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If you love, you experience loss. 

Looking back over the last few years, who or what have you lost? A loved one, a friendship, a relationship, a pet, a job, your health, your community? Something else? 

Have you had time to reflect on and grieve your losses and find meaning and sense in all you experienced? 

And how do you talk about your losses with those around you, if at all?

We cannot engineer the experience of grief out of our lives, but many try, at a significant cost, to their well-being, their relationships, and their ability to function, connect, and lead.

Grief will always do its job regardless of our response to grief’s presence. And the more we try to avoid the heartbreak, mess, awkwardness, outrage, and vulnerability, the more we disconnect from our humanity and those around us.  

So, the question for us is: How will we respond when grief comes knocking in our personal lives, work, and world? 

Joon ‘J.S.’ Park is a hospital chaplain, former atheist/agnostic, sixth-degree black belt, suicide survivor, and Korean-American, a person of faith and valuer of all. 

He is the author of As Long As You Need: Permission to Grieve, part hospital chaplain experience and memoir, and The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise.

J.S. currently serves at a top-ranked, 1,000+ bed hospital and was a chaplain for three years at one of the largest nonprofit charities for the unhoused on the East Coast.

Content note: This conversation covers topics around sexual abuse, suicide, and experiences of racism. Joon’s message and heart feel healing and gracious as he shares some tender issues. But please take care of yourself as you move through this beautiful conversation.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • The physical toll of unacknowledged accumulated grief that J.S. took on through his chaplaincy training
  • How contending with pervasive and severe suffering daily challenged and reshaped J.S.’s faith
  • How he began to grapple with his experiences of abuse, racism and internalized shame
  • Why we need to learn to engage with a range of grief and validate our responses to it to heal
  • What we can learn about others when they use clichés and platitudes in response to grief
  • How working closely with grief has changed J.S.’s concept of what it means to be successful 

Learn more about J.S. Park:

Learn more about Rebecca:



[Inspirational Intro Music]

JS Park: I think that after the fact, in the aftermath and wreckage of this awful loss that has happened in the vacuum of it, in the abyss of it, it is possible that healing or even just a little sapling can be found. It’s possible, and that’s on everybody’s own tempo and timetable, their own pace. So I think it’s not that God did this to you or the universe did this to you. It’s that loss is terrible. It is unfair. Life can collapse and open up this hole in the ground, seemingly at any moment, and my hope is that it’s the in the middle of it that there may be something that is found.

Rebecca Ching: I’m curious. What are you grieving right now? Looking back over the last few years, who or what have you lost? A loved one, a friendship, a relationship, a pet, a job, your health, your community, something else? Have you had time to reflect on and grieve your losses and maybe find some sense of meaning in it all? And how do you talk about your losses with those around you, if at all?

Now, I say this on repeat. Our relationship with grief impacts how we lead and love. Now, the conversation around grief is having a moment right now, which I love and deeply value, and I want to note, yes, an intellectual understanding of grief moves us a step closer to redefining our relationship with grief. Yet this intellectual understanding of grief cannot inoculate us from the devastation, the shock, and the power that all kinds of grief and loss can have and how it upends our lives. Grief will always do its job regardless of our response to grief’s presence. It does not discriminate, and it sure as heck does not let anyone off the hook of its impact. So the call-in for us is how will we respond when grief comes knocking, often on repeat in our personal lives, at work, and in our world?


I’m Rebecca Ching, and you’re listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

If you love, you experience loss. We cannot engineer the experience of grief out of our lives but many try, and at a great cost to their wellbeing, their relationships, and their ability to function, connect, and lead. In the US, we do not grieve or respond well to its presence, so we try to numb our grief through work and substances and avoiding and bypassing and rationalizing and minimizing. Grief needs to be witnessed and metabolized, or it will wreak havoc on your well being and life. Even when we face the waves of grief, it upends our lives and plans and expectations of how we should feel and show up. But grief will do its job, and the more that you try to avoid the heartbreak and the mess and the awkwardness and the outrage and the vulnerability of it all, the more we disconnect from our humanity and those around us.

Sure, grieving takes us off our game, and we feel out of control. It removes efficiency and flow and our focus from work and the things on our to-do list, and because we live and work in a culture that does not respect grief or grieving, we try to avoid being seen as weak or inept or as a burden. So it makes sense to me why we repel and try to control or hide grief when it shows up.


Now, I am so grateful for new conversations and important updates about grief and grieving in the clinical and research spaces along with culture at large, including how to move through it and how grief shows up over time. But we still have work to do in moving away from shame and pathologizing grief while better understanding the immense impact all kinds of grief and loss have on our physical and emotional well being, and not just death of a loved one. I see anecdotally when folks try to bypass or numb their grief experiences and silence their grief stories, they often end up feeling stuck and frozen in their grief, and loneliness only exacerbates an already painful experience.

The fancy diagnostics call grief beyond a year prolonged grief, and some call it complicated grief. Now, I get these titles, but they still feel a bit stigmatizing. And though I know different frameworks of grief help people understand what’s happening in their lived experience, it still continues to kind of reinforce this, “You’re still working through this?” which, to me, does not feel therapeutic, healing, or respectful but instead very othering. My clients teach me that the echoes of grief never go away. Grief’s always with you, and when our grief stories and experiences feel honored and witnessed, we create more health within us and around us.

