Archive for the ‘grief’ Category

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart. Don’t scratch for answers that cannot be given now. The point is to try to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.  – Rainer Maria Rilke

By Rabbi Akiva Feinstein and Charles W. Sidoti

When life turns difficult, a common way of trying to get around the pain is to try to think our way out of the situation. The problem with this is that it assumes the process of effectively dealing with emotional upset and spiritual challenges is linear, sort of like a Betty Crocker recipe, in that one step necessarily follows another in order to get the desired outcome.

The truth is that the process of inner healing is inherently non-linear and is often contradictory. When things do get better and our inner struggle eases for awhile, we often don’t know how or why we feel better; we just do. Have you ever gone to sleep with a problem on your mind and awakened not troubled by it anymore? As the saying goes, “What a difference a day makes!” Nothing about your problem changed; you just went to sleep.

Our mood and therefore our perspective change constantly, and that has much to do with the way we process the problems that come our way. Sometimes we wake up feeling great and ready to face the day’s challenges. On these days, problems that come up don’t bother us too much. We process them easily because we approach them from a positive perspective and keep moving along. The very next day (or even hour), we may feel totally different. The world seems to be spinning in the wrong direction and it seems that everyone is working against us. In addition to affecting the way we handle the daily problems that arise, our moods and our perspective affect the way we handle the big problems in our lives. This is especially true regarding the way we process grief, the pain involved in losing someone or something very important to us.

The Jewish tradition, which is full of wisdom gained by facing pain and suffering head-on, says a great deal about mourning, and how to understand the life path and grief process of the mourner. Mourners often suffer deep anguish and trauma. Helping them to recover, according to Jewish tradition, requires the implementation of customs and practices that can seem contradictory.

Yet these work well in helping mourners deal with their own contradictory feelings. For example, individual mourners can feel the need both to be alone and to be surrounded by people and love; the need for silence, and the need to be able to tell their story; the need to give and the need to receive. They can experience waves of denial and waves of acceptance.

It’s contradictory, yes, but it all can be a very real and necessary part of the healing process and the nature of mourning. It is very wise counsel to advise a mourner thus: “Let these contradictory feelings be, feel what you feel. Live with the contradiction and don’t fight it, for it will eventually evolve into something else.”

It is very difficult to put this advice into practice, for in our rational, modern society, we find these contradictory truths difficult to accept. The fact is that the suggestion to learn to live with contradiction is not just some remnant of a confused, out-dated psychological model. Rather, it’s a keen insight into the human condition itself and is a testimony to the power and efficiency of contradiction.

For example, human relationships are uniquely able to stay intact despite competing feelings of pure love and absolute frustration. There are rules to human emotion and pain, but the hope and the salvation lie in the fact that for much of it, there are no rules. It is what it is. You can be sad and happy at the same time. You can harbor a lot of pain, but still move on. You can cherish a memory of a lost dream and still pursue a brand new one.

Quantum physics, which helps us to at least begin to understand the universe, is based upon one of the most poorly understood contradictions known, yet it works and does its job just fine. Quantum physics teaches that it can be scientifically proved that light travels in waves (up and down) but it can also be proved that light moves as physical particles. A person with knowledge of quantum physics understands these principles to be mutually exclusive, yet the whole science of quantum physics is based on both of them being true.

If we cannot answer life’s questions, we should not go into despair. Many a Jewish grandfather would tell his children, “From an unanswered question, you don’t die.” Living with the questions makes life more exciting. A life lived looking for something that has not been found yet is a whole lot more interesting. Consciously deciding to live the questions is a way of responding with trust to life and its inherent challenges.

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This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti with Rabbi Akiva Feinstein

Visit my Blog: Finding God in Daily Life https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

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Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That’s how I was feeling.

By Charles W. Sidoti, From: “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time”

Thomas Merton once compared living a spiritual life to standing before a field of fresh fallen snow that you must cross, his advice: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.” Being a trailblazer through the fresh fallen snow, as Merton puts it, involves walking your own unique, untrodden path. As good as Merton’s advice sounds, it can be difficult to put into practice. Many of us would much rather walk familiar, well-trodden paths. Yet it is precisely the walking of a unique, untrodden path that each one of us, individually, is called to do in our life if we truly desire to grow in our relationship with God and others. Reflecting on what walking your own unique path would mean in your life can make all the difference in the world.

