Grief is one of those tricky, delicate, often nebulous life phenomena that is tough to pinpoint and define. We all suffer differently, and we all experience grief in a very personal, unique way. Even so, I’ve found that there are some universal strategies – what I call “spiritual principles” – that can really aid all of us when we are seeking healing after devastating loss.
In my book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph, I delve more deeply into these principles, how they work together, and what they might look like for you as you move through your grief journey. But there’s no panacea as to how you will experience each of these principles. They are intended to be guideposts, not certainties, in your spiritual journey toward healing.
The 6 spiritual principles of moving through grief are:
- Humility of Heart:
- This is the foundation of all other principles, because it requires us to move from self-pity (“woe is me” attitude) toward focus on God.
- Opportunities to grow in humility tend to come in the form of humiliations; when grieving, these can include unexpected weeping to a compassionate stranger or permitting a neighbor to clean our house.
- Requires vulnerability – allowing God to tear down our emotional barricades, being transparent to others
- Abandonment to Divine Providence:
- Builds upon the first principle (humility), because our hearts need to be receptive by way of humility. Pride closes and hardens our hearts.
- This receptivity allows us to move to a place in which we long to please God, even in the midst of mystery.
- Abandonment, or surrender, is acquired through acts that try one’s patience and foster perseverance.
- A person who is ready to enter into this principle has a heart and mind that is open, ready, and willing to hand over our wants and needs into God’s hands without needless worry or concern.
- Holy Indifference:
- Based on the Ignatian concept that if the soul “is attached or inclined to a thing inordinately, that [person] should move himself, putting forth all his strength, to come to the contrary of what he is wrongly drawn to.”
- It is NOT apathy or indifference. It does not mean we no longer care about our circumstances, only that we surrender (second principle) our needs, cares, and concerns without expecting a specific outcome to our prayer.
- It is the third principle, because one must have begun the journey into humility and abandonment before the ability to be content with a “yes” or “no” or “not yet” answer from God to our prayers.
- Related to holy detachment
- The Dark Night of the Soul (e.g., Holy Darkness):
- Focused on fidelity to God in the face of self-emptiness.
- Acquired through time, temptations, trials, and tribulations.
- Feeling as if God has forsaken or abandoned you; feeling spiritually dry or alone.
- If you’re in a state of grace (e.g., no mortal sin staining your soul, and you are staying close to the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession), then the emptiness and loneliness you feel may be this holy darkness.
- NOT the same as the darkness caused by sin or consequences of sin (including spiritual attack).
- Confidence in God’s Timing:
- “Thank God ahead of time for whatever He sees is best for [you]…Courage is half the battle – confidence in God is the soul of prayer – foster the latter and you have both.” (Bl. Solanus Casey)
- In your period of mourning, when you are feeling empty, exhausted, possibly abandoned by God and others – cultivate gratitude. Think of your past and all the ways God has delivered or blessed you. Then, thank Him for what He is doing in your life that you cannot see and entrust your entire present and future into His hands (2nd principle – surrender).
- When we thank God for our pain and sorrow, as well as our joys and celebrations, we make everything a holy gift that He, in turn, molds into a facet of healing, strength, and peace for us.
- The Wound of the Heart:
- This is a mystical concept based on St. Therese of Lisieux’s spirituality: “I offer myself as a victim of holocaust to your merciful love.”
- When we pray without expectation of a certain outcome (holy indifference, 3rd principle), and when we thank God for all He is doing and will be doing in our lives (confidence/gratitude, 5th principle), then we will accept that our pain may not be taken away from us. Instead, it may be transformed into love.
- “Martyrdom of the heart” or “white martyrdom” that some saints experienced – a piercing of the heart and soul that causes a “wound of love.” In other words, our grief and suffering may become the best gift of love we can unite with the wounds of Jesus.
- This principle teaches us how to suffer well.
Adapted from my book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph.