How to Grieve 

There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, or spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday   

Plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness

All of us — whatever our natural serotonin level — look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair. By all objective evidence, we are arrogant animals, headed for the extinction that is the way of all things. We imagine that we are like gods, and still drop dead like flies on the windowsill.

The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument — though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away. It is the fragments of love and meaning that arrive out of the blue — in beauty that leaves a lump in your throat, in the peace and ordered complexity of nature, in the shadow and shimmer of a cathedral, in the unexplained wonder of existence itself. 

Michael Gerson, published in the Washington Post 

Daily Rituals

Here’s the true secret of life: We mostly do everything over and over. In the morning, we let the dogs out, make coffee, read the paper, help whoever is around get ready for the day. We do our work. In the afternoon, if we have left, we come home, put down our keys and satchels, let the dogs out, take off constrictive clothing, make a drink or put water on for tea, toast the leftover bit of scone. I love ritual and repetition. Without them, I would be a balloon with a slow leak.      

Daily rituals, especially walks, even forced marches around the neighborhood, and schedules, whether work or meals with non-awful people, can be the knots you hold on to when you’ve run out of rope.    

Anne Lamott, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair

Breaking Through The Wall

The squeegee of window washer Jan Demczur is in the Smithsonian. It got there because of his determination and willingness to use what was handy on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The Polish immigrant was riding in a north tower World Trade Center elevator when a hijacked plane hit the building. The elevator came to a stop on the 50th floor. That's when Demczur and other stranded workers preyed open the door, revealing a solid wall.

Rather than give up, Demczur used his brass squeegee handle to hack away at it. He eventually broke through the wall and lead the group to safety just moments before the tower fell.

Got a wall to break through in your life? There's probably a tool at your disposal that will deserve a place in the Smithsonian if you are willing to work with what you've got and refuse to give up.

Stephen Goforth

The Joy of Third Place

Is third better than second place? It seems to be better if you are in the Olympics. Psychologists at Cornell University say their research shows bronze-medal winners are generally happier than silver medalists. Here's the reason: When you come in second place you focus on what you might have done differently in order to win. Come in third and you’re happy just to get a medal.

The phenomenon of "what if" reasoning (knows as Counterfactual thinking) leads us to imagine how things could have been different rather than on what actually has happened. The bronze winners generally think “what if” I hadn’t won anything and realize how fortunate they are to be on the podium at all. But for the silver medalist, “what if” means pondering the little things that might have turned silver to gold.

It seems counterfactual thinking plays out, not just in games, but in every day life. If a student misses making a grade of "A" by one point, having a "B" is no longer so satisfying.

"Would I be happier today if only I had married someone else?" “What if I had attended a different school or majored in another field?” “Suppose I had selected a different profession?”

Miss a flight by five minutes and you are frustrated. But if there’s no way you could make the flight you don't waste time on it. It's like the football team losing in the final seconds of a game. If the team had gotten blown out, then the players can more easily put it behind them and move on. But when victory was so very close, they can always think of little things they might have done differently to affect the outcome.  

Do you puzzle over what you might have done until you what-if yourself into dissatisfaction? Do you get stuck thinking about what almost happened? Do you feel like you are the silver medalist in life?

It's worth noting that first place has its pitfalls as well. Research shows the first runner in a long-distance race puts in three times more effort maintaining that position than the runner-up. The researchers recommend when you are in the lead to focus on the struggle with one’s self rather than the pace of the other runners.

Stephen Goforth

The underlying emptiness

Think of the person (who) loses a job or a girlfriend and then finds himself in despair. The real cause of the despair is not the man’s loss of the job or the girlfriend. What the loss of the job or girlfriend really reveal is that the person was in despair all along, that his identity was built on something too fragile to be the basis of selfhood. When this fragile basis for identity is shattered, the self’s underlying emptiness was revealed.

C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

Possibility and Despair

Possibility… is to human existence what vowels are to speech. To live in pure possibility is like an infants utterance of vowel sounds, which fail to express something that is definite and clear. Vowels alone do not make for articulate speech, although without them nothing can be said at all. Similarly, “if a human existence is brought to the point where it lacks possibility, then it is in despair and is in deeper every moment it lacks possibility.” One cannot breathe without oxygen, but it is also impossible to breathe pure oxygen. Possibility is a kind of spiritual oxygen that a person cannot live without, but one cannot live on pure possibility either.

C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

a Sickness unto Death

Man begins as an it. He is to become an I.  The fact that he is not necessarily so is the source of man's misery. Sin leads to a disrelationship, a separation of man from himself called despair. Kiekegaard says this disrelationship of the self to the self, this despair, this spiritual sickness unto death reveals not only man's separation from himself.. but his separation from God. To be rid of the despair, one must, choose it. A man will be enabled to overcome if he recognizes the sickness, accepts it, and through an act of his own free will, makes a leap of faith past it. The cure is to choose the good, to choose one's self, Kierkegaard tells us. It is in the act of becoming one's self, man moves from an it to an I.

Stephen Goforth

Staying Power

Faith supplies staying power. It contains dynamic to keep one going when the going is hard. Anybody can keep going when the going is good, but some extra ingredient is needed to enable you to keep fighting when it seems that everything is against you.

You may counter, "But you don’t know my circumstances. I am in a different situation than anybody else and I am as far down as a human being can get.

In that case you are fortunate, for if you are as far down as you can get there is no further down you can go. There is only one direction you can take from this position, and that is up. So your situation is quite encouraging. However, I caution you not to take the attitude that you are in a situation in which nobody has ever been before. There is no such situation.

Practically speaking, there are only a few human stories and they have all been enacted previously. This is a fact that you must never forget – there are people who have overcome every conceivable difficult situation, even the one in which you now find yourself and which to you seems utterly hopeless. So did it seem to some others, but they found an out, a way up, a path over, a pass through.

Norman Vincent Peale,  The Power of Positive Thinking