In considering how to follow Merton’s suggestion, it is necessary to realize that it involves a paradox. None of us walks through life completely alone. We live out our lives among other people. We have all heard the saying, “No man is an island,” by the great Christian poet John Donne. Hopefully, the relationships we have with others are mutually beneficial in helping us to grow and develop. On the other hand, it is also true that we are at times quite alone. Our personal moments of loneliness remind us of this truth in no uncertain terms. Taking the first step onto our own field of freshly fallen snow involves realizing this paradox and accepting it into our life. Just realizing and accepting that these two things, loneliness and our feeling of being connected with others, are a natural part of life can be helpful. There is a natural rhythm that exists between these two feelings, and at different times one of the feelings is dominant.

It is very helpful when we discover the relationship between our aloneness and our connectedness with others because the two work together in our lives. The relationship was explained to me in a most interesting way on one of my visits to the Abbey of the Genesee, which is a Trappist Monastery and retreat house located in Upstate New York. During a conversation with my spiritual director, Brother Anthony, I asked his advice about something I was dealing with at the time. I remember wanting him to just tell me what to do about the situation. Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That is how I was feeling.

His answer to me contained wisdom. He very kindly said, “Chuck, you know its kind of like making a loaf of bread. You can find a recipe in a book and follow it. You can ask others about how they bake theirs, learn about other interesting ingredients and get advise about how others do it. But in the end, everyone must bake his or her own loaf of bread.”

After this conversation, I realized that I would not want anyone else to bake my loaf of bread – make my decisions, live my life. It is our involvement, our interaction with life, and the decisions we make that keep life fresh and alive. Once we reach the age of reason, no one can really make a decision for us. When you think about it, would you really want them to? Our lives are unique, just as we are, and therefore our relationship with life is meant to be unique. Seek out the wisdom others have to offer, yes, but realize at the same time the precious and exciting opportunity you have in your life to bake your own loaf of bread.

Connecting Point: Can you see a rhythm in your life between feelings of aloneness and a feeling that you are connected to others? Sometimes it is the aloneness part that needs attention, so that aloneness may eventually evolve into the positive state of being, called solitude. You can do this by seeking out a little bit of time alone each day just to be quiet or pray. Through this time, you will discover that you are never really alone.

Prayer: Good and gracious God, place gratitude in my heart for the gift of life. In times of difficulty, I don’t always see it as a gift. Sometimes it feels like a burden, especially in times of loneliness. Help me to make decisions that will lead me to the peace that you desire to give me. Place in my heart the desire to bake my own loaf of bread – with you. Amen.

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Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – Traditionally Published

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What are you holding on to today – that has you caught?

This article is an excerpt from, “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” by, Charles W. Sidoti

Living a life where trust is the guiding principle will ultimately require that we choose to trust. I have noticed, however, that at those times when I have asked God to increase my ability to be trusting, the request is usually answered with increased opportunities for me to practice trust. That really wasn’t what I had in mind. I was assuming that God would answer by zapping me with more trust, after which I would suddenly live in a more trusting way, worrying less and relaxing more. I am now convinced that it isn’t going to happen that way.

Learning to trust in God involves acceptance. It means accepting things, people, and life in general, without always feeling that I need to change everything to the way I think it should be. On the other hand, trusting God will always involve my participation. Living with an attitude of trust is not a passive thing, where we sit back as spectators and think, “God will take of everything,” so we need do nothing. It involves living out the wisdom and balance of the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Acceptance almost always involves letting go of something. It may be letting go of a fear or worry, or an obsessive desire for a life situation to be different. Or it may be a need for someone to respond to us differently. I once heard a very helpful story about letting go. The story posed the question, “How do you catch a monkey in India?” It explained that the way people catch monkeys in India is to glue a baby food jar onto a stump or large rock, put a few peanuts in it, and leave the lid off. When the monkey comes along, wanting the peanuts, he slides his hand into the small opening of the jar. Grabbing the peanuts, he closes his fist around them. Once the monkey makes a fist to grasp the peanuts, his hand will no longer fit through the opening of the jar, so he cannot pull it out. He is caught, and very upset.

What is so ironic in this story is knowing how easy it would be for the monkey to free himself and go back to enjoying his life. All he needs to do is simply let go of the peanuts. But he will not.