Now, this is easier said than done because of how painful the grief experience can be and just how crappy we are in moving through grief, and we do not like pain in our culture or respond well to others that are in pain.


Dated beliefs about grief and grieving still pervade helping professions, personal and professional development spaces, and in our culture overall. We still struggle with validating ambiguous grief and loss like moving or loss of a job, an ending of something important, life stages like retirement or physical transitions like menopause. One of the dated beliefs that causes so much harm is the belief that you have one year to grieve, and if you’re not over it, you’re not healing well.

I first heard this message explicitly — I think it’s something that I always kind of felt my whole life, but I first heard it explicitly when I was working in Switzerland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I know, I know. It was a rough gig. For four years I worked with a nonprofit youth organization, and I worked with expat teenagers and their families. This job changed my life and the experiences still influence me to this day. If you get me talking about the stories of the kids I had the honor to support, walk with, and all the adventures I had, I’ll lose track of time and probably bore you, but I’ll delay that.

Many of my experiences fall into the once-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences, and living in Switzerland sure made that easy. And there were definitely a handful of experiences that broke my heart open in a way that permanently changed me, as grief does. One of these experiences takes me back to, I’m remembering a group of kids I worked with, and they had a band. They played incredible covers of bands like Beck and Radiohead. Whenever I hear “Sweet Home Alabama” I think of these young men that, gosh, are now adults and dads and it’s wild.


One of the kids in the band went back to The States during my time overseas when I was working there. He went back home. He was from America and he had a personal visit, some business with his dad, and during this time when he was back in The States, he was in a car accident and died. Now, his mom had stayed back in Switzerland with their daughter, and she found out the news while we were all at one of the international high schools for a Friday night performance. I saw her across the room as we gathered before entering the auditorium for the performance. It was crowded and warm, springtime. But she caught my eye across the room. She looked frozen, awed, was moving weird, her skin had lost all color, so I walked up to her and asked her if she was okay. She shared she’d just received a call from her husband that her son died, and then she asked me for some water.

Now, my brain exploded with all the thoughts and feelings, feeling shock about the loss of a young life, worried about her, her family, her son’s friends who I was close with, and I really don’t remember anything I said, but I felt conflicted about leaving her. Part of me was like, “She wants water. Get water but don’t leave her alone right now.” It felt like leaving someone hanging off a cliff by themselves. Yeah, it just didn’t feel okay, and she kept saying, “I need water,” so as news started to spread, other parents came up to her, and so, I went to get her to the water, and shortly after, we were ushered into this space where we watched students perform. And she wanted to go in there. She was sitting down the aisle from me, and it felt weird like she was just in shock. Yeah, it was just a really wild, awkward, moving, surreal moment. She was shocked, and she stayed and honored her son’s friends who were performing.

And as this tragic loss, kind of the days went on and the news of it moved throughout our small and connected expat community, I listened to pastors address it in their messages and counsel.


I remember walking with one who, at the time, was a mentor, and he said emphatically, “You have one year to grieve your losses, and then you just need to move on. Anything after that requires therapy interventions.” And this message was loud and clear. [Laughs] Grieving longer than 12 months was not okay, and it made you sick, and you would need help since you couldn’t do it on your own, and that was a bad thing. That’s the message I got.

As I connected with the kids and their families, many didn’t want to talk about it, and I started seeing kind of this explicit and implicit kind of belief and vibe move through everybody. I mean, “I want to check in. How’s everyone doing?” Parents were concerned I could prolong the healing process if I kept bringing it up. I mean, sure, I get it, They were worried about their kids. But I persisted with my check-in conversions one-on-one and in small groups, and, really, the kids didn’t want to talk about it. Some a little bit more. They’d have moments and then start to open up and feel and share, and then they’d clam up. They didn’t want to shut down about the loss of their friend but what they were feeling. My sense is they were scared that if they didn’t stuff their pain down deeply they would be consumed by it or be seen as a problem or a burden.

I’ve found myself struggling to process my own experience of this loss too. It was one thing connecting with others, and they were not really wanting to talk about it, and I didn’t really have anyone to talk about this either. The expectations were for me to keep it together, to be the example, to be the model of health, whatever that is. I think most of us of a certain age were taught a concept of healthy grieving that was far from healthy, right?


And I’m grateful, so grateful, I know now that grief always stays with you, and if you’ve worked with me or you know me, this is a topic near and dear to me, and I know also there’s no time limit on grieving. In fact, we can take as long as we need, which is like this huge permission slip. It’s also the title of the latest book from my friend, chaplain, and this episode’s Unburdened Leader guest, which I am so excited that he came back to the show!

Jun or often known as JS Park, he’s a hospital chaplain, he’s a former atheist, agnostic, six-degree black belt, suicide survivor, Korean American, person of faith, and valuer of all. He is the author of the new book As Long As You Need: Permission to Grieve, which is part hospital chaplain experience and part memoir and was published by W Publishing and HarperCollins Christian Publishing. He’s also the author of The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise.

JS currently works at a 1000+ bed hospital at one of the top-ranked hospitals in the nation. He was also a chaplain for three years at one of the largest nonprofit charities for the homeless on the East Coast. Jun is a prolific writer and often a bright spot on social media bringing humanity and connection to a space that often does the opposite. So make sure you check him out and follow him.


