My husband and I have attended and facilitated several 13-week series of GriefShare classes. This is an amazing program, and I encourage anyone who is in a season of grief to look into these classes, as they are well worth attending for the learning and for sharing experiences. South is starting a new GriefShare series on January 29th. Every loss of a loved one is different, and all loss involves pain. Some losses include the added trauma of the particular way a person died, or from someone actually witnessing or participating in an unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate a loved one. It can be common for the grieving person to “replay” the death scene in his or her mind over and over or the last painful days of a loved one – because of the trauma of that particular death.
One of the helpful things I learned in attending GriefShare was that so much of our grieving takes place in our thoughts, in our minds, and in our emotions that those thoughts trigger. For me, I came to see Philippians 4:4-9 as an extremely practical method of learning how to stop replaying that tape in my mind.
Paul first encourages us to, “rejoice in the Lord always,” Philippians 4:4 NIV.
Second, he reminds us, “The Lord is near,” Philippians 4:5 NIV.
Third, he tells us how to pray, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God,” Philippians 4:6 NIV.
Fourth, Paul assures us, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:7. NIV
In the above verses Paul lays out the plan how to leave those unhealthy tapes we replay in our minds, whatever we worry about, at the feet of Jesus. But I know for me, that if that was all I’m doing, those tapes would keep flooding back in a jiffy. I am glad Paul includes the next section. He tells us to replace those not so healthy thoughts with, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things,” Philippians 4:8. NIV
If you also find that an “unhealthy” tape is on replay in your mind, then
- Recognize the unhealthy tape is on replay
- Decide to stop
- Make a conscious decision – to focus on, to concentrate on, to think about something that is lovely, excellent or admirable, etc. (My amplified version)
When we shift our mental focus to what is true, noble and right in any situation, our anxiety and worry, and even the trauma we have experienced can lessen. We gain a healthier perspective in our current situation, and can take a step forward toward healing, even if we are on a grief journey.
At the beginning of a new year, some of us will renew or orchestrate our efforts to achieve desired outcomes for our lives. The next few verses reveal how we might frame our dreams around the possible.
Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5 (AMP)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6:27 (ESV)
Thinking about the above scriptures, what should we reasonably attempt to control? What must we relinquish to gain the peace we desire?
As I think about what generates anxiety in me, most of the time it’s the small stuff like needing to reorganize the dishwasher after other household members have once again misunderstood how dishwashers function. On the other hand, anxiety generators are just as likely to be stuff I can’t control. For example: “Don’t those politicians in Washington D.C. have a clue they’ll trigger WWIII?” or “This town is full of crazy drivers…someone’s going to get killed!”
The more I focus on correcting the shortcomings of others, the more anxious I become. Likewise, striving after living a longer life or nourishing expectations that I deserve praise, have the same result. A critical, overly ambitious spirit cannot generate graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, or patience. Only the Holy Spirit can nudge me away from self-centered nitpicking or aspirations, to gentleness of spirit.
As we remain confident that Jesus intends to provide his servants with every resource needed to serve him well in this life and that he will keep his promise to reward us in ways we cannot measure, our security in him is enhanced. Concentrating on the generous character of our Master leaves us free to rejoice in him, even in adverse circumstances.
So resist overestimating the adverse impact of mistakes (yours or of others) or setting your sights on unattainable or selfish ambitions. Simple reminders from the above scriptures can take the edge off looming anxiety. Embrace what you can control:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.
He cares for you!
Write these three reminders on separate cards or sticky notes and place them in locations you frequent during the day. Then tell others about how the Lord has made himself known in unexpected ways.