Jeannie talks about her personal experiences in grief and her journey to accept it and be at peace with it. She shares six spiritual principles on which we can reflect on and take to start our healing journey with grief to be closer to the Lord. She ends her talk with a prayer she wrote called, “Prayer to Seek Truth”
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Printable Study Guide PDF
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
- Do you believe that suffering can be redemptive? Have you ever witnessed redemptive suffering in yourself or a loved one?
- Think about the one grief or cross in your life – the one that constantly occupies your thoughts and you bring to prayer again and again. Imagine if you could let that suffering and worry go for just one day or even one hour. Practice this principle of surrender and see how long you can go without trying to take that fear back from God.
- Jeannie mentioned that abandonment means “relinquishing the desire to have (your prayers) answered in a certain way.” Are you okay with whatever God’s answer to your prayers are? Have you ever successfully let go of this desire to ask for a specific outcome to your prayers? If so, how did it go and what were the results?
- Jeannie referenced Bl. Solanus Casey’s saying to thank God ahead of time. What is holding you back from being able to do this?
- Do you believe that God has good things ahead for you? Why or why not?
Text: Six Spiritual Principles of Healing after Grief & Loss
Hi. My name’s Jeannie Ewing, and welcome to my talk about navigating your losses to find hope. I’m so grateful that you could join us for this Pray More Novenas Healing Retreat, and I would like to begin this talk with a prayer.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Come, Holy Spirit. It is You, the Healer, the Healer of Hearts, who enters all of our broken places, all of the cracks, all of the darkness. You shine a light where this is no light; You give us hope when we are in despair; You help us find faith when we doubt. All of the people, myself included, who are here today in this moment have such heavy burdens to give to You, Jesus. Send Your Spirit. Send Your Spirit to heal all of the places in our hearts and all of the relationships in our lives that need to be healed. And we bring these intentions to You with trust and total confidence, and we thank You so much for Your Divine Mercy, Lord God. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I mentioned, my name’s Jeannie Ewing, and I want to give you a little bit of background about why I’m talking about grief. It’s something that people ask me about quite often, and it’s because I have talked about this subject and I have several books on the subject of grief specifically. So I would say that, in the beginning, I grew up in a home where mental illness was pretty rife. So my mom has obsessive compulsive disorder, my brother has the same – he has OCD as well – and my mom also has clinical depression, and my brother has bipolar disorder. So when I was growing up, I saw the pain that happened with both my mom and my brother, suffering from these invisible afflictions. I saw it in their eyes – they looked weary. There were times where they would cry and I was helpless, I couldn’t do anything to help them. And there were moments when there was just sheer exhaustion, probably from what they were fighting in their own life.
So that is actually grief. When we have mental illness in the family, or if we suffer from mental illness ourselves, that is grief. I also want you to understand that substance abuse can be another grief trigger. In my family, my brother struggles with substance abuse and alcoholism, and he has for a long time. but he’s currently in recovery, which is a huge grace from God. Substance abuse is pretty prevalent in my family, and it might be in yours too.
When I was a kid, my maternal grandfather, we were very close to him, and so we often went to dinner with him or celebrated the holidays with him. And anytime that he would have 2-3 martinis, he would get very belligerent. He would pick on a particular member of the family, which was normally my mom, his daughter, and just be really condescending and hateful and spiteful, which would break up the whole comradery and merriment and create this pull upon the event, because someone always ended up in tears. I also had a cousin who died related to a crack cocaine overdose, and I remember as a kid her coming to my house, my parents’ house, and coming at all hours of the night and day asking my parents for money and help, and I saw her physical appearance deteriorate and become disheveled and unkempt. And I saw the broken-hearted heart of that, of my family I would say, because of the loss that we saw in front of our eyes and what was happening to our cousin.