In our conversation, I want you to listen for when Jun shared his experience with a fellow chaplain during a training, and he was talking about a traumatic experience he had and the response from his fellow colleague. It’s a powerful one. Get your Kleenex. I encourage you to pay attention to when Jun offers the choices we make when we encounter grief, and he digs into that a little bit deeper with some beautiful complexity and nuance. And notice when Jun talks about the power of naming your grief and how it helps with some semblance of sense making.

Now, I just want to offer a content warning. This conversation covers topics around sexual abuse, suicide, and experiences of racism. Jun’s message and heart feel so healing and gracious as he shares some really tender topics. Please take care of yourself as you move through this beautiful conversation. Now, y’all, please welcome Jun Park back to The Unburdened Leader podcast!

Jun, welcome back to the show, and thank you for coming back to the show again!

JS Park: [Laughs] Rebecca, I am so glad and grateful to be here. Before you hit record, I have to let everybody know, I have to brag on you a little bit because you reached out to me in the beginning of 2020. We’ve talked several times since, and you’ve just been this constant presence of kindness. Your messages, audio, text messages, just your encouragement. I mean, you believed in our work from the very beginning. This was when nobody was reading my stuff (not that that matters, right?), but you were interested and supportive and kind, and you just wanted to support me and what I was doing. I have felt that encouragement ever since.


You know, there are some folks where I know that they’re doing their hustle and stuff where they may interview me and I’ll never hear from them again, and that is 100% okay. But you have been just one of those people that has stayed within orbit and that I’m glad to talk to, and I don’t always reply as quickly as I’d like to you, but I read and reread all your messages. And I’ve got to say up front there are two things that you said to me. You talked about  COVID reinfection rates or there’s some kind of science you said in the very beginning of the pandemic that you almost had this prophecy about it, looking at the research too. But it came true, what you said. 

Rebecca Ching: Oh, jeeze.

JS Park: I’ve gotta go back. Yeah, I’ve gotta go back and read that message because I was just rereading our Instagram messages before this interview and our old emails. And then there was another thing you said about Nationalism and QAnon. I think it was before January sixth occurred. You had some sort of prediction about how that was going to just blow up beyond control, beyond our social management and just the way that you predicted that, I remember thinking, “Can it really get that bad?” But you called it. You were spot on. I think you mentally sort of prepared me.

Rebecca Ching: Jeeze.

JS Park: No, I mean, I remember at work seeing that, and we all had this virtual meeting at work because there was so much grief about what we were seeing in the news that day. And so, that week we had a meeting, and I remember in the back of my mind, maybe in the middle of my mind, just thinking, “Man, Rebecca called it,” and I was almost like mentally and emotionally surprised but not surprised that it happened, and I just remember your words about, “This is gonna be a problem.”

Rebecca, I’m not kidding when I say you’re a prophet for our times. You just called it and called it and called it.


Rebecca Ching: I don’t — that’s a heady, heady moniker to say. I would say I call it just emotional math. I add up the emotional math. I’m always just looking because I’m far from a cynic. I’m a very glass-is-half-full person, but I have parts of me that are very realistic and just look at the math, and I appreciate you over the years too in your steadfastness, showing up, especially in the online space where, I mean, it’s its own cesspool, but you really are bringing some important, necessary humanity to so many of us, and I’m just so grateful more people are getting exposed to your work, and I want to shift to talking about your new book because this is why you’re coming back here.

I was telling you before we started recording how I’ve been reading it and just bawling my eyes out. My husband would be like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Yes, I’m just reading Jun’s book,” and he’s like, “Oh, okay?” “You know, it’s so good! It’s so hard.” And he’s like, “Do you need a break?” I’m like, “I don’t know, but I’m gonna keep going.” [Laughs]

JS Park: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: And so, you have a gift. I think you have something that’s really sadly rare, but to be able to convey who you are in the moment, and when people are just resonating with that. But when you talk about grief and loss in your own life and weaving it in with your work as a chaplain, I really just do think this book is going to be so resonantive, and it is what we need right now. There were so many questions. I had the hardest time narrowing down my questions. That’s why I got them to you so late. Normally, I try to get things to my guests early, and I just could not narrow this down.

You write in your book, As Long As You Need, that, “Grief is always a voice that needs to speak.” That took my breath away when I read that. And you added, “If you suppress it, it still speaks but not always in ways that are healthy, not in the way you need.”


And this is powerful. You said, “It pushes through your skin like splinters.” I just want to let that breathe, because that is — if you don’t let grief do what it needs to do, it’s gonna do what it wants to do however it wants. When you were really struggling with a lot of physical and emotional health issues in your work, and you had a doctor tell you that seeing pain was causing you pain.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: So I want you to take me back to that moment on how you were feeling when your doctor said that to you and share what was going on with you physically, emotionally, and spiritually as a result of all the cumulative grief that you were seeing and experiencing.

JS Park: Yeah, what a great question. You know, in the chaplain training which is like a year and a half, the six-month internship, the year-long residency, they train us and prep us about the literal physical and even chemical changes that we’re gonna go through in catching cumulative grief, vicarious grief. But it’s sort of like being told about what parenting is like before you have a child, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Totally.

JS Park: Yeah, or being told, “This is how you change a tire,” but then when you’re on the side of the road, cars whizzing past, and you have a flat, it’s, of course, a completely different visceral experience.

