Dear Pastor Osteen,
I forgive you. More specifically, I forgive you your trespasses against me and millions of others. For you have been led into temptation to judge something you have never experienced, and throw those who have to the lions.
Yes, I forgive you for using grieving parents in your book "Your Best Life Now" to illustrate your point that some people thrive on self-pity, or worse relishing the attention it brings. For your trespasses against the bereaved are not your fault. Sadly, you portray the perfect example of a larger problem in our society known as grief illiteracy.
Grief illiteracy is a dreadfully expensive and problematic issue in America costing millions in lost wages, lost relationships, lost health, and worse. It stems from adhering to outdated beliefs surrounding the mourning process following the loss of a loved one.
This April 24, 2010 file photo shows Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen at Dodger Stadium during his "A Night of Hope" in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pastor Osteen, your idea that the bereaved need just a few months to “let go of their grief” is a gross assumption bearing little resemblance to the truth. Much like Phil and Judy, the bereft couple you portray in "Your Best Life Now," finding peace and joy in the aftermath of profound loss can take years if not a lifetime.
And much like you, many well meaning family and friends walk away, quit coming, quit calling, and start avoiding the bereaved because of the notion that mourning is only acceptable for a mere few months. It’s true that in the initial weeks following a loss, delivered meals and untold hugs are abundant. But the grieving process has barely begun when the meals stop coming and the last visitor leaves.
Shame on you, Pastor Osteen, for lecturing us to shake off the self-pity, change the channel, and dwell on the good things God has done in our life. To ignore the suffering victim who suddenly had his right arm severed would be cruel. To instruct him to look past the agony and instead focus on his remaining left arm is devastatingly ignorant.
I do have empathy for your shortcoming on this issue, for you haven’t lost a child. But let me help you understand why your depiction of Phil and Judy to make a point about self-pity is not only incredibly insensitive but, truth be told, a bit tragic coming from an esteemed person like yourself.
To give you an idea of our journey, imagine going about your everyday life when, without warning, a raging fire overtakes you. If you survive, for some don’t, you find yourself with third-degree burns over your entire body, not an inch of skin spared. The pain is excruciating and the best medications do little to dull the intensity. The medical community gently warns that although your skin will eventually heal, the scars and disfigurement are permanent, leaving you utterly unrecognizable to loved ones, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and even yourself.
At first, doing little things like sitting up in bed or standing is so painful it takes your breath away. Just the mere thought of daily activities such as eating, bathing, and dressing are too much to bear. Pity and sadness are evident in the eyes of everyone, and you wonder why on God's earth you were spared the peace that death would bring.
[sharequote align="center"]Shame on you, Pastor Osteen, for lecturing us to shake off the self-pity.[/sharequote]
Learning to live with complete disfigurement and a lifetime of pain is slow, overwhelming and exhausting. It can take years of great effort to master even basic activities you once loved. Some days you hurt too bad to even try. Other days you find yourself completely exhausted from pretending to be normal. And worst of all, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Now pretend that the complete disfigurement and intolerable pain described above are on the inside of your body, utterly invisible to the world around you. The pain is unchanged, the disfigurement is complete, and the scars are permanent. This new life thrust upon you is completely foreign, outright frightening, and you wonder whether it is even worth living.
Welcome to the life of a grieving parent.
Every loss is as unique to the individual as one’s fingerprint, but for most the timeframe for healing can be years. Not weeks or months, but years. That’s because the devastation left in the wake of a profound loss bears a tremendous impact upon not just our emotional health, but our physical and spiritual fitness as well, costing our healthcare industry millions each year.
Some turn to alcohol and drugs to ease the constant and overwhelming pain. Many face little to no support, often resulting in further losses like jobs and relationships. None of this is due to self pity or refusing to let go of our grief. It is the result of ignorance and grief illiteracy, the lack of understanding and support by those who adhere to outdated notions bearing little resemblance to reality.
In your blog Let Go Of The Ashes, you chide a widower for missing his wife 10 years later.
“He let a season of mourning turn into a lifetime of mourning.”
Further, you compare his loss with the same defeat one feels over a job he didn’t get, or a relationship that didn’t work out.
Shame on you, Pastor Osteen.
By perpetuating the belief that sorrow lasting longer than a few months is nothing more than self pity, you invalidate the grief of millions of bereaved souls, robbing them of the very hope needed to survive.
Pastor Osteen, you preach about reaching the unreached, telling the untold. According to your website, lives are being changed, relationships are being restored, and communities are being transformed as you broadcast a message of hope. Imagine the hearts you could reach, the relationships you could restore, the communities you could strengthen if you took the time to improve your own grief literacy.
At the very least, I humbly ask you to stop depicting bereaved people in your writings as you describe those who thrive on self pity, relishing in the attention our loss has brought, and refusal to change the channel.
The barrage of protests against you over recent weeks for your illiterate depictions of the bereaved is unfortunately well earned. Some have demanded an apology, but I forgive you your trespasses against me and millions of others. I forgive you for judging something you have never experienced, for you are human too. But repeatedly throwing the wounded to the lions is truly ignorant.
American psychologist Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”
Pastor Osteen, I pray you’ll never find out.
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