One of my really good friends, who happened to be at my husband’s and my wedding, he also died of a drug overdose. It was deemed as accidental. He had struggled with substance abuse since his teen years, so for about 13 years at that point when he had died. And I met Nate right around the time he started using drugs, which terrified me because I did not have any desire at all to get involved with drugs. I was too scared of them, which was good in that sense. But Nate’s mother, who he was very close to, had died of a brain tumor when he was about 15, and that’s when I met him, it was right after she died, and he couldn’t make sense of it and he self-medicated, and that’s eventually what led to his death. My brother was also engaged to a young woman, a beautiful young woman. She was at our wedding with her little baby boy – my brother was going to adopt him – and she died in a drunk-driving accident. She was the one drinking and driving.
So I think the turning point, what I want to share with you about my own life, is when my husband and I welcomed our middle daughter Sarah into our family in 2013. We had no idea that she had a rare disease called Apert Syndrome. Now, Apert Syndrome is a craniofacial condition that affects fusion of the bones. So it can be in your elbows, it can be in your knees. It’s always in your head and your face, and your fingers and toes. There are a whole host of other problems that accompany Apert Syndrome, and what we had discovered on this journey is it’s a very complicated disease, because new things happen all of the time in terms of medical problems.
But what we do know and can expect is that she will have between 20 and 60 surgeries in her lifetime. Sarah has already had 7 surgeries, and the first one was when she was 6 months old. The craniofacial surgeon had to cut her skull open, which was fused at birth – she did not have a fontanelle, she did not have the soft skull. And when this was going on, I was just dying on the inside as a mom. I have been raised as a Catholic. I have always understood the term “Redemptive Suffering,” but I did not know how to live it. So I’m going to share with you what grief is, and how we can move through grief spiritually.
So grief is a combination of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual experience that we integrate whenever there is any devastating loss that happens in our life. So most of you might be thinking “Well, grief is related to death, like: ‘my mom died,’ or ‘my grandpa died,’ or ‘I lost a sibling,’” and that’s true, but grief happens to us any time there is a devastating loss in our life. It doesn’t have to just be the literal death of a person, it can be the death of a dream, it can be the loss of a job, it can be financial problems, it could be financial… well I said financial struggles, or it could be divorce, adultery, abuse and neglect from your childhood, or even domestic violence in your current situation. It could be struggling with abortion, infertility, miscarriage, and all the things, all of the brokenness that happens around children and childbearing.
There are a whole host of things, a whole conglomerate of things that can trigger your grief. But I want you to understand that if you are struggling with something right now in your life, which my guess is that you are since you’re participating in this healing retreat, think of that one thing that you’re dealing with right now that is really causing you a lot of anguish, a lot of heartache. What’s that one thing? Now, you might have multiple things, but there’s got to be at least one that’s very much on the forefront of your mind that bothers you often. It’s something you probably bring to prayer often, maybe the sacraments. I want you to think of it right now, because as I’m talking to you about this I want you to imagine how you can integrate what you’re learning here with that one loss, that void that you’re feeling, whatever your cross is right now.
So when Sarah was born, this cross for me was very mysterious, and I remember being very angry with God. And that’s okay, but that’s another talk I’m going to give you. I was very angry with Him, because I didn’t understand what He wanted me to learn from this, I didn’t understand what He wanted me to glean out of the pain that she was going through – I couldn’t prevent it, I couldn’t do it for her – and then the pain that I felt as a mom, which Our Lady was… she understood that, because that’s exactly what happened to her when she went through the mystical martyrdom as Jesus went through His Passion. Again, another talk that I’ll give with this retreat.
Six Spiritual Principles
So right now, I want… So I mentioned some grief triggers and I told you what grief was. I want to give you six spiritual principles that have helped me tremendously in my journey of understanding redemptive suffering and integrating it into my own life. The first one is Humility of Heart. Why do I start here? Well, if you read any book about humility, or if you read anything from the saints about humility, they always say it’s a foundational virtue. Without humility, you can’t really have anything else. I also believe, because it’s the antithesis of pride, pride is probably one of the primary weaknesses that invades our hearts and our psyches when we’re grieving. And it can be in the form of anger, it can be in the form of blame, shame, resentment, unforgiveness, bitterness.
So when we’re talking about healing in these talks, we have to remember the very first place we have to start is to pray for humility. Humility is that virtue that’s going to say “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t need to. I’m going to live in the mystery, I’m going to live the questions that I have, the why, or the why not, or the what ifs, or the if onlys, I’m going to live in the midst of that and I’m going to accept the fact that I may never, never have the answers that I want this side of heaven, and that’s okay.”