So when I got to that point, I think I didn’t consciously catch up to what I was seeing was doing to me. I didn’t know how much my body had gone though through residency. I think in the book I say it was about seven months in when finally it really, really started to catch up. I think my initial response, like maybe most people would respond, is it hurts. I think it’s one of those where I knew it was happening but I kind of wanted to deny it a little bit. I wonder if this is a thing that all caregivers or care providers experience where we know that something is happening in our bodies as we start giving care, and at the same time, it’s just like there’s something about I am in this role where I’m giving and giving and giving.


So when we’re told about selfcare or told, “Hey, your body’s falling apart,” maybe there’s — I don’t know if it’s the deep well of compassion slash there’s almost like a burden, like a holy burden, or there’s this imperative and maybe a dash of ego where it’s kind of like I have to keep going anyway, or this is the badge that I am now wearing that gives me credibility in the work that I’m doing.

Rebecca Ching: We do push through grief. I really do want you to talk about, though, what were all the physical symptoms, the emotional symptoms, the impact on your own spiritual well being. Can you bring us back to that specifically what was going on at that point on the other side of your chaplain residency? The reason why I think it’s so important to name that is we bypass and override until our body is screaming.

JS Park: So true.

Rebecca Ching: And so, I’d love for you to share what the impact of the seeing the pain but not processing and metabolizing it, how that was causing you pain. What was showing up? 

JS Park: Yeah, you’re so right. It’s a whole-body response, you know? Because even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it, I think physically I was having chest pains, in fact, right under my heart, directly under it. And those chest pains were so painful it was debilitating, you know? You know how they have the pain scale, which I know has been challenged, but if I could give a numerical scale to it, there were some days it was like a nine. I mean, it was so bad I was doubling over.


In the time that I’ve worked as a chaplain, the last almost nine years now, I’ve collapsed twice. Now, some of that was from not eating on time, low blood pressure. Both those times were in the beginning of chaplaincy.

Rebecca Ching: You were just pushing through? You were just running from patient to patient, to crisis to bedside, and your self-care was the last on the list is what —

JS Park: Yeah, and my baseline is self-care was already not good, you know?

Rebecca Ching: What do you mean by that?

JS Park: I think I didn’t have a healthy understanding of what self-care is when I entered into chaplaincy. I think my ethic was you just keep going, and I think I had maybe a Christian slash unhealthy Eastern ethic about the work that I do is my fuel.

Rebecca Ching: Mm.

JS Park: And that is an unhealthy, vicious loop to get into.

Rebecca Ching: Right. Very.

JS Park: Yeah, it’s almost — yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Been there. Still struggle with it, yes.

JS Park: Still, yeah. It’s almost like a wheel spinning, and if I stop then I don’t exist anymore. The work that I do and the care that I provide is somehow the fuel that I need to keep going. That’s something that all, I think, care providers (because we care) can get caught into.

I was also having almost it felt like panic attacks but underneath the surface, almost these mini panic attacks slash anxiety attacks constantly because I was questioning meaning. I was questioning the severity of suffering that I was seeing. Is God really in these rooms? And so, physically, it felt like my arteries were just filled with electric and gasoline. It always felt like I was on fire. Again, these were things that I wanted to deny or didn’t acknowledge. Rebecca, you ever been in the situation where you’re in the car and you see a couple of those lights that come on, or you hear something in the engine and maybe you just hum a little bit louder or you turn the music up and you keep going?


Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Relatable, relatable. Yeah.

JS Park: Yeah, that works for us not only in the ways that we see tragedy globally, just turning the music up, but also how we see ourselves internally. And I think not acknowledging those physical symptoms of course is only gonna make things worse and worse until I finally go in and get checked, until I finally did go in.

So yeah, I think the main thing that I would say is that physically I was literally taking on the pain of my patients, feeling it in my chest, feeling it in my veins, in my skin, not being able to sleep. And I’ve found ways now to manage that. It’s not something that ever really goes away. When you sit with grief and with pain, especially if you’re a first responder, mental health professional, any of those kinds of roles, that’s not something that you can easily just self-care your way out of.

Rebecca Ching: No, the echoes of those experiences are burned in our nervous system, and it’s so imperative that we know where we end and the other person begins and that our empathy doesn’t bleed into their stuff to the point where we lose our sense of self in that process, and it’s so, so hard to do. It’s so hard to do.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: But that kind of pain, I think that’s part of being human. It stirs us. It moves us.

You’re a person of deep faith, and you wrote about how this work broke your faith and rewired it as a result of this cumulative grief experience too. Can you say more about that?


JS Park: Yeah, you know, I grew up an Atheist, became a Christian, as they say, much later in life. And then when I got to the hospital and saw the degree of suffering, it wasn’t suffering itself but the degree of suffering, the extremity and extent of it, the faith that I had learned couldn’t survive the awfulness and horror of the suffering that I was seeing.

Rebecca Ching: What was the faith that you learned that couldn’t sustain what you were seeing and witnessing?

JS Park: I think most of all — and maybe this is wishful thinking, but I really had thought and had learned that God is active in all situations somehow, whether that’s God hears our prayers and our prayers can affect how God orchestrates a situation. It could be that God can’t give us more than we can handle, and there’s a little part of me that held onto that. Some people might say, “Well, that’s not good theology,” or “That’s just wishful thinking,” or “You shouldn’t have learned that in the first place,” and I think to some extent that’s true, but I really had this desperate longing that a situation can’t really get so bad or that somehow God will do something. And then I started to see — like I see nurses and physicians do things, machines do stuff, but what does God do? Tragedy comes in threes. I’ve heard that somewhere, and tragedy can come in thirty-threes, it can come in three-hundreds. Tragedy can be endless.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

JS Park: And so, when I started seeing how suffering almost seemed haphazard, random, it could pick who it wants.

