Episode 10- How to Transform Tragedy in our Lives?

Overcoming negative emotions is important.

Transforming Tragedy

Transforming Tragedy

Gordon Grose pastored three congregations 25 years, then served 12 years as a pastoral counselor in a Portland, Oregon counseling clinic. He now serves with Good Samaritan Counseling Services, Beaverton, OR.

Gordon Grose

Gordon Grose

A graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, and Boston University, he comes from a rich and varied background in theological and counseling training. In 2015, Gordon published Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, a book about turning to Job for hope after tragedy.

In this episode, I talk to Gordon Grose, counselor and author of “Transforming Tragedy” about preparing, facing and transforming tragedy in our lives.
Gordon answers the following questions:
– Can we prepare spiritually or otherwise for tragedy?
– How do we transform tragedies in our life?
– What are the steps involved in this transformation?
– Why he picked Job as a model for this transformation?

For our listeners who’d prefer to read, here’s the transcript.

Gordon: Well, first, Pamela, let me thank you for your kind invitation to join with you today on this podcast. My name is Gordon Grose, G-R-O-S-E. And I’m a pastor and counselor, and now recently an author. I pastored 3 congregations over a period of 25 years, different places in the United States. I did counseling with Western Psychological and Counseling Services in Portland, Oregon, where my home is, for about 11 years. And I’m now counseling on a volunteer basis at a place called Community which offers counseling without a fee, and the whole ministry is supported through donations. By the way, this is a worldwide ministry, locations in 23 nations and 18 in Africa. Two years ago, I published my book the first one I’ve written on the subject of recovering from tragedy based on the book of Job in the Bible. I’ve been married 57 years as of next month, July 9th. We have four children, eight grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and one great coming.

Pamela: So you’ve actually had a very long career in counseling? You’ve also experienced lots of people with tragedies and things like that, right? You’ve met these people, you’ve seen this happen.

Gordon: Well, in pastoring, you certainly see it all the time. There’s constant funerals as there are weddings and births of babies, and so forth. So you get an experience of ministering to people in deep grief. And as a pastor you have a great privilege of being essentially in the front lines, seeing firsthand how people respond, and working with them to bring about comfort and resolution, and trust in God in spite of the loss which they are experiencing.

Pamela: So do you think that there are some people who, you know, are better equipped for tragedy? I mean, is there a way that somebody can be better prepared for tragedy? Or it’s just that when it hits us that’s the time you come up with whatever defense or coping mechanism you have?

Gordon: That’s a good question. One of the things I struggled with in the book, and I noticed that a very well-known author Timothy Keller struggled with it as well in his book on, “Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering,” and that is denial. The subject of death, or grief, or loss is something we prefer not to think about. It’s not easy to promote something to get people to face when they don’t want to. And grief and of course is because it’s very painful. People including me, I have things to do in preparation for after my death, with the funeral service suggestions that I want to make and with the ways that…well, I have take care of one issue. But it’s something which I delay and it’s in my box, but I never get to it, because it’s something that it’s easy to put off. There’s a French author, I think it’s Michel Desroches who wrote a book called “Détournements” and it’s the French word for diversions.

And in life we use a lot of diversions. We are heavy into sports, we are heavy into entertainment and movies and televisions, and everything helps us pass the time and diverts us from some of the real issues that face us such as health and illness, and death. We don’t even talk the word death anymore today. If you notice, we always say “passed away.” And one of the things I’m going to instruct my pastor, is to please indicate to the congregation that Gordon has died, that he has not simply passed on, or passed away, but that he is actually dead. And I feel quite strongly about that. I’ve worked with people to help them face their suffering and face their death with God’s strength. And I find that is the best way to help people.

I think the biggest lesson that I learned about that was from the book of Job about which I wrote. If you recall the story, Job was a magnificent success. And he had enterprises in every direction, large family. One day he lost it all. Well, what was it he had to learn? He had to learn, which he didn’t until the end of the book, that there are some things in life over which we have no control. And they’re truly tragic. We can think of natural disasters that come upon us: earthquakes, and tornadoes, and floods. And people have done nothing wrong, but they have to suffer and they have to go through these, there are times when we don’t have control over our own lives. And it’s something that is very difficult to live with, but if people can get their mind and heart around the fact that to control that is a lot, I can’t.

Pamela: Cannot control, yeah.

Gordon: That’s, I think, about the best they can do. So that when it happens and they realize, “Oh, that’s right. I remember now, somewhere somebody told me that you can’t control everything.”

Pamela: Explain to people, how do you go about transforming a tragedy in your life, especially when you’re so upset, you’re broken down, and, you know, you can’t see the light ahead of you. You can’t see God’s grace, nothing. So how do you transform that tragedy in your life?

Gordon: There are some things that we can do, some practical things we can do to prepare ourselves. And then I’ll answer the idea of transforming. For one thing, attend funerals. Somebody in your life dies, go to their memorial service. Go to their funeral. Go the visiting hours, if there’s visiting of the body. This is something which we tend to avoid. And we console ourselves with, “I want to remember them as they were. I don’t wanna see them dead.” But we have…and I grew up, my early days in ministry which I performed and attended many funerals. They were dead, they were in a casket in front of the church. And, yeah, it is painful, but that is something that a person can do because that’s part of life.

Visit the dying. You know somebody is critically ill, go to them in the hospital. Visit them at home. Kübler-Ross wrote a very important book on death and dying in ’60s and ’70s. And she says this, “When we care for the dying, they give us a gift.” The gift is the ability to accept your own death. So visit the dying and the critically ill. Listening to others’ pain is something that we can do too. Ordinarily, we wanna change the subject. Somebody starts to choke up and grief over the loss of a loved one and we wanna cheer them up. Instead what we can do is learn to listen to their pain, and say, “Honey, just talk to me. And I’m just gonna sit here and listen.” You don’t have to have loved one from the dead in order to comfort them, to help them. You do need to show that you care, and that you understand what they’re going through at least. So those are some things that we can do to prepare for our own tragedies when we depend on other people to come and support us.

Now, you mentioned about transforming tragedies, tragedy usually leaves us different than when we began the experience. Some people go down into bitterness because of what’s happened. And some people blame God, it’s a major source of atheism. “If God can allow children to die of cancer, I can’t believe in that kind of a God.” So they become very bitter and irreligious and reject a God who’s worshiped by the suffering that people go through.

On the other hand, a lot of people after they go through are transformed into a greater trust in God. And Job was bitter for much of his book. And the anger is that it’s palpable. He is just inconsolable, and the friends try and they try to reason with him and nothing works. I think Job is a good example of transformation because he comes to a new perspective on life, I mentioned earlier the struggle with control over life, and this was the import of the Lord’s message to Job at the end of the book, in which He confronts him with nature, with the clouds, with the rain, with ice, and snow, over which we have no control. He confronts Job with the animals who give birth and who die, and they are not in man’s prevue. They are completely apart from human beings. They have nothing to do with the city in which we live. And yet they live and they die. Learning that perspective, you know, we are divinely created but we’re also human and part of the natural world as well.

And then of course, there were the two huge chaos monsters over which Job has…and human beings have no control of: behemoth and Leviathan, reading in Job and with understanding can help to transform us through perspective that we begin to see our frailty, accept it, and then gain perspective. Leading the lives of Godly people can be a help to transform our own suffering, Bible characters who endured great difficulties and overcame them, faced difficult circumstances, with a positive attitude that they had to learn and be positive models for us. And then I would say social support. We need people. We cannot go through a tragedy on our own without people to talk to, to listen to us, people who understand, who care about us. And this was the matter of fact with Job’s experience, because he had three friends who didn’t understand everything, but who never left him. And so he was able to find them at the beginning, and yet they were there at the end as well as was his wife. So he had social support to those who…all of the ups and downs of his complains, for chapter after chapter.

And so I think social support is quite important: friends, family, church, small groups, neighbors. We have to learn to live with a new normal, the person is gone, or we’ve lost our home, I’ve lost my job. And so it takes time, and it takes support from others, and it may take some personal growth, inside as well, we are social creatures. I’ve been noticing how much horses are social creatures. And they kind of race together, you know, we got five or six horses and we have some not too far from where I live, you see them and they wanna keep an eye on each other and they feel comfortable being close with one another.

Pamela: And I think this is very important because in today’s world, people have just isolated themselves. In the sense they’re with their social media, or they’re with Facebook, or they’re with Twitter, but they have no real, you know, connections. So a lot of people are depressed, a lot of people are dealing with their own tragedies where they’re not seeking the comfort of their churches, or the social support. So I think social support is really something that people should look at more carefully.

Gordon: That’s a very good point. I’ve went in the mall a few months ago, and there’s a young man and this young woman were holding hands, and was on his cell phone texting. So that really got me as some truly as she was focused elsewhere.

Pamela: As we talk about this transformation, are there any steps to doing this transformation? Let’s say somebody is going through something really difficult, what are the steps that can take them through this transformation of their tragedy?

Gordon: Overcoming negative emotions is important. And you notice in my book, I identify Job’s depression in Chapter 3: He wants to die and he’s very angry with God, because of anger. He goes through fear, he has five major images of God as hostile to him. The arrows of the Almighty are in the…”My spirit drinks their poison.” And he sees God as an archer, and his body is pierced with poisoned arrows, and his life is seeping out. So he has to go through all of this very, very negative and painful emotions and finally gets to grieve. He doesn’t grieve until Chapter 29: And that’s over half the book. After 42 Chapters, and 28 divides the book in two, he doesn’t begin to grief. And very often that’s true with people, they feel angry, if you notice, some people will sue the doctor because the doctor operated on their loved ones, and the loved one didn’t survive, they blame the doctor. And it’s easier to get angry and focus all of your energy on the anger toward a specific person, than actually to simply grieve and let go, and realize that your loved one has gone and you could never done anything to change the outcome.