The second spiritual principle is Abandonment to Divine Providence. So at this point, when you’re grieving, you are surrendering. You’re surrendering all of that tension, you’re surrendering the frustration, the overwhelm, all of the intense emotions and the feeling of complete darkness, or the feeling of void, a void. You’ve got a loss. There was someone or something that was filling your heart. It’s gone. So you’re abandoning that to God, you’re saying “Lord, I relinquish this to You because I trust in You.” And that’s not easy. But it’s something that if you can practice it every single day, it will eventually become more natural in your prayer.
Third is Holy Indifference. Now I don’t mean apathy, so I don’t mean “Meh, I don’t really care.” I’m not talking about ambivalence; I’m talking about an Ignatian concept of holy indifference. That means, when you’re praying, think about the loss that I told you to think about a few minutes ago. When you pray about it, when you say to God “Lord, I want You to heal my mom of cancer.” “Lord, I’m asking You to bring me this job.” “Lord, please let this relationship come together.” “Lord, I want to be able to conceive a baby naturally.” Whatever your thought is, or whatever your problems and suffering cross is.
Think about what your prayers are. They’re usually very specific, right. There’s usually like “I want this from You.” And at the same time, holy indifference says “I’m going to pray that prayer, but I’m going to surrender,” so we’re going back to divine providence, abandonment to it, “I’m going to relinquish the desire to have it answered a certain way.” So, in other words, holy indifference means I pray my prayer from the heart, but I’m okay if God doesn’t answer it the way that I want. I’m going to be at peace with that. I’m not going to let anything disturb that peace.” And again, that’s hard to live. But again, if you practice these principles on a daily basis, it begins with an act of the will, and it is expressed in your prayer. It will become more natural.
The fourth principle is The Dark Night of the Soul, and some of you may have heard this a lot, you may be familiar with it. The dark night of the soul, of course, is what we would call a San Juanist principle of spirituality. So St. John of the Cross was the one who coined this “dark night of the soul.” He wrote the Spiritual Canticle, which was about this mystical experience of the dark night. When it pertains to grief, let’s think about that. A lot of times when we’re grieving, we feel like we’re such a mess inside we don’t know the difference between holy and unholy darkness. We just don’t know. So what happens is we kind of throw all of the darkness into the same category, but that’s not true.
So holy darkness is when your soul is in a state of grace, you are frequenting the sacraments – so especially the sacraments of healing, reconciliation, and receiving the Eucharist – and you are praying regularly, that means daily. When your soul is in that state of grace, and you feel like God’s abandoned you – you can’t feel His presence, you don’t hear His voice speaking to you, you don’t feel like He’s answering your prayers, you can’t really experience Him maybe the way you have in the past when you have had periods of consolations. You are in a period of desolation, and the temptation is to believe that God doesn’t care, that He’s not with you in your sorrow, that He’s just completely forsaken you.
But when you are in a state of grace, that’s actually not true. It means that the Lord is inviting you to a deeper love, and that means loving Him for the sake of who He is, not for what He does for you. Think about that again. Loving God for the sake of who He is, the fact that He is God, not for the fact that He’s giving you fuzzy feelings, giving you His time, answering the prayer that you want to be answered the way that you want it to be answered. You just give Him that love through your fidelity, through your prayer, through your obedience to following the church and following God’s will. That’s the dark night of the soul.
Unholy darkness is due to our sin, or it could be due to the sin of someone else, and that might be a different kind of healing that you need when you are broken. So, for instance, if you have suffered domestic violence, or abuse, or neglect, that is due to the sin of someone else that has caused that brokenness and that chasm in your heart that has created that darkness, and that… it is not your fault and it’s not because you did anything wrong, it’s the result of the darkness and the evil that someone else did to you and you are suffering the residual effects of that in your heart. And so that’s a different kind of healing than when the Lord kind of withdraws His presence from you, and you just feel alone. So the dark night of the soul is very much a part of your grief journey.