Rebecca Ching: Yep.


JS Park: It’s almost like the clouds parted, and if there was a God, to me, it seemed like God is abusive and malicious and somehow gets pleasure from this or just doesn’t care. And so, my faith started to break apart, and then I was wondering what kind of theology could I even share with my patient who is suffering, and every time I saw a patient who their own faith was deteriorating, disintegrating, it made 100% sense to me. I would be upset too. I would be outraged too.

I think, to answer your question, the theology that I had probably worked in an airconditioned room in ideal situations, you know? It probably worked when I can count the amount of blessing and privilege that I had, but when I saw patients losing their autonomy, suffering chronic pain, in accidents that seemed completely random, I just couldn’t believe in a God that was good or even heard us or did anything active in those rooms.

I know that’s very stark, right?

Rebecca Ching: Well, it sounds like a — and these are my words — but it was like a Pollyanna, tidy faith and worldview got shattered by this cumulative grief and what’s been rebuilt for you as you continue to sit with people going through a lot of suffering day in and day out.

JS Park: Yeah, and, you know, I think in the book, in chapter two I talk about my loss of faith and how I came back sort of, but to quote you, that Pollyanna part I think had to go, the sugary clichés and things like that. But what was harder for me was underneath is actually believing that there is a good God at the center of this because the sugary clichés and the theological platitudes we hear, a lot of those can be demonstrably false, and we can see through them, and they don’t hold so in their suffering, you know? “Oh, God’ refining you through the fire,” or “Everything happens for a reason,” those kinds of things, you know, or “If you just pray hard enough, if you just read enough Bible,” etcetera etcetera.


So that kind of sugary layer, that probably was a good thing that went pretty quickly for me. But this other idea that there is a good God that I can trust. In the book I wrote, “It felt less like I lost my religion and more like my trust in this person was broken.” That’s the thing that I still struggle with to this day. Is there goodness at the center of the universe? Is there this inalterable love that really cares for us? And that’s the part that I still struggle with, and it’s one of those things where it’s so hard to believe in a goodness at the center of this universe and then some days it’s harder not to believe that. And some days I got back and forth on it.

Rebecca Ching: That sounds about right. that sounds about right because if we just look it’s like looking into the sun.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You get burned. Going back to this quote that I read at the very beginning of our conversation, how grief is a voice that needs to speak, and if you suppress it, it still speaks but not in ways that are healthy. What grief and losses were you not giving voice to that led to you experiencing so much pain?

JS Park: Yeah, you know, personally, I’ve said to you before, Rebecca, and I’m pretty sure I’ve shared this with you before, but I did experience a lot of childhood trauma and abuse growing up. And I think that grief, I don’t think I’ve acknowledged it maybe even all the way until my chaplaincy. I might have written in both books (and I know I’ve written online) there was a moment when my supervisor, after I shared in my group about some kind of traumatic, abusive thing that happened to me in my childhood with my parents, one of the supervisors looked at me and said, “You know what happened to you was not okay, right?”


And I tried to laugh it off, and I think this is a thing, especially with children of immigrants, where we think maybe discipline, which is really domestic abuse, was like a badge of credibility growing up. Like, “Oh, you went through it? I went through it too,” and we can laugh about it and talk about it. But I don’t think I knew how deeply it cost me as a person, how deeply it cost my own self-regard and self-worth. As my supervisor kept saying that, I kept saying, “No, no. It’s okay. You know, we all go through that, right? It’s all the same stuff that kids go through.” And she said, “What happened to you was not okay,” and that was Alicia. I remember she just kept saying that, and she kept saying it, and tears were running down my face. I was still smiling, Rebecca, but my body could not lie. And I soon had to encounter that loss, the loss of that child me, that childhood.

That was one of the griefs that I needed to eventually speak out loud and say, It’s true. What happened to me was not okay,” and I lost a lot of playfulness. I lost a lot of my innocence, as they say, childhood innocence. I lost a lot of that inner me. I was a whole person before the world entered in, you know? We see our kids, and we just see the unrestrained joy, you know? But then losing trust, having adult figures hurt you and punish you and then bigotry, all of that just takes and takes from us.

So those were things I really had to grapple with. I would say the other thing, Rebecca, real quickly, is that I had internalized a lot of racism. I grew up in Florida, and so, I spent a long time, in fact, hating my own Korean-ness, and in fact, sometimes I prayed to God that I wished I was white.


I didn’t really come to grapple with my own Asian Easternness and to embrace it. I’m embarrassed to say this almost but probably not until my first year of chaplaincy when my supervisor at the time, Waleska (God bless her), she asked me, “What parts of you did you have to hide in order to survive?”

Rebecca Ching: Wow.

JS Park: And that was the first time somebody ever asked me like that because she said, “I notice that there’s this Asian part of you, this Eastern part of you, and every time you talk about it, you talk about it with shame.” And I really did. There’s something about shame about my immigrant parents, shame about all the ways in which I was shunned by other Korean people who thought, “Oh, he’s too American,” and then shunned by white folks who thought, “Oh, you’re too Asian,” you know, and not being able to find home.

