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Seven-Day Practical Faith Blog: The Role of the Circle of Support

The grandson stood up to speak at the joint memorial service for his grandparents, who had died within days of each other. Without a father in his life, these grandparents had gotten deeply involved in the man's life to help raise him.

At the memorial, the grandson thanked the attendees who were friends with his grandparents. He said, "It takes a village to raise a child. It doesn't mean the village is always directly involved. By supporting my grandparents, you enabled them to support me."

This moment inspired me to present to you an idea that is not my own, proposed more than a decade ago, yet you might not have heard about it. It's a grief support model called Circles of Support, based on Ring Theory by psychologist Susan Silk and husband Barry Goldman.

Let's use the example of a widow who has lost her husband. She is in the center of the circle. Around her in the next ring might be other family members, including siblings of her husband. Close friends and other family members might be in that ring or farther out. From there might be work colleagues or others that knew the family, but the outer rings also include people who are friends of the family or friends of the friends.

The basic rule of this arrangement is that you support inward, and seek support outward. Let's take the case of the sister of the husband. (I understand you could argue that she is in the most inner circle herself, but I'm only placing the widow there). The sister's job is to support the widow in her grief. However, the sister obviously has her own grief to deal with. The idea is to not lay her grief onto the widow. She can't let her own needs impede on what the widow needs.

The sister doesn't find her support in the widow, but in a circle farther out; perhaps from her best friend. She leans on her best friend to help her through this time.

Supporting the sister may be taxing on the best friend. She can't complain about this to the sister, so where does this best friend find the energy and replenishment to help the sister? She turns farther outward to her parents, another friend or sibling, a therapist, or so on.

It's tempting to be all things to everybody all the time. The widow may feel obligated to address the feelings of the sister and others. But aside from, say, her young children if she has any, she does not have that obligation on this occasion. She can tend to her own needs and seek help from others.

Oh, don't worry. The widow will eventually get her turn to help others, right? Crisis comes to everyone. There will be a crisis where the widow can support inward to the sister and extend outward to find her own support.

This is how we find community. The church is one such necessary community; a congregation, a small group, pastors, and others can provide the support we need from other people.

Ultimately, we are putting our faith into practice by helping others and by seeking help from God and other people. We are the village that it takes to aid the one in need. We also allow others to be kind by accepting their kindness when we need it most.

Would you be interested in a book that has not only informed and inspired individuals in crisis, but has enabled chaplains and counselors to help others in their practices? I wrote a book on personal crisis management called "The Next Thing: A Christian Model for Dealing with Crisis in Personal Life," a finalist for the 2024 Christian Indie Award. Crisis comes to everyone; prepare for your next crisis by reading this book. You can find it at or at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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