To grief is very difficult, but sometimes it comes later rather than right away. And of course, all of these feelings can be mixed up. So there’s not a clear-cut, step-by-step. I heard a little bit Kübler-Ross discuss her so-called, “Steps Toward Grief.” And she says there’s no such thing. Publishers referred me to put my ideas into some form which they could publish. But anger and denial and acceptance and depression are not something you bolt from one to the other and you never pull back. She said that herself, overcoming negative emotions, walking through the pain and not avoiding it is important in transformation. Maintaining social support. People can’t do anything and yet they’re very important. There’s been many times when I have sat with a person who lost their husband who was a pastor, and they poured out their heart at the funeral home or at their own home and after an hour of non-stop grieving, I have felt totally helpless, and what am I going to do to help this person? And they say, “Thank you so much. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” Well, I’ve helped them by listening, caring and sitting with them for a long period of time and hearing all the pain. Everything they can think of that’s so painful.

That’s take a little practice and a little training on my part, but it’s worth it to offer that kind of listening ear if you are a person that has some empathy naturally. So decide the time and let people pour out their heart. Maintaining a spiritual life, I think is important as a foundation towards transformation. It’s an important step because it gives you some stability. If you followed my book there’s a passage from Boethius, which is someone who lived many centuries ago, and tried to deal with suffering. The people at that time were dealing with slavery. Each culture would attack and control, and eventually enslave the next culture, death, plague. And he wrote this book in order to bring comfort to the Christians and he likened life to a big wheel, and at the center is God. And the closer we get to the center of the wheel to the heart, the less change there is, the less circular ups and downs of life. So maintaining a healthy spiritual life is that important, buttress against the vicissitudes of life, personal discipline in the word, a church, small group.

Pamela: Do you think people who have a spiritual life do better than people who don’t?

Gordon: Well, I think so. That’s kind of my own opinion. I certainly think that social support, you know, people who go to church also, they give a lot of social support because they’ve got a Bible study, they’ve got a prayer group, they’ve got a pastor, they’ve got elders when they learn, will come and support. So the spiritual life leads to a lot of just plain human contact and support at a time of crisis.

Pamela: Also, I wanted to ask because when I read your book, I was wondering why you picked Job. I mean, there are lots of people who’ve gone through plenty in the Bible. You’ve got Paul, and you’ve got Peter, and you’ve got Stephen, and you’ve got Jesus Himself. But why did you pick Job, of all the people that you could pick as an example of dealing with tragedy? Why did you pick him?

Gordon: Well, I’ve had a life-long love for the book of Job. In 1960 and 1961 I took a course at a Jewish university, Brandeis in Waltham, Massachusetts, and it got me onto the book of Job. I just got so excited especially reading it for myself. I just got so excited. Well, it just lay dormant for many decades, until I got a little encouragement from a friend. I gave a workshop on the book of Job at his church and a pastor friend said, “You need to write a book on Job.” I said, “No, no, no, I’m not…”

And after that… Anyway, one thing led to another and I retired from my counseling on ministry at Western in order to write. And, by the way, the book took me 12 years. So from 2003 to 2015, I was engaged 5 days a week, 3 hours a day in the library putting this together. Again, a life-long love for the book of Job, and it’s a difficult book, and I wanted to make the book understandable to modern readers today. The structure is complicated, and there are three friends, each of them gave a speech. Job responds after each speech. Then they do this three times. So it’s very complicated and it’s so easy to get lost. Each of the friends had a different perspective on Job’s suffering, although they share the one assumption that he’s done something wrong. But they also approach it in a different way.

The tone of the book is very argumentative and people don’t like to read something in which is just…they talk past each other, and they’re angry. Well, all those reasons people today I think just avoid the book of Job, they read a little bit at the beginning and the end. I wanted to make the whole book understandable. It’s much less well-known than say Jesus, or Paul, or Peter. And we have these 42 chapters for the book of Job. So that’s a sizable amount of material that seems to me needs dealing with. And then two, it has have such a powerful, compelling life story. The story in this case  is a compelling drama, this conflict with God, will he or won’t he? Is the big question in the book of Job, will he curse God and die, like his wife wanted, and like the Satan said he would, predicted he would, “If you take all away from him. He’ll curse you to your face.” Well, does he or doesn’t he? And the book has Job on the edge all the time. He’s just so close to doing that, and yet he never does.