When I notice myself preoccupied with a desire or need to have something be a particular way, I reflect back on this story. I visualize myself like the monkey, with my fist in the jar, holding on to what I desire. This imagery has helped me to let go of my particular desire and enjoy life again. It sets me free.

Connecting Point: What is your “fist full of peanuts?” What are you holding on to today – that has you caught? Try to imagine yourself letting go of your peanuts (your situation or desire) and moving on with your day in peace.

Prayer: Lord, often I am so convinced about what I think I need. I have my fist wrapped tightly around a particular desire. Help me to loosen my grip and to eventually let go so that I might enjoy the inner freedom that comes with knowing myself to be a child of God. Help me to desire that which will really bring me peace, and to trust that you will fulfill that desire in your time. Amen.

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In the face of the suffering we experience in our lives and see our world it is perfectly natural and fitting to ask “Why?” Our “Why?” however, needs to eventually evolve into a different kind of question.

Written by Rabbi Akiva Feinstein and Charles W. Sidoti, BCC,

Seldom does a week (or even a day or an hour) go by when we are not confronted with the question “Why?” Why are lives devastated by illness, hunger, and devastating loss? Why financial crisis, abusive and broken relationships? Why car wrecks and plane crashes? Why do children need to die? Our generation is also challenged by global “whys?” There are catastrophic natural phenomena:, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, war, and events like 9/11, to name but a few. Tragedy eventually leaves its mark on all of us, and it is the cause of much suffering. To each of us, it seems that our own affliction is the most painful.

The modern world is a place of constant searching for answers, and very often answers are found. Yet for this most basic of questions there is no easy answer. Moses himself asked God, “Why?” and was told, “You will see my back, but my face may not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). This verse has been interpreted to mean that, as humans, we cannot possibly comprehend the events that unfold before our eyes because our lives on earth are but a split second in the evolution of the universe. The span of a human life is simply too brief to achieve any meaningful understanding of the ways of the universe. Just as we cannot judge a movie by arriving in the middle and leaving before the end, we cannot judge God’s master plan for us or for the world. It is only with the passage of significant amounts of time that we could hope to gather even a measure of illumination.

Yes, it is true that some measure of genuine wisdom can, and often does, come with age. However, that wisdom, when it comes, normally teaches us to abandon our personal need to understand why things happen. It helps us to allow ourselves to be led by the wisdom of God instead of relying upon our own understanding. With such wisdom the question “Why?” is still present, but it gets integrated into our lives in such a way that we are able to live with it. Its negative power is replaced by trust and the realization that we are not God. It is important to understand that if our only response to something bad occurring is to continually ask “Why?” insisting that we are made to understand the reason why God allowed it to happen; we run the risk of becoming bitter and cynical toward life. It is perfectly natural to ask “Why?” but our response needs to evolve from there if we are to grow spiritually.

It is common in Jewish study to seek clarification on any given subject by returning to the literal meaning of that concept in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word for suffering is sevel. There are two other words that share the very same root, and yet have totally different meanings- sabal, porter, and savlanut, patience. The connection between these three words became very clear to me (Rabbi Feinstein) one day many years ago, when I was observing the activity at a busy outdoor marketplace in Jerusalem. A merchant finished with his day’s selling noticed that he could not carry home his large load of unsold wares and called upon the services of a sabal, a porter. To my surprise, I noticed that the porter was not upset at the vast amount of wares that he was being hired to carry. On the contrary, he was delighted. Instead of viewing the large load as a burden and a hard job, he seemed to be saying to himself that the heavier it was, the better, for he could charge a higher price.

It occurred to me then that our own suffering, if we could learn to accept it in some measure into our lives, could serve a similar purpose for us. Even as the sabal (the porter), cheerfully carried his heavy load knowing that he would be compensated, we can be buoyed by the knowledge that our sevel (our suffering) is not in vain. We can live with confidence that our suffering has a higher purpose and represents an opportunity for growth, even though that purpose and opportunity may not be apparent to us. Another helpful translation is found in the Hebrew word for crisis. The word ismashbir, which translates into English a birthing stone. This translation suggests that if we can learn to live with patience (in Hebrew, savlanut) turning our hearts to God, who is present in the midst of our crisis, new life can come forth.

