By and large, Christmas is a time of celebration for Christians as we are reminded of the gift God gave us in Jesus and His humble beginnings. However, the joy and frivolity of the holidays can’t erase the grief, loneliness or abandonment we may feel if a friend or relative has recently passed away.
Everyday Christian contributor and divinity Ph.D. Bob Kellemen recently penned God’s Healing for Life’s Losses to help Christians biblically connect to their grief and find comfort in how God is with them on their journey.
Everyday Christian: What’s the “big idea” behind God’s Healing for Life’s Losses? What would you like readers to take away from it?
Bob Kellemen: In a biblical sentence: you can grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). God’s Healing for Life’s Losses gives readers permission to grieve and offers a pathway toward hope. I want people to see their suffering from God’s perspective without denying the reality that suffering still hurts. What would I like readers to take away? The title and subtitle say it best. I’d like readers to walk away with God’s healing hope.
What motivated you to write God’s Healing for Life’s Losses? Why did you choose to write this book?
My ministry to real people with real hurts motivated me to write God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. People quickly grow weary of Christian books that pretend. They’re tired of Christian counselors and well-meaning friends who dispense far too much “happiness all the time, wonderful peace of mind.” They’re also gravely disappointed when the answers to their questions about suffering reflect more of the wisdom of the world than of the truth of God’s Word. The purpose of the book, as the title and sub-title suggest, is to assist people on their grief and growth journey to find God’s healing hope in their hurts and losses.
Life is filled with losses. God’s Word is filled with compassionate wisdom to help us to find God in the midst of life’s pain. That’s ultimately my purpose in writing the book: to help people to find God even when they can’t find relief. God’s Healing for Life’s Losses offers no pabulum, trite platitudes, false promises, pretending, or “easy steps.” It is real and raw as it enters into the abyss of suffering and empathizes with the gravity of grinding affliction. And, like the Apostle Paul, it deals simultaneously with grieving and hoping (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
With all that’s going on in the world, why this book now? What’s unique about God’s Healing for Life’s Losses?
Some grief books, even some authored by Christians, follow the world’s model of grieving—the typical denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance stage approach. They rarely seem to move beyond a “secular” way of looking at grief. Other Christian authors seem to minimize the grief and hurt, and attempt to race people quickly to healing hope. So we end up either with secular help or shallow help.
There has to be a better way. Christians long for an approach that faces suffering honestly and engages sufferers passionately—all in the context of presenting truth biblically and relevantly. We need to be able to face life’s losses in the context of God’s healing. Jesus did. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
God’s Healing for Life’s Losses deals honestly with the full range of human emotions—from a biblical perspective. We explore and journey together through four parts of the grief process: from denial to candor (honesty with self), from anger to complaint/lament (honesty with God), from bargaining/works to crying out to God, and from depression to comfort (finding God even when we can’t find relief). God’s Healing for Life’s Losses then journeys with people through four aspects of the growth process: waiting (when God says, “Not yet”), wailing (pregnant with hope), weaving (spiritual mathematics), and worshipping (finding God).
God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is the first book ever officially endorsed by GriefShare. Tell us about your connection with this organization.
GriefShare produces a small group video series used in thousands of churches across the world. It is a ministry of the larger group, Church Initiative, founded by Steve Grissom. Several years ago they updated their video series and asked me to participate. I connected with Steve and with their VP, Sam Hodges. When God’s Healing for Life’s Losses was in the first draft stage, Sam and Steve read it and got very excited. They both appreciated the combination of compassionate care that did not minimize the pain of suffering with the focus on Christ-centered, biblically-based hope. Sam graciously wrote a recommendation, Steve graciously penned an endorsement, and my publisher, BMH Books, and GriefShare agreed to have this book become the first book ever officially endorsed by GriefShare. It’s our joint prayer that the GriefShare video and God’s Healing for Life’s Losses could be used together to assist 1000s of churches and para-church groups as they minister to hurting people.
How will the grieving person benefit from reading God’s Healing for Life’s Losses?
I weave throughout each chapter three stories: my story of facing the death of my father, a ministry couple’s story of facing an unjust ministry termination, and biblical narratives of suffering people in the Scriptures. These combine to “normalize” the grief and growth process so readers understand that while their path is unique, it is not at all abnormal.
The “eight stage model” in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses helps readers to travel down the grief and growth path. We live in a fallen world and it often falls on us. When it does, when the weight of the world crushes us, squeezes the life out of us, we need hope. New life. A resuscitated heart. A resurrected life with resurrected hope. God’s healing path is a personal journey. God’s Healing for Life’s Losses uses God’s Word as the sufferers GPS: God’s Positioning System. It traces God’s pathway through grief to growth so that readers learn how to face their suffering face-to-face with God.
