The spiritual is one of the universal dimensions of grief, along with the physiological, psychological and social dimensions. What we believe—or don’t believe—affects how we grieve.
I grew up seeing widows in the church, actively involved until very old age. I took for granted that the church would meet my spiritual and social needs when I was widowed; but as many other widows have found, that did not happen. Of all places, church was the place where everyone else seemed to be part of a family. Sunday was the loneliest day of my week. Instead of finding solace there, church was too often an emotional sinkhole. I described that pain here in a blog I wrote right after Easter 2016.
My faith is an essential part of me. You can’t really understand me if you don’t understand how my faith has shaped my life. Years ago I went to the funeral of a devout Presbyterian lady. The minister said, “She can’t be defined outside her Presbyterian-ness.” I can’t be defined outside my Baptist-ness. So why was the spiritual part of my grief hardest and longest in healing? in reclaiming joy?
Only now, eight-and-one-half years after Lev’s death, can I finally say that I feel at home in church again. Only recently have I been able to say consistently and honestly on Sunday mornings, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”
As a widow, I find that I need three places to call home. Corpus Christi, Dallas and Nantucket meet different needs; and I am, for the first time in my life, a needy person. Now I am discovering that I need three church homes as well—my personal trinity I suppose.
Three Churches to Call Home
Oddly, I first reclaimed joy in worship at the First Congregational Church of Nantucket. The first Sunday I worshiped there, I left with the words of the old hymn on my lips, “My faith has found a resting place….” I found both peace and friendship there. By 2016 I had found my summer home, my summer church and my summer pastor. That gave me new hope for the remaining 10 months of the year.
Last fall I formally moved back to our family’s church home in Corpus Christi, and that remains the most complicated part of my spiritual healing and recovery, because I am not the same person I was as half a couple. The old connections no longer work, and I’m still searching for new connections. This fall the pieces are finally coming together, through Hurricane Harvey and my church’s and my pastor’s response. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.
And finally, I have found a spiritual resting place at Wilshire Baptist Church—another surprise. I had expected to find a Dallas spiritual home in a church filled with Baylor alumni whom I knew. That didn’t happen. Big churches, like big cities, are hard. I quit trying.
But this fall I decided to attend Wilshire Baptist Church. I know almost no one there, and I had to rely on GPS to find my way. But it satisfies my needs. I feel a connectedness to my childhood faith in the traditional worship service in a sanctuary much like the church I grew up in in Texarkana. I connect to the commitment of the church and the leadership of the senior minister to be “Open to all. Closed to none.”
Sunday morning the opening hymn at Wilshire was “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place,” and we closed with a hymn sung to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” In between, Dr. George Mason preached an extraordinary sermon on Martin Luther’s legacy, “A Conscientious Faith.” I knew when I left that at last, God has restored the joy of my salvation. I have found three churches to call home.
What has been your experience in dealing with the spiritual dimension of grief?
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Ella’s memoir, RECLAIMING JOY, is scheduled for publication in 2018 by the Baylor University Press.