I am thinking that people have changed and it is a sign of the times.
I was raised the same way as you. I found it to be a rewarding activity to sit down and write thank you notes. As I got older, I remember someone at a family gathering say, “If someone thanks you in person, there is not a need to send a thank you note.” This was news to me.
Overall, many of us interact less directly with people in person due to busy schedules, different lifestyles, social media and recently even COVID. I have noticed that the same people raised to send thank you notes, who also raised their children to do so, often now text, email, post a picture of said item on social media with a thank you, or call (even phone calls have become scarce).
These forms of interactions have now become normal even in the workforce – even therapists and physicians text. With all this said, and sad to many people, it is an objective fact.
One way to address the issue when you are the sender is to contact the recipient of your gift and ask if they have received it as you are worried maybe something happened to the item (which is possible). Keep the conversation uplifting and avoid a passive aggressive tone.
And, on your end, keep up the thank you notes – you just might keep the tradition going with certain individuals by modeling this behavior.
Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian