Saturday, April 08, 2017

We Minister to The Grieving By Ministering to the Whole Person

The Bible sees the human as wholistic. The greatest command addresses the whole person in loving God. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:5 KJV) As we look at people to whom we minister we must use the wholistic approach. Tim Keller points out in his book on suffering that the western cultural mindset is to approach suffering by solving it through the use of a specialist. If you have a marriage problem one goes to a marriage counselor. If one has a legal problem one goes to a lawyer. Suffering of neglected children is solved by social worker. Each type of suffering is solved by a particular type of specialist. However, when we suffer it is complex and affects the whole person. When people grieve we often think of grief primarily as an emotional symptom that needs to be relieved, solved, or endured. Grief is the emotional response to loss, however, as Christians we must rightly see the whole person is involved in grieving process. While grief can be defined as emotional response to loss, there is almost always more emotions going on than a sense of grief. A widow may also feel apprehension about the loss of income. She may feel nostalgia at the memory her late husband at the most precious years together. A widower may feel disoriented if his wife was the organizer of the social calendar or check book. Someone terminally ill may grieve the end of their life, but he also may feel anger at a system that could not conquer the illness. Alternatively, he may feel contempt for those who did not come visit him in his closing hours. Death and illness are complex life events that push and pull on more than one emotion. These life events also push and pull on practical needs of individuals and their families. A dying person may refuse to write a will or dispose of property, leaving loose ends for the family or friends to figure out. Some start preparing to dispose of property, perhaps very early or too early. Someone who has lifelong health issues may have not key event that tells them something is now different. These emotional and practical needs are complicated by social practices. Some communities do not wish to see the illness or death of a person, so isolation of the suffering is the practice. This means that loneliness may be added to other suffering. Other communities the family and friends gather at the hospital, home, church or other communal place. The person suffering may or may not welcome this. It may be that the person desires privacy while suffering but at other times the person needs companionship while suffering. Another social factor that effects how someone suffers are the key examples the person has observed or heard about. Many people take queues from those they have observed; this is the way to go through the suffering. If an exemplar suffered by counting her blessings and reviewing her life blessings, that may be what the following sufferer does. If exemplar isolates herself or keeps the suffering a secret up until it can’t be hidden, that may be what the observer will also do. Personal habits can be very powerful way, of why someone acts a certain way even if cognitively it does not fit the situation. If someone in small things tries to always put a good face on something bad, then that may be the answer when the big questions of life arise in suffering. A denial of the bad may be the habit of the mind. If someone has a habit of blaming others when things go wrong, then unconsciously one may blame someone and anyone. Some but not all coaches tell athletes to ignore pain so that performance is not degraded by the pain. If this practice becomes a habit, a person may have difficulty navigating an illness since the person automatically moves to ignoring the pain. An aspect of the human that can be difficult to examine is the unconscious self that responds. Desire, motive and other responses are sometimes difficult for a person to recognize in himself. The Bible talks about the function of the Bible can be to expose hidden thoughts. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12 KJV) Jeremiah also touches upon this issue. “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer. 17:10 KJV) The existence of the unconscious self is exposed by Scripture but also by it slipping out in other ways. Famously Freud pointed out that someone may substitute the word “mad” instead of “made” because there is deep anger. This is called a Freudian slip. This someone esoteric observation is probably not the primary way that we should pastorally discern motives and intentions that are unspoken and unexamined. Biblical preaching and pastoral visits are a part of exposing the unconscious self to the conscious self. In pastor visits talking with the person with an emphasis on listening can help. Asking what they feel or want can also be helpful in moving from unconscious to conscious. Good friendships and personal mentoring are also part of this journey. A lifelong practice of self-examination and repentance means that when storms of life hit there is some chance of being more in touch with the whole self. The Bible does not simply address the unconscious self though. As mentioned the greatest commandment to love God involves the whole being. Throughout Scripture the whole person is addressed and when appropriate a particular aspect of the human is discussed. Psalm 1 and 2 discuss the mind or the cognitive self. Many of the Psalms address the emotions felt at various seasons of life. The book of Proverbs discusses desire. The practices of holy living along are discussed in the Letters of Paul. The rich variety of whole human are addressed with great variety. While the temptation might be for pastors and other Christian workers to address one aspect, such as the emotion of grief in suffering, a more compelling approach to ministry is to minister to the whole person. The Scripture accounts for the whole person, so must our ministry. If we do not look at the whole person we may be guilty of violating this passage. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deut. 12:32 ESV) If we do not view a person wholistically we cannot obey this passage.