Crisis always involves something over which we have little or no control. For example, we cannot control the harmful and destructive actions of those who unjustly wage war, murder or terrorize others. We cannot prevent extreme weather such as tornadoes, or other types of natural disasters from causing terrible devastation around the globe. Our response to crisis is something different: We control and choose how we will respond to these events. Our personal response to suffering is our responsibility, and we do have a choice.

I once heard it said that there is a greater question that presents itself in times of personal suffering and crisis. It is, “Now that this terrible thing has happened, what will my response be?” After asking “Why?” we need to eventually take the next step, asking, “What can I do to ease the suffering of those involved? What is the loving response?” How we choose to respond to situations is sometimes the only thing that is within our control.

You may be old enough to remember the very popular TV sitcom All in the Familyfrom the 1970’s. I recently watched a documentary about the making of the show. The producer, Norman Lear, was describing each character and how each personality was an important ingredient in the show’s success. When describing Archie Bunker’s wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), who was frequently referred to as a “dingbat” he commented that Edith always responded to a situation from “a place of love.” That is indeed a very accurate description of her character, and it provides an example from which we can learn. Edith always responded out of love to whatever the circumstance or crisis. The cynicism of Archie (Carroll O’Connor) was used to rub up against Edith’s innocence to create much of the humor of the show. Although she was referred to as a dingbat, Edith’s loving, honest, and innocent way of responding to situations was always shown to be right in the end. Perhaps she wasn’t a dingbat after all.

Edith always responded to situations from a place of love because she was filled with love. But we can, and often do, respond from other places, such as fear, jealousy, blind ambition, or resentment, if our inner space is occupied by any of these. That is why paying attention to what is going on inside us is so important. Whatever occupies our inner space, most of the time, will often be the place from which our responses come. It is important to ask God to help us welcome love, peace, tolerance, acceptance, and a healthy sense of justice into our hearts. In that way our response to personal crisis or the suffering of others will more often be born out of love and compassion. If we learn to pay attention to our inner world, what is going on inside of us, it will be a great help toward our goal of growing into the person God is calling us to become. Why God allowed this or that to happen will eventually become less important than the greater question, “How is God calling me to respond?”

Connecting Point: Our response to the suffering in this life, whether it is our own suffering or that of others, must eventually involve more than our asking the question “Why?” and insisting on an answer. Suffering is an unpleasant part of life, but it is, nevertheless, a part of life. If we can learn to accept suffering as a mystery in our life, not seeking it out, but rather allowing it to be a part of our experience, God will use it to bring about a newness of life within us. We will discover that, although in a different way from joy and happiness, the suffering that naturally comes our way has its part to play in our spiritual growth and in our becoming the loving person that God is calling us to be.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to welcome your spirit of love, patience, mercy, and kindness into my heart each day, so that I may more often respond out of these virtues to the suffering that I experience in my own life and the suffering that I see in the world. Give me the humility to accept that I may never fully understand the reason why bad things are permitted to happen. Instead of letting me despair over this lack of understanding, help me to place my trust and hope in you who make all things work for the good of those who love you. Amen.

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This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein. Visit my WordPress Home Page to learn more! https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

Disenfranchised Grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged (or is trivialized) by society.

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

At the hospital where I have worked as a chaplain for the past twenty years I was recently consulted to visit an elderly, chronically-ill patient.  I was informed by the referring social worker that the woman,”Lost her husband last week.”

The woman shared that her recently deceased husband spent twenty years in prison.  As our visit continued she further revealed that her husband had been in prison for the murder of her son.  The patient shared with me that she did not leave the marriage.  She waited for him to get out of jail and for he past five years cared for him at home until he died of cancer.  This was an experience of chaplaincy that I will never forget; it is also one of the most beautiful examples of inner-healing I have ever witnessed and been privileged to have a small part in.

Disenfranchised grief is when your heart is grieving but you can’t talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others.

Disenfranchised grief is hidden grief.  Often, it is never revealed.  Some, for fear of not being accepted, take their painful secrets to the grave with them.  As a chaplain I strive to create a sacred spacean environment where the other person feels safe to share what they are experiencing inside and find acceptance in their vulnerability. I try to create a space where the person feels confident that they will not be judged, but listened to, and accepted for who they are.

