Religion and spirituality can be a great help during a time of loss. Yet a significant loss also may cause you to question everything, including your faith. This may initially feel like a compounded loss adding to the grief you’re already experiencing.
Rest assured, however, this can also be a time of spiritual growth but you may not realize it until much later. When we are in the middle of a deep grieving process it’s difficult to see so clearly. Faith can serve as guideposts during the darkest times by helping give direction. Even for the most faithful, however, questions regarding one’s faith can arise. Do I have enough faith or is my faith strong enough? Does my faith matter anymore?
These questions and others like, “Why me? Why now, and why this?” are quite normal to ask after a significant loss. Like one gentleman angrily said to me after suffering back-to-back losses with the most recent being the death of his beloved wife, “I live a good life. I serve others. I’d give you the shirt off my back if you needed it and this is how God rewards me?” You may have had similar thoughts recently. It’s difficult to come to grips with the fact that what you once so strongly believed is now being challenged.
A wise teacher once advised me not to be too stressed over questioning my faith. He assured me that “Faith is like the nose on your face. You’ll discover, you can’t toss it away.” He added, “your faith is more a part of you than you realize.” He was right.
At this juncture in your life where your loss seems so overwhelming and your faith may seem diminished, here are a few tips to guide you to a place where faith might be possible:
- Surround yourself with people who will listen to you without judgment. I’ve met no one experiencing a significant loss that has desired advice over listening. Well-meaning friends and acquaintances will line up to give you unsolicited advice on how to avoid grief, and move forward with your faith unchanged and intact. Few will truly listen.
- View your questions about faith as a strength and a sign of trust. Your faith is built for times like these. Questioning your faith doesn’t equate to having a flaw in your faith. People of all faiths at some point in their life have questions. If you believe in a higher power, trust that in your questioning you will not be abandoned. Faith isn’t always about happiness, but is surely about endurance and resilience.
- Allow the light in. When joy breaks through your grief and finds its way into your life, allow it in if only for a moment. After your experience with loss, you deserve a respite no matter how brief. Welcome these surprising interventions.
- Acknowledge the true difficulty and pain of your loss. Sometimes the death of the person we love makes no sense. Your grief may be in response to the love you have for the individual who has passed. Your grief also may signify regrets or anger you have toward the person you’ve lost. There are a myriad of reasons why we feel pain when someone close to us dies. All of them are valid.
- Ask for help. Independence is a wonderful trait to have, but it’s not always the most helpful response to grief. Faith is not only about giving. Dependence on one another and the community where we live, work, play and possibly worship is also a hallmark of faith. You may find that receiving the gift of help is the most faith-strengthening decision you can make.
Grappling with faith during a time of loss can feel like yet another crisis to get through. Perhaps, instead, your faith is your companion even during the most difficult times. It is leading you toward a hope that at the time is not fully visible. It’s not asking you to be or do more. Your faith is part of the painful story you’re living at this moment. Your faith may begin to feel like an ill-fitting coat, but that’s to be expected because you’ve changed and will continue to change. Faith is for the long road and we’re here to help you take those first steps.
Alan Wright, Chaplain