There’s that Korean-American band. They had an original name. Their name now is Run River North, but their original name was Monsters Calling Home, because the lead singer said, “Every time I called home to Korea, I felt like a monster calling home,” you know? And that name really resonated because it’s like, “Do I have a home either way?”

And that was a grief that I had to also encounter and embrace and to kind of reconnect with my heritage and my own Koreanness. I can say now, more than ever, I’m proud to inhabit both worlds, to have the Korean Americanness, and it doesn’t make me less. I don’t think it splits me in half. I think it makes me more.

Rebecca Ching: A hundred percent. You know, the cultural burden of racism, the insidious aspect of it, too, is when we turn on ourselves — sexism, all of it. The best part, the parts that make us us, we have to despise. Healing from those lies is its own windy path. I’m listening to you talk and thinking again about grief needs to speak, and I’m hard-pressed to find a person that’s just like, “Hey, grief. What do you want to tell me? Sure, I’ll feel through this.”


It’s the reflex to push it away, to shut down, and yet — and I say this a lot on the show and with folks I work with — I find that grief, as painful as it is, it is one of the most clarifying emotions out there. It makes it so clear what’s okay, what’s not okay, what matters, what doesn’t. My sense in this book, it feels like a painful liberation through grief and a painful clarifying through grief.

You know, you write about being liberated from your own pains, even before you became a chaplain, but a burden in ineffective theology, toxic positivity, grind culture, and the reflex to make sure everything’s all tidy. And I’m wondering what is grief, additionally to kind of continue what you were just saying — how has that liberated you, and what has grief clarified for you? Yeah, I’d love for you to share a little bit more about that.

JS Park: Yeah, I think grief is a gift that no one wants, and gift is a very strong word to use.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

JS Park: I think it’s not something that I would ever wish on anyone.

Rebecca Ching: No.

JS Park: And loss also is inevitable, and loss is coming for us all, you know? We’re headed towards this rift in the ground, and when someone dies or when there is loss, there is just this curtain of the ocean that’s pulled over it and that loss is irretrievable, and that’s terrifying.


From that loss, our response to it is grief, and I think, really, our two options — and when I say two options, you know, we run a range of where to run to in that. So it’s not a binary thing, but what I’ve seen that we lean towards (the two options) is we can avoid that grief completely and not acknowledge our body’s response to loss, or we can in some way, I hate to say the word embrace, but maybe at the very least encounter that grief and look at it in the face very honestly.

Rebecca Ching: Witness it. Just even witness it, yeah.

JS Park: Witness it, yeah. And say that my rage — you know, because I’ve noticed a lot of people with grief, rage and anger is a big response. The sadness makes sense. This feeling of hollowness, this feeling of numbness, fatigue, cognitive fog. This feeling of, “I just want to shake back and forth.” This feeling of, “I’m so mad at everyone because my world has stopped and somehow their world keeps spinning.” All of that. Not necessarily embracing it or saying that that’s okay, but encountering it and recognizing that these responses, let’s name them and let’s validate them. They make sense. Then in turn maybe there’s a way we can even honor those responses and somehow, not the best word that I found, but ritualize them. Whether that’s in Korean tradition we have our death days every year where we honor our ancestors on the day that they’ve died. Every other culture in the world, whether it’s Día de los Muertos or the one group where they exhume their ancestors every summer and have tea with them, there’s one culture where they do literally like a Viking funeral pyre for their dead. There are all these cultures that have death engagement and do take their grief and honor it and encounter it fully.


The Western Euro-centric version of grief is one of the only ones where there is not a direct death engagement, and even in the old west, the old wild west, they would prop up their dead family members for pictures, and pictures took a long time, but they would dress them up and everything. And you can find these pictures I think from the 1800s. So something shifted. Something happened where it was death is too macabre. Grief is something we don’t talk about. Loss, we don’t need to worry about it. Let’s move on. Let’s get back into the grind, the hustle, the institution.

To answer your question, I think grief can be, in its own way, again, a very strong word, a gift. It’s a gift no one wants, but the choice that we have is do we avoid it altogether and suppress it and deny it (and we’ve seen where that gets us), or do we encounter it in the way that we need.

Rebecca Ching: I guess to me, again this is the emotional math, we can’t avoid it. Grief is gonna grief. It’s just are we gonna try and fight it and it’s gonna kick our ass and level us. But it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. Our relationship with it I think is so reflective to, I mean, everything. Because whether it’s working with my clinical clients or my leadership clients, how they manage and work their relationship with grief is indicative on how they lead themselves and lead others. It’s indicative on their healing process and their commitments to themselves and to others. If they are trying to bypass, shutdown, override, minimize grief, it is absolutely a marker of how much more complicated what they want to heal from or what they want to change will be, to me, at least. It’s such a pillar to me of unburdened leadership. How do we befriend grief without feeling like it’s — you know, because I think there’s this sense that we’ve failed if we’re feeling bad in our culture.


You are doing something wrong if you are not a shiny, happy person all the time, and I feel like we’re waking up to that to an extent. Maybe that’s just the people I’m around, but there’s still this pressure of, “Oh, that isn’t professional,” or “I can’t deal with that now. I’ve got to take care of fill-in-the-blank,” which are all real needs that have to happen. But eventually, you literally collapsed, and I see that too with the people I work with. It takes them literally collapsing to go, “You know, something’s up. Something’s a little off.”

