Coping with Grief and Stress Through Prayer and Meditation

by Shirley Higdon and Carol Stead

Grief is a natural response to loss.  It is the emotional suffering we feel when someone we love is taken away. Stress is about our perception of events and how we cope.

We cannot change the situation if we are grieving the death of a loved one, but we can become aware of our thoughts, our breathing, and our bodies. Prayer and Meditation can help bring peace and meaning into our world. 

Prayer is offering ourselves to God. According to Joseph Schmidt, prayer is coming to God with all our brokenness and pain, confusion and doubt and simply saying, “Here I am. This is what I bring.” Mauryeen O’Brien in Praying Through Grief says that death forces us to assess our spiritual lives and that struggle can help God enter into our daily existence. Through the eyes of faith, we can see ourselves as spiritual travelers on the way home. God is right here with us in our grief.

“We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him” Rom. 8:28).

“He brings life out of the shadow of death, and when, with human weakness, we are afraid, faith, which sees good in all things and knows that all is for the best, remains full of confident courage. To live by faith is to live joyfully, to live with assurance, untroubled by doubts, and with complete confidence in all, we have to do and suffer at each moment by the will of God. The divine life is neither seen nor felt, but there is never a moment when it is not acting in an unknown but very sure manner. It is hidden under such things as the death of the body and the general disorder of all earthly affairs.” Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jeane-Pierre de Caussade.

Henry J. M. Nouwen writes in The Wounded Healer, “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter the unknown and fearful territory. Indeed, the paradox of Christian leadership is that the way out is the way in, that only by entering into communion with human suffering can relief by found.”

Meditation means giving oneself a time and a place for deep reflection. When we are grieving, it gives us a time, place, and technique for acknowledging our loss at the very core of our being – in “that quiet space where God dwells,” according to Mauryeen O’Brien.

The following is adapted from a meditation technique taught at the Benson-Henry Institute in Massachusetts.

      1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system such as “one,” “peace,” “the Lord is my shepherd,” “Hail Mary,” or “shalom.”
      2. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
      3. Relax your muscles progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, neck, and head.
      4. Pay attention to your breathing and repeat the word or phrase to yourself as you exhale.
      5. Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts come to mind, simply let them pass by.
      6. Continue for ten to 20 minutes.
      7. Slowly open your eyes and come back to the room.

Meditation helps us realize that we are doing too much thinking. It stills the mind and shuts off the stream of thoughts that keep us from seeing things as a whole.

“We need to find God and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence.  See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence…  We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Mother Teresa

Helpful internet sites for more information:  Journey of the Hearts and National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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