Confidence in God’s Timing. Father Solanus Casey – so he is now Blessed Solanus Casey – many of you probably know him. I knew him a long time ago when he was just barely a venerable. He’s very, very near and dear to my heart because he lived in this diocese where I reside, where I live. He presided in this diocese. So Blessed Solanus Casey, something he’s very, very well-known for is when he said “Thank God ahead of time.” That’s radical confidence in God, isn’t it? So, thanking God ahead of time is about the knowledge that God always wants what’s best for you, that He always answers our prayers in His time and in His way, and we feel a joy in that, and gratitude. So that’s confidence in God’s timing. You leave things up to Him as to when you’re going to be healed, how you’re going to be healed also.
And finally, The Wound of the Heart. This comes from the mystical saints like St. Padre Pio and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The wound of the heart also… St. Padre Pio called it the transverberation of the heart. The wound of the heart is that pain you feel in your heart, it’s that dagger. It’s like the prophecy of Simeon, “And you yourself a sword shall pierce.” That’s what we feel when we grieve, isn’t it? So grief, though, leads us to a deeper love for God and a deeper love for others. That’s what suffering does to us, or can do, it’s supposed to do that, and that’s how it can transform us.
I think it’s important to remember in this journey of this retreat that you’re making that healing comes in many forms. So, for instance, I still grieve because I will always have a daughter with this rare disease, it’s never going to leave my family, it’s never going to leave her. But I’ve come to accept grief as part of my life, and I understand when it kind of emerges when I cry, or when I feel hopeless, or when I feel alone, it’s just another way that God’s tapping me on my heart and saying “I want you to come back to Me Jeannie. I want you to turn to Me.” And that’s what He’s inviting for you. You might be desperate for physical healing, emotional healing, spiritual healing right now. What I can tell you right now is to hang on, because what God’s building in your heart and into your life is going to radically transform you if you don’t give up. If you persevere.
That may not be the message you want to hear, but that’s what I can offer you. Wherever you are in your journey, the Lord is entering your grief, entering your wound, and He’s healing you in ways you can’t feel yet, you don’t see it yet, you might not hear it yet. But we have to reside in the knowledge that God always wants what’s best for us, and He wants us to be whole. And so bring to Him your trust. That leads me to my prayer that I’m going to end with for you now.
Prayer to Seek Truth
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. This is called “Prayer to Seek Truth,” and I wrote this prayer. Lord, help me to seek truth today – To find it in places and people I wouldn’t otherwise notice. Teach me that in truth there is wisdom and understanding. May seeking truth help me overcome my fears and frustrations. Lord, help me to strive for truth in all that I do today – That my thoughts, words, and actions may reflect Your goodness. Show me that only in truth will I be free – To live honestly and courageously, to love wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Lord, help me to cherish truth – Knowing that You are the author of all that is beautiful, good, and true.
May truth reign in my heart, no matter what I encounter today – Lies, mockery, confusion, betrayal. Your truth gives me clarity and peace. Lord, You created truth. You are Truth. Help me to know truth when I see it; Learn truth when I am taught it; Love truth, live truth. Help me to share truth with others today – Those who are lost and lonely, the brokenhearted and weary, anyone who is suffering from visible or invisible pain. When I am a son or daughter of truth, I am free to be fully alive, fully myself, and an honest reflection of You. Truth leads to greater knowledge, compassion, understanding, respect, charity, and excellence in all virtues. Truth strengthens me, guides me, leads me, protects me, keeps me. I am constant when I dwell in Your truth. I am unafraid of what I may face. I am vigilant and poised for speaking the witness of who You are in truth. Amen
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Remember friends, you were made for truth. Don’t listen to the lies, don’t listen to the lies that all is lost and all is gone. Remember, God loves you and He is with you, and live in that truth and the freedom of that truth. Thanks for joining me today.
About Jeannie Ewing
Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer and national speaker who focuses on moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. Her books include Navigating Deep Waters, From Grief to Grace, A Sea Without A Shore, For Those Who Grieve, and Waiting with Purpose. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic periodicals. Jeannie, her husband, and their three daughters (plus one baby boy) live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com. Follow Jeannie on social media: Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram