Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary L. Crawford's new book, Grieving: My Pilgrimage of Love: Engaging Grief for Healing and Hope (Bridge-Logos, 2012).
Grief is an inevitable part of life in this fallen world where loved ones die and you must adjust to living without them. The pain of grief can be intense, but the hope that Jesus offers for healing is greater than the pain.
One way to invite Jesus to transform your life for the better through your grieving process is to embark on a pilgrimage of visiting places connected to your late loved one’s life. As you travel to those places, you can remember and honor the person you’re grieving while also encountering the Holy Spirit’s healing presence.
Here’s how taking a grief pilgrimage can help you experience hope and healing:
Plan visits to places that were important in your late loved one’s life. Consider his or her former homes, workplaces, and schools; as well as places where you spent time together and built good memories (such as favorite restaurants and vacation spots). Contact other people who played important roles in your late loved one’s life (such as friends or family members who live in some of the areas you’ll be visiting) and arrange to meet some of them on your trip to share memories of the person you’re grieving. You can either take some time off work to take your trip all at once, or simply schedule visits to different places individually, whenever you can.
Face the reality of your loss. Recognize that your life can never be the same after your loved one’s death. Don’t deny or suppress your grief; instead, face it and honestly pour out your thoughts and feelings about your loss to God.
Recognize that grief is a friend. Don’t fight against your grief as if it were an enemy. Realize that the grieving process is beneficial for you because it motivates you to draw closer to God and grow into a stronger person. Don’t waste the valuable opportunities that grief offers you to do so.
Listen to what God is teaching you through grief. Be alert to how God may be communicating with you as you reflect on your loved one’s life throughout your pilgrimage. Expect God to send you messages through your experiences, and pray for the wisdom to discern what God is telling you and to learn and grow from it.
Deal with your regrets. Since everyone makes mistakes, you likely have some regrets about your relationship with the person whose death you’re grieving. Confess those regrets in prayer to God and accept the forgiveness and healing that He will offer you. As you let go of your regrets, ask God to help you move forward with confidence.
Deal with your fears. Consider all the specific ways you feel afraid when facing life without your loved one who has died. Once you identify your fears, you remove much of their power over you and can start to make clear decisions about how to manage the situations about which you’ve felt afraid (from how to deal with upcoming special occasions in light of your loved one’s death to how best to give away his or her possessions).
Enjoy your memories and bring yesterday’s joy into today by building on your late loved one’s legacy. Allow yourself to fully enjoy all the good memories that your pilgrimage brings to mind. Build on the legacy that your loved one left behind (such as by investing in some of the same relationships that were important to him or her and by working to support the causes that mattered most to him or her). Resolve to honor the past but to live in the present and look forward to the future, trusting God to help you move on with hope and strength.
Talk with others who are also grieving your loved one who has died. As you travel from place to place on your pilgrimage, try to connect with family and friends who also miss your late loved one and engage in conversations about your mutual grief. Don’t judge or criticize them if they haven’t yet healed as much as you’d like to see. Keep in mind that people grieve differently, according to their different personalities, the relationships they had with the deceased, and how well they’re able to express their feelings. Make it safe for them emotionally to open up to you. Listen to each other, accept each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other. When talking with children who are grieving, acknowledge their grief, respond openly and sensitively to their questions, encourage them to share their memories of the person who has died, and give them extra affection.
Reflect on your trip with other believers. After returning home, share stories and photos from your trip with people from your church and other Christians you know who can encourage you as you continue to heal.
Live the rest of your life with an eternal perspective. As you get back into your normal routines after your pilgrimage is over, remind yourself often about the reality of heaven. Base your decisions on eternal values and do your best to make choices that will help you use each day that God gives you to the fullest, and build a legacy that pleases God and honors the memory of your late loved one. Look forward to reuniting with your loved one in heaven, and especially to meeting the One who cares for you and everyone you’ve loved: Jesus.
Adapted from Grieving: My Pilgrimage of Love: Engaging Grief for Healing and Hope, 2012 by Gary L. Crawford, D. Min. Published by Bridge-Logos, Alachua, Fl.,
Dr. Gary Crawford served as Senior Pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida, for more than 30 years. He has led faith-based and business organizations on the national and international level and has conducted more than 20 mission trips in 14 countries. He holds a B.S. degree from the University of Florida and his master's degree and doctorate are from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: [email protected] to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.