“My perspective matured, informed less by pain and more by understanding.” Bob Terry, Struggling Toward Hope: Life After the Death of a Spouse
Within the first few weeks following my shocking loss, I had a few men speak into my life. They cared, and they spoke up. They were not like Job’s friends.
My father was my first and the most repetitious advisor. Three times within the first week or so he either said or texted me to say I should not make any major decisions too quickly. After the dust from the fury of the first couple of weeks settled, I finally asked him to elaborate. He said I should not quit my job, sell my house, or begin a relationship too soon. Additionally, my own son asked if I had safeguards in place against the use of pornography. Another young man asked if I had any temptation to abuse alcohol. It’s good to have people who care about you.
These were caring advisors willing to broach difficult subjects for my good. They had discernment, some beyond their years, and cared enough to bring these topics up for discussion. All three of these advisors with their concern and advice were welcomed by me.
In retrospect, I have observed one key issue at stake when it comes to grief and relationships. Men, you are vulnerable. You are set up for problems if you’re not careful. Be vigilant. Your enemy is a devouring lion.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
The primary concern I realized was the danger of even conversing or reaching out to grieving women. The beauty of relationship is when initial interest takes the more serious step of emotional connection. Spend time with someone enough, and you’ll begin to sense a connection. I’ve discovered I have an instantaneous connection with anyone who has experienced grief. If you interact with a grieving woman you can feel that instant connection. It’s going to happen by virtue of your shared experiences. You’ve both faced loss, and you understand each other.
“There is nothing lost by waiting patiently and submitting willingly to the Lord’s disposal.” John Flavel, Facing Grief
I longed to be understood. I needed people to sense the depth of my loss. I wasn’t looking for pity, but I was seeking to plumb the depths of my loss in order to heal. And when I met another person who had experienced some level of loss, it was a huge step forward. The danger lies in the next step. The danger lies in the subtle connection based on shared feelings. “She gets me,” you may be tempted to say. “Finally, someone who cares for me,” you might think. Your heart takes a step closer. You mistake the emotional connection surrounding grief for an emotional connection signifying love. In essence, you’re blinded. At least momentarily. This is not to say love cannot be born between two grieving people in a healthy manner, but it is to say we should be on guard.
“It is possible both to accept and to endure loneliness without bitterness when there is a vision of glory beyond.” Elizabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness
Beware and be on guard surrounding the emotional connection with another grieving person. John Flavel says, in Facing Grief, “When it is a dark hour of trouble with us, then is [Satan’s] fittest season to tempt…our suffering time is his busiest working time.” Be wise. Be alert. Be careful. Be afraid of your own feelings. Be guarded.
“Don’t capitulate to the siren songs of your unredeemed thoughts. Pay attention to where these thoughts come from and who is whispering them in your ears. Then reject them.” Boyd Bailey, The Spiritual Life of a Leader
I’ve confessed to my new wife that I’m grateful to God for protecting me from seeking to begin even a friendship with her earlier than I did. We are work associates and friends but never one-on-one outside the office. She’s not a grieving spouse, but I am convinced I would have done two things if I had begun a relationship too soon. First, I’m absolutely convinced her listening ears and caring spirit would have opened a door to emotional connection with the same rapidity as when we finally did begin dating. Second, I am absolutely convinced I would have usurped a significant part of my own healing, processing, and recovery. Such timing would not have been healthy for me. Or fair for her.
When it comes to relationships, discipline is necessary. Serious attention is needed. Prayerful pondering is required. Beware of emotional connection when it comes to considering a relationship following loss.
“True freedom consists not in obsessing about circumstances but in trusting that God who transcends them, not in pursuing our own way but in surrendering to God’s way.” Jerry Sittser, A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life