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And honestly, when I assess for the relationship with some kind of grief, whether it’s of significant individuals in their lives or more ambiguous types of grief and loss, it inevitably comes down to trying to avoid that exquisitely painful yet clarifying feeling and not realizing how liberating it can be even in the pain.

Would you agree that grief liberates you? Is that too hyperbolic to say that, or what would you say if that doesn’t land with you?

JS Park: Yeah, maybe there are people who theologically what works for them is to be able to say, “Well, this tragedy, you’ll find a lesson or something hard is happening because you’re gonna –,” you know, that kind of thing.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

JS Park: And for me it’s like I know that that theology can be helpful for some people. But what I’ve found is that I don’t think God wills tragedy or that the universe hates you and that’s why this is happening. I think that after the fact, in the aftermath and wreckage of this awful loss that has happened and the vacuum of it and the abyss of it, it is possible that healing or even just a little sapling can be found. It’s possible, and that’s on everybody’s own tempo and timetable, their own pace.


So I think it’s not that God did this to you or the universe did this to you. It’s that loss is terrible. It is unfair. Life can collapse and open up this hole in the ground, seemingly at any moment, and my hope is that in the middle of it, there may be something that is found. Some people may learn something new. Some people may just learn that life is unfair and this sucks, and that’s the takeaway, and this is the rage of that. 

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

JS Park: Yeah, that’s probably how I would word that maybe.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and I’m thinking this through. My relationship with grief, for me, has liberated me from living a zombie life and to really understanding the superwoman BS. There’s the scripture, “Not by might, not by power. By the spirit, says The Lord.” You know, I am going to just — some of this stuff with just powering over, pushing through, I think my relationship with grief has liberated me from beliefs and ways of doing life that were doing harm to myself and others. So that’s my update to that as I listen to you. So thank you.

JS Park: Yeah, you know, because I’ve seen how grief can tear people apart and can also be hijacked, unfortunately —

Rebecca Ching: Yes.


JS Park: — into abuse and destructive things. And I’ve seen how leaders can take grief and transform it into a very monstrous motivation for something. And is it liberating? I think sometimes, yes, it absolutely has a potential to be liberating. And I’ve also seen how grief can sometimes just become this overwhelming shadow over our lives and can really pull us into deep pits of despair.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

JS Park: So my hope is that for those folks, for those of us who grief is complicated, layered with rage, that when an abuser dies, “They never saw justice.” There’s that grief too.

Rebecca Ching: Right.

JS Park: Or, “My grief was hijacked into this terrible thing that I actually now look back with soberness I never wanted,” you know? I hope that for those folks, and I’ve been there too, that there is presence, that there is community that comes together to share the burden of that when grief does tear us apart. But other times when someone dies, I’ve also seen gratitude or I’ve seen how grief is hard and it leaves people bitter. And so, grief runs this wide range of things, and so, I hate to put one word on it, but I think wherever grief needs us to go, I think, I hope, that we have community to lead us and guide us and help us through that to where it needs to take us.

Rebecca Ching: I’m grateful you address what I talk a lot about with clients, kind of these ambiguous losses. They’re not necessarily a loss of life but a loss of a dream, a loss of what never will be, a future that’s not gonna happen, and you wrote, “Bearing a future loss without telling its story can make you sick,” and again, there’s a theme here with what you’re writing about, the need to share our grief story and how we sometimes think, “Oh, gosh, it’s no big deal,” or “I’m making a bigger deal of it,” but how by suppressing that actually does harm to our bodies, to our wellbeing.


I’d love for you just to talk about how you define or what do you mean by a future loss and have you ever had a future loss that you’ve had to grieve?

JS Park: Yeah, you know, I’m sure everyone is tired about saying they’re tired of the pandemic. You know, yeah, because it’s been some years now, but I definitely saw a ton of future loss during the pandemic because people’s opportunities, wanting to gather together, having plans and dreams and hopes, they were all dashed all at the same time, seemingly. It was just this global vacuum of seeing all our hopes dashed in just that summer. That may be the most clear and vivid example of future loss. The plans that we had together, these things that we were gonna do just taken away.

With future loss, it doesn’t seem to register as real loss to people because it’s, “Oh, this is not something that’s happened yet,” and is there even a phrase — there has to be in some language maybe, I haven’t found it yet — to say, “I’m sorry for your future loss.” Is there a phrase for that? I mean, you know, when my wife and I — it’s been a year ago now almost to the day that my wife had a miscarriage, and there were some people who would say things like, “Well, at least you have one already.”

Rebecca Ching: Ooh.

JS Park: Or, “At least you have a kid already,” or “At least you can have kids,” or even I think one person may have said something like, “Well, it wasn’t a real baby anyway.”

So when they told us, pregnancy of unknown location is kind of the official term that they used.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, wow.


JS Park: Yeah, I just thought that describes a lot of our lost dreams, you know? And that it is a real loss. So there has to be a way that we can grieve, “Here are the plans that I had.” You know, when someone dies, a loved one passes, and there are all these future events that you would have hoped to have shared with them. It could be graduation. It could be marriage. It could be, “Oh, I want them to meet my child for the first time.” I never knew either of my grandfathers but sometimes I think about them and think, “How would they be with everything right now?” You know, “How would they have enjoyed all of this? How would they have loved to hold my daughter and my son?” These are real griefs. These are real losses. It’s intrapsychic grief. The loss of what could have been and can’t be.