And finally, the second calling experience of God, in which he unexpectedly meets God and God decides to confront him. And he had tried every trick, every means possible to bring God face-to-face with him, and to know well, and when he gets loved, then God speaks, it is not the way that God will work as well. We try human efforts to manipulate other people who love to manipulate circumstances, who control our life and nothing works. And when we give up and yield and surrender, then God moves it off the way in our life. So those are the reasons that it was a very personal choice on my part, basically, because I’ve had this life-long love since 1960, 1961 for the book of Job.

Pamela: Would you have any names of books that people could also can read if they want to do an additional commentary or study the book of Job?

Gordon: Let’s see. There’s a book by Habel, H-A-B-E-L in the Old Testament library series. It’s very scholarly, but it’s also very stimulating, 1981, that’s a one volume. But there’s another one by Wilson. It’s a little bit more popular. It’s a major commentary Gerald Wilson, New International Commentary, is based on the New International Version of the Bible. That would be good. It was Habel’s book that I read later that just turned me on to the book as well. And reawakened my love for the book of Job, there’s a three volume series of books by David Hines, [SP] which is, as you can imagine very technical, as Habel as well. And then the other book that affected me and stimulated me was a book by Jack Kahn, K-A-H-N he wrote the book, “Job’s Illness: loss, grief, and integration. A psychological interpretation.” That’s the book that gave me the idea of a progression or a transformation, or the change in Job. Usually if you look at the book it’s talking about, without seeing Job’s movement through all… I’ll give you one good example, at the beginning of Job talking with his friends, he talks about, He, meaning God. He, He, He, he explains around I think is Chapter 9, he changed the person dramatically from He to you. Now, some people have interpreted this as prayers. Well, they’re not really prayers in the technical sense, they are addressed to God, but the same anger is there. And they’re not worship…anyway, that gives you an idea that Job is not static. That the process of talking with friends brings about changes within him, and leads him through these kind of negative stages which I mentioned. So those are the major books I would…

Pamela: Tell us a little bit about your own book. Because I read the book and there’s so much of personal stuff in it. You know, your own personal experiences, your own personal tragedies. So tell us a little bit about your book. Where people can find you if they wanna contact you, what do they do?

Gordon: I had a personal motive as well, in all of these writing. And that is my son and daughter-in-law have been treating chronic illness for over 30 years. And it’s been very tragic. They’re both highly talented people. Musically they were both graduates of The Wilton Conservatory of Music in college, and yet have been, as far as life is concerned, on the shelf. So I began the book with first experience of being confronted with our daughter-in-law’s illness, which changed our son’s life and changed our lives as well. So there’s a personal motive for wanting to get their names and their story into people’s minds, and so that they not be forgotten. And that their lives mean something. Julie’s father has also written a book about them. And so we’ve been able to devote our time to helping people be aware of their lives and be a witness of Christ during this time.

Yeah, it’s available on, amazon.com in both paper and in eBook. Or I have a website tragedytransformed.com which is…I have a blog that I write for regularly, www.gordongrose.com, that’s my name G-O-R-D-O-N, G-R-O-S-E.com. And I deal with subjects related to the book of Job, and related to hope, addiction, recovery, hope in death and dying, and hope in mental illness. I’m on Google Plus, Gordon Grose. I’m on Facebook.

Pamela: Any last words that you have for people who are dealing with tragedies?

Gordon: Sure. When I wanted to write the book, I wrote it in a way which lays out the story of Job according to how we experience life, and I made it in a way that people can grasp because we go through these experiences and stages. It’s not exactly the way the book of Job itself is laid out. So it should appeal to people. The chapters begin with the story of somebody I interviewed, a number of people with different experiences. I have a story about a lady in Chapter 8 who lost her husband suddenly through an automobile accident, who fell asleep at the wheel.

I have a story in Chapter 6 I think it is, of a former client, a mental health client, who was very, very disturbed and who gave me permission to write his story in my book. And when I preached my last sermon at my home church, I called and invited him, and he was there. So that was very exciting. But that deals with mental illness. I have a story of a man who went through depression after he lost his wife and he lost his job the same year. He wanted to die, he tried to, he planned it, he rehearsed it, and what happened to him, a natural disaster, and I have my own son and daughter-in law’s story as well, the beginning of it. Each chapter begins with a story of someone I interviewed, and then ends with self-help suggestion how we can work through these painful experiences, and in the middle, of course, I deal with Job and his similar life experience.

And I hope that the book will be a handbook of healing to help them navigate that private [SP] and hope it would even accelerate their healing, their recovery and their coming out the other side of the grief. So I’m hopeful that the book will have a healing effect on people, and bring them hope and encouragement, bring them closer to a personal experience with God, if they don’t already have it. And if they do, it will draw them closer, even so.

Pamela: So thank you so much Gordon for, you know, spending time and talking about this.

Gordon: I welcome the response from people as they hear me, and as they perhaps are motivated to read the book for themselves.

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