The following are just a few of the countless examples of loss that may be experienced as Disenfranchised Grief: 1) A miscarried or aborted pregnancy, giving a child up for adoption 2) Loss of gay or lesbian partner 3) Rape or sexual assault 4)  Loss of a pet 5) Retirement  6) Loss resulting from suicide 7) Divorce 8) Families of incarcerated individuals.  9) Loss of a grandchild 10) Any grief that exceeds society’s preconceived time limit for grieving.  To find many more examples and additional information on disenfranchised grief click:  https://www.vision.org/visionmedia/grief-and-loss/disenfrachised-grief/2202.aspx

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Check out “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – By Charles W. Sidoti with contributing author Rabbi Akiva Feinstein – A Traditionally Published Book

 http://www.amazon.com/Living-Gods-Speed-Healing-Time/dp/158595831X

Listen to my live workshop presentation delivered at the 2017 Annual Conference of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains annual conference in Santa Anna Pueblo New Mexico.

The question and answer period of my workshop is very lively and even gets a little “dicey.” I welcome your feedback and comments after you listen to it!

Each one of us has our own personal Egypt.  We are enslaved by whatever negative power grips our hearts, preventing us from becoming the people God calls us to be.

This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time,” by Charles W. Sidoti, BCC and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein.

One of the keys to a more peaceful life is learning when to allow oneself to be led and when to take life by the horns. Both of these inner-actions are necessary at different times. As we reach a point within ourselves where we are able to live in the middle, between the tensions of when to relinquish control and when to assume it, we will have reached a place where real spiritual growth becomes possible. We discover a kind of rhythm or dance of life in which we sometimes follow and sometimes seem to lead. In both actions we are active participants in life.

In my daily work coordinating a hospital spiritual care department, my job is to provide for the spiritual needs of all faith groups. The program serves patients, their families, and also the hospital staff. The hospital not having an official religious affiliation has been a source of blessing for me. Although I am Catholic, I have become knowledgeable about many spiritual traditions in order to serve each of them well. One of the most powerful insights I have learned involves the Jewish celebration of the Festival of Passover, also referred to in the Jewish tradition as “The Festival of Our Freedom.”

Through my association with Jewish friends and colleagues and in researching the significance of Passover, I have found great spiritual meaning in seeing Passover as a distinct action and gift of God in human history before the establishment of Christianity. Researching Passover has enabled me to see it from a different perspective, thus gaining a new appreciation for it.

The Jewish Festival of Passover is a joyful time, primarily retelling and remembering the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from both the physical and spiritual slavery of the Egyptians some 5000 years ago. The story is symbolically re-told in the Seder meal that is observed with the whole family during the festival that lasts several days.

The great Jewish phrase that captures the spiritual meaning is, “We were slaves to the Pharaohs in Egypt, but the Lord led us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 26:8). I have learned that the message of Passover, “God leads his people”, is not only about what happened in Egypt 5000 years ago. The message for us is that “Egypt” is in our own hearts. Each one of us has our own personal Egypt. The inner slavery of loneliness, depression, anxiety, addiction, jealousy, lust, hate, anger, prejudice, violence, abuse, and countless other chains can hold us in bondage. We are enslaved by whatever negative power grips our hearts, preventing us from becoming the people God calls us to be.  The same God who led his people out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” wants to lead us out of the Egypt of our own closed hearts today so that we may live in the freedom of the children of God. With God’s help we can open up and allow ourselves to be led.

As a Christian I have found it helpful and interesting to observe that The Last Supper actually occurred on the first day of the Passover Festival. I feel a special connectedness with my Jewish brothers and sisters as I wonder if at the Last Supper, Jesus was observing the Passover meal, sharing the Seder Meal with his friends for the final time.

Opening my heart to the Jewish celebration of the Festival of Passover has been powerful and insightful. It has been and remains a tremendous source of comfort and healing in my own spiritual journey.

Connecting Point:  The same God that led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt so many years ago, holding out “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” reaches out to you today. It is your responsibility to reach back (in prayer) to God in response. God wants to lead you into freedom from whatever grips your heart (fear, anxiety, anger, resentment), preventing you from becoming the person that God created you to be.

Prayer: Loving God, as you have always revealed your presence to your people, reveal yourself to me. Help me to reach out to hold the hand you offer to me. Lead me to the freedom of mind and heart that you desire to give me, and help me to accept it into my life.

 Traditionally Published

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