I have always loved public speaking, but praying out loud or in front of a group, not so much. Perhaps the source of my apprehension with sharing my personal devotion in public is that I have little experience with it, or maybe my trepidation originates from the personal belief that, similar to spirituality, prayer in its purest form is a deeply private and highly individualized communion with God or your higher power.
Indeed, I am consistently relieved when Grandma Ella takes the initiative to lead the family in prayer before Sunday dinner and on Thanksgiving. On the other hand, private prayer, silent reflection, and meditation are practices that I find deeply comforting. Indeed, prayer is intrinsic, and although how, when, where, and with whom you pray can vary, depending on your beliefs, it is a natural response when you are distressed.
With regard to prayer, best-selling author and life coach Iyanla Vanzant expressed that in her deepest, darkest moments, what really got her through was a prayer. She also revealed that “sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ ” But what Iyanla discovered is that intimate connection and communication with her Creator will always get her through because she knows that support and help are just a prayer away.1
I find it reassuring to know that I am not alone in the belief that prayers do not need to be elaborate to be effective. Yet, even with the knowledge that your prayers are yours alone, you may find that when you are coping with grief, you are lost for words.
Complicated grief is usually precipitated by the loss of someone who is significant in your life or by a quest for deeper understanding about the meaning and purpose of life and results in answers to your questions that are unsettling, nonsensical, or both. Although not all loss leads to spiritual questioning, it is common to experience complicated grief if you have cared for a loved one with a debilitating or terminal illness, if your loved one experienced a great deal of pain, or if you have unresolved feelings associated with your loss.
Caregiver Wellness: U model
Spiritual wellness is a part of the Caregiver Wellness: U model, a conceptual model that incorporates the movement toward social, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational, and financial wellness, while also incorporating the empowerment and resilience necessary to take charge of your health on a holistic basis. The components are not chronological; rather, they represent collective components. According to the Caregiver Wellness: U model, spiritual wellness incorporates the experience of caring for another to find new meaning in life that can include religion, faith, belief, and self-actualization, each of which has been associated with positive health outcomes.
About the empty chair prayer
Based on psychologist Fredrick Pearl’s and Gestalt therapy, the “empty chair” is a counseling technique that has been found to be particularly useful when grief is complicated. Through guided therapy, you are encouraged to openly express any unresolved issues between you and your loved one who has passed.
There is a traditional method wherein the therapist facilitates a discussion between you and your loved one through a series of interviews and guided exercises. There is also an approach where psychodrama is used and you are invited to play the role of yourself and your loved one lost by physically exchanging your position from one chair to another. The ultimate goal of the exercise is to release any unresolved feelings associated with your loss by saying anything that you feel may have been left unsaid.
Similar to the empty chair counseling technique, the empty chair prayer is an approach that you may find useful when working through what may be unresolved feelings associated with multiple losses, but the free expression of your feelings rather than resolving complicated grief is the focus. Using an empty chair and luggage tags (or something of your choosing), each family member is encouraged to write down a special remembrance or an antidote about a loved one who is now passed.
Participants are invited to share what was written on the tag by reading the contents aloud and then to pin their tags onto the chair. At the end of the experience, you may appoint someone who is comfortable with praying aloud and encourage him or her to lead the family in prayer. The resulting prayer then becomes original and specific to your family and a part of your legacy totem. It can be a very healing experience.
The content of this article is an excerpt from Reflections from the Soul, authored by Dr. Eboni Green. Reflections from the Soul uses a historical lens to tell a story of a different person, famous or otherwise, who has cared for and lost a loved one but who also used pain as an agent for healing.
2Photo credit: Sommersby | Dreamstime.com – <a href=”https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-red-chair-empty-frames-image9829354#res38240
1″>Red chair with empty frames</a>