Written in “gift book” format for the person facing suffering, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses includes two built-in application/discussion guides (including a journal section). This makes it perfect for individual or group use. Persons suffering any type of life loss (job loss, illness, divorce, church conflict, the empty nest, death of a loved one) will benefit from the real-life wisdom they discover in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses.
What are some of the questions God’s Healing for Life’s Losses answers for its readers?
One of the mindsets I highlight in the book is that we can find God even when we can’t find answers. So that makes me a tad hesitant to emphasize what “answers” readers will find. Maybe another way to put it is, “What are some of the questions that God’s Healing for Life’s Losses explores?”
We explore the age-old question of how a good God can allow evil and suffering. We examine the contrast between the world’s way of processing suffering and Christ’s way. We probe various purposes for suffering. We consider what suffering says about the character of God. We discuss what hope and healing really mean and look like. We ponder what is involved in truly grieving our losses and what is involved in grieving, but not as those who have no hope.
While there are no easy answers, a consistent point made by God’s Healing for Life’s Losses is that in suffering, God is not getting back at you; He is getting you back to Himself. Suffering opens our hands to God. It was Augustine who declared, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there is nowhere for Him to put it.” God loves us too much to allow us to forget our neediness. God makes therapeutic use of our suffering. Luther taught that suffering creates in the child of God a delicious despair. Suffering is God’s putrid tasting medicine of choice resulting in delicious healing. Healing medicine for what? For our ultimate sickness—the arrogance that we do not need God. Suffering causes us to groan for home and to live in hope. God refuses to allow us to get too comfy here. Instead, He allows suffering—daily casket processionals—to blacken our sun so we cry out to His Son. Suffering reminds us that we’re not home yet.
In God’s Healing, you contrast the world’s typical stages of grieving with God’s way. Review the typical five stages of grieving and share why you believe they are incomplete.
Students of human grief have developed various models that track typical grief responses. Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, popularized a five-stage model of grieving based upon her research into how terminally ill persons respond to the news of their terminal illness. Her five stages have since been used worldwide to describe all grief responses: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
These proposed stages in the grief process seek to track typical grief responses. However, they do not attempt to assess if this is what is best to occur. Nor could they assess, simply through scientific research, whether these responses correspond to God’s process for hurting (grieving) and hoping (growing). We must understand something about research in a fallen world. At best, it describes what typically occurs. It cannot, with assurance and authority, prescribe what should occur.
In a big picture way, contrast the world’s five stages with the biblical approach.
The first four stages in biblical grieving compare and contrast with the first four stages in the typical response to suffering. Stage One: Candor—Honesty with Myself: We move from denial and isolation to candor: honesty with ourselves. Stage Two: Complaint—Honesty with God: We move from anger and resentment to complaint: honesty with God. Stage Three: Cry—Asking for God’s Help: We move from bargaining and works to crying out to God: asking God for help. Stage Four: Comfort—Receiving God’s Help: We move from depression and alienation to comfort: receiving God’s help.
The fifth and final phase in the world’s grieving process: acceptance. The goal is to face calmly the finality of loss. If it is one’s own impending death, then it’s a time of quiet resignation. If it is the loss of a loved one, or a relationship, or a job, then it’s a time of regrouping. In Christ, loss is never final. Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruit of every resurrection. Acceptance can’t halt retreat because it has no hope for advancement, no foundation for growth. I refuse to accept the hopeless remedy of acceptance. So God’s Healing for Life’s Losses then journeys with people through four aspects of the growth process: moving from regrouping to waiting (when God says, “Not yet”), from deadening to wailing (pregnant with hope), from despairing to weaving (spiritual mathematics), and from digging cisterns to worshipping (finding God).
In the four stages of grieving, you use your own grief experience as an example. Tell our listeners about your grief story.
On my 21st birthday, I entered official adulthood not only because I turned 21, but also because my father passed away on my birthday. And for a year, I lived basically in denial—not really facing deeply the loss of my father. Then on my 22nd birthday, I began to move from denial to candor. I remember like it was yesterday—walking around the outskirts of the campus of Grace Seminary—telling myself the truth about how I felt, how I grieved the loss of my Dad. Over the course of that entire next year, I continued to move through the grief process. Again, walking the seminary campus, I had some long conversations with God. I lamented—I shared my heart about my hurt. During those times I cried out to God, acknowledging not only how much I missed my earthly father, but how much I longed for God as my heavenly Father. During those spiritual conversations I began to find God’s comfort—His hope in my hurt. I tell it now like it was a nice neat process, but at the time it was anything but. God and I had some messy, real, and raw conversations. I prayed my feelings to God. I wept. I surrendered. I asked God for comfort and He came.
How can people learn more about God’s Healing for Life’s Losses?
On my website at www.rpmministries.org people can find and download a free sample chapter of the book. Also at my website, people can order the book at 35% off. Additionally, I offer seminars around the country on God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. People can find my speaking schedule at the website. If a church or para-church group is interested in seeing if I could speak for their group, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.