Sara Newhard, M.A.
“Sitting shiva” is a profound Jewish custom where loved ones come together and sit with a family member or friend in their grief. They literally sit and grieve together.
This practice encourages the community to go to the mourner as soon as news of the loss is heard. The custom is to simply “sit with” in silence and allow the mourner to speak first and open a conversation if they want to. According to the Jewish custom, mourners may actually sit on low chairs or small stools as a tangible representation of their grief by symbolizing being “brought low” with their grief.
The concept of shiva is a deeply communal experience. It is a powerful practice of simply being with one another in pain. It’s choosing to not offer advice or not do something to try to ease our own anxiety in the discomfort. Instead, it’s communicating that I’m here with you and that I’ll enter into the pain and suffering with you.
What a compelling, radical, and life-changing practice. I invite you to discover this practice along with me. The moments I’ve silenced my tongue, redirected my anxious mind that naturally searches to ease the pain, and simply sat with, absorbing another’s experience, feeling their feelings, connection beyond words, I’ve discovered the power of presence that far exceeds something I can generate. I’ve found myself entering into the remarkably spiritual realm of presence in the pain.
This is a powerful gift of connection to both the recipient and the giver. In this social media-imbibed age, we are often content to send our condolences through a cyber exchange, yet I believe both the giver and receiver miss out on gift of presence and connection. The idea of a deep “sitting shiva” face to face encounter takes significantly more time and energy and emotion, yet I also wonder if it’s what our souls really long for.
I would suggest that the inherent principles of shiva transcend simply grief associated with death. What might it be like to offer the gift of presence without the need for words in the countless hidden losses in our midst? Imagine the power of sharing in another’s pain when a church small group enters into the pain of a couple who battles infertility, not offering platitudes or dismissive offers of prayer, but instead entering into the pain with tears and grief and presence.
For many of us this feels uncomfortable; we feel the burning need to take away the pain or at least attempt to do so. Although counter intuitive, I think presence and sitting with the pain can actually communicate far more hope and love than our best guided efforts to try to remove the pain. Although we may hope for no more pain on this earth, the reality is, on this side of heaven pain is imminent. We can’t eradicate another person’s pain on earth. Yet what we can do is demonstrate a faithfulness of being present for loved ones in pain. Our presence can be a tangible representation of our Heavenly Father’s perfect presence with us in pain. Furthermore, instead of talking out loud in a vain attempt to heal, we can chose to offer up silent prayers to the One who can provide the ultimate healing.
What a profound gift. In the midst of inevitable pain on earth, to have loved ones and our Heavenly Father willing, faithfully, and unconditionally present with us in the moments of our darkest grief and pain.
Sara Newhard, LCPC, LMFT. As the Spirituality and Christian Program Coordinator, Sara leads, supervises and facilitates trainings for the primary and family therapists in the Christian team. She oversees the Christian programming across campus, which includes groups, various worship services and holiday services for residents, and supports the chaplain who serves on campus. Additionally, she supports general spirituality across campus to encourage those of all faiths to nurture their spirit and connect with their Higher Power. Prior to joining Timberline Knolls, Sara worked as a family therapist in the Chicago area where she specialized in multi-systemic therapy for adolescents and their families who were part of the juvenile justice system. Sara also spent several years living and working in Asia before pursuing further education and training in clinical psychology. Sara earned her undergraduate degree in family psychology from Oklahoma Baptist University and her Master’s degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Illinois. Sara is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and the National Board for Certified Counselors.