By Dr. Ralph Vencill
No one ever told me that grief would be such an intense part of our journey. My upbringing from a non-Christian background as well as some of the modeling that was presented to me from men of the church developed a mentality that set me down a difficult path.
“Walk in strength and confidence!”
“Be strong and courageous!”
While these statements are true in context, they don’t address every moment of life. They don’t teach you the essentials of being a real man, embracing the fullness of who God called you to be.
Over the past three years I was exposed to a flaw in my armor. My eyes were opened to see how grief had been part of my life since my childhood and that I had suppressed that grief to the point of denial. In the midst of this realization, I found out I was broken. How could this be? I felt I was finally coming into my best season of life. I felt I had finally overcome some major challenges to the point that I would walk at a different level, but amid this season, I had created a normal that embraced an unhealthy mindset and lifestyle.
That mindset, my outward strength, became a prized plaque that I displayed proudly on my wall. The award I wore around my neck. The trophy I displayed and talked about as if it were something to brag about. Through all my education, all the leadership development seminars and classes, no one ever dared to address or question this area of my life. I appeared healthy. I appeared well developed, but the truth is, I was a full-time actor in my own drama, and I didn’t realize it.
In my extra education classes for chaplain ministry, I was able to see the walls I had built around my grief that prevented me from confronting all the loss in my life. I blew off each incident as if it were not a big deal. My answer was always, “God is all I need.” God is enough, but He created us to need each other and to experience these elements in life.
Matthew 14:13 (NLT) tells us of the notification of the death of John the Baptist and Jesus’ response. “As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” Jesus got away to grieve. If Jesus saw this need in His life, shouldn’t we do the same? This was not my practice. It wasn’t something I saw a need to do. I would like to say I worked through my loss, but the truth was, I buried it.
Jesus got away to grieve. If Jesus saw this need in His life, shouldn’t we do the same? This was not my practice. It wasn’t something I saw a need to do. I would like to say I worked through my loss, but the truth was, I buried it.
I shrugged off every heartache, every death, every betrayal as not important, and the hardened shell of my life thickened with each loss. This shell, which I internally thought to be protective by not allowing anyone to ever hurt me again, began to drain the life from me. It cost me every time I buried a loss rather than allowing it space to be what it was: a loss, the death of something in my life. I hid from the realization that a portion of me could be damaged by that loss.
This realization, this awareness, began to uncover and release some deep-seated pains in my life. I began to understand that I had suppressed all the pain of my childhood. I hadn’t allowed myself to express the anger for the loss of my innocence and the denial of love as a child.
I am so thankful for God’s continued hand of protection through this season of my life. I am also thankful that even in this season of my own pain, the Holy Spirit was faithful to come in and pour over our congregation the oil of His anointing and the healing wine of joy, providing a soothing presence to those under my ministry. I am grateful for how God used an inner healing ministry in Toledo, Ohio, called the Toledo Transformation Center. Its director, Sarah Williams, and her staff did a presentation at our regional conference last year, which was very moving for me. I believed that they could help unlock some of the deeper issues I was struggling with, and they did.
I am also thankful for a loving wife and family who endured such a broken vessel for so many years. They experienced and suffered through the hardened presence of who I had become. They felt the pain of all the losses for me through all those years of ministry. They grieved. They cried. They had been in many ways the physical manifestation of the pain of my losses. When I look back at their pain now, I see it. Back then I couldn’t see anything.
Today I am moving towards a place of health and vitality. I feel many things now, and tears flow as needed. There are days I am not sure I like this, but I know that this is good for me. I know this is who God created me to be. I am thankful for the journey. I am blessed beyond measure.
Here are a few things that may help you process grief in your life:
- Talk about your loss.
- Sit with your grief, allowing yourself to feel the pain of the loss.
- Be accountable to someone regarding the long-term processing of your grief.
Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, you will find you can break down those walls that have created a barrier in your relationship with God and with others.
About the Author
Dr. Ralph Vencill serves as lead pastor of Bellbrook Community Church, an Open Bible church in Bellbrook, Ohio, and a full-time chaplain with Ohio’s Hospice. He and his wife, Nancy Vencill, have four children, two of whom are married, and four grandchildren, with one on the way. Ralph is also a business owner and loves to travel.