Rebecca Ching: What will never be, yeah.

JS Park: What will never be, yeah, and there’s got to be a way to talk about that and to validate it. But I think the important thing, again going back to those two things naming and validating, is can we name those losses and then not shame them but validate them and say, “Hey, that’s a real loss. That’s a real, real loss.”

Rebecca Ching: So in light of what you just shared too, I can hear so many people say, “Oh, my gosh, Rebecca, JS is talking about the loss of a child. I had a miscarriage. I’m not gonna talk about or make a big deal the loss of this job I really wanted or the ending of this relationship or we didn’t get the house that we wanted or my kid’s mental health is impacting the dreams I had for what it would look like in our family. Oh, my gosh. That feels weird. That’s not a real loss.” What would you say to those objections?

JS Park: There is a kind of, I guess you could say, decision grief or opportunity grief that’s just as real as a loss, as any kind of loss.


I’ve had people tell me, “I’ve just had a breakup,” or “Someone just broke up with me, and I feel like I’m going crazy, and I also feel guilty for even feeling that because it’s just a breakup.” And what I’ll tell them is, “A breakup can be just as hurtful as a death because in some ways it is.”

Rebecca Ching: It is, absolutely.

JS Park: It is. You lose all the inside jokes. You lose the future of promised plans. You lose their presence. You lose their physical comfort. There are all these things that you lose. I hope that we don’t get into a comparative suffering Olympics, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Exactly.

JS Park: Yeah, and recognize that big losses, small losses, all of it’s valid. When you make a choice, you’re saying no to all these other choices. And when you say no to those other choices, there’s something in us that will always look at those kind of other shadow lives, those parallel universes and look at it with some kind of somberness or sadness or wistfulness, and then when we do make a choice and something goes wrong, we may look at those other choices and say, “Oh, there’s pain in not being able to choose that.”

Life goes one direction. We can’t go back, and time travel would be awesome. But in the life that we’ve chosen, we live daily with loss that occurs around the clock just by the virtue of living itself.

[Inspirational Music]

Rebecca Ching: Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy or loss can challenge your confidence and clarity and calm.

I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities and your own relationship with grief and loss during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action. Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing it safe and small.

Leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is both actionable and aligned.


So when the stakes are high and you don’t want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you, where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo.

To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!

[Inspirational Music]

Rebecca Ching: You wrote about the lie of letting go being “powered by the harmful myth that when we hold our losses closely we somehow do ourselves more harm,” and you continue, “There’s a sprinting to closure, not just with platitudes or bad theology, but by the urgent demand to get you back to top shape, to work mode, to hustle and grind, to happy smiles, all to quell everyone else’s own sense of inconvenience. And I’ve found that people who throw clichés and one-liners around are not always malicious but say those things to soothe everyone, including themselves.” This one really took my breath away. You said, “It’s an evacuation of despair.”


What are some of the common clichés — and you’ve touched on a few already — and bypassing phrases that you hear regularly around grief, and how do you respond to them when they come up?

JS Park: I’ve heard both church culture and pop culture use pretty similar phrases. So in church culture, of course, it’s a little bit baptized into God/theology/spirituality. But, you know, “God’s using this to teach you something. God’s refining you through the fire. God just needed another angel,” you know, or “Everything happens for a reason…” Which, when somebody tells me that, sometimes I’ll stop and say, “Oh, what reason is that,” you know? “Tell me specifically. Outline it for me.”

But then pop culture will also say, “Carry a bigger load to get a stronger spine,” or “This is for your good,” or “Oh, you’re so strong. You can do this! You can handle this.” So there are sort of these motivational, inspirational things, and I think what happens is I used to be outraged when people would say these platitudes. But I’ve gained a little bit more sympathy through the years at the hospital because I can see the pained look in people’s faces when they say these clichés and that they’re trying to help. There may be good intent behind those phrases. “I see this person struggling and miserable and has fallen down this hole of the irretrievable. I have to fill the silence with something.” And they’ll say maybe what the first thing that comes to mind is, something that they’ve heard. Often when I see them saying something like that, it’s really their own way to soothe themselves from their witnessing of this awful suffering that they’re seeing. Because when mortality leaps through the window and we’re faced with our own frailty, there’s an instinct and impulse to sew it up as quickly as possible, to look away. It’s hard to look mortality in the face and to realize this could also happen to me and one day will.


And so, when we see loss like that, there is this instant impulse, perhaps positive and with good motive, to try to soothe this person and in some way that projection is self-soothing. So I’ve gained a lot more sympathy for people who say those kinds of things, and at the same time, I guess I’m the guy who has to sort of peel back that veil a little bit because I know how unhealthy it can be to suppress and to deny. Yeah, those clichés, they’re not helpful, and I think sometimes I’ve met patients who, in the moment, it can be and that’s why I’m just not as hard on it as I used to be. But I know that in the long run, it’s not going to be helpful, and I just try to navigate that delicately and carefully because people, again, are saying those things — I can’t be hard on them. They’re saying those things because death, loss, it is terrifying. And how do we fill that silence? And then I’m also trying to — I’ll try to introduce ways, very subtly and directly, maybe different tools, a way to be able to navigate this loss and look it in the face directly without dancing around it.

And so, I’m the guy that tries to do that, and if possible, I’ll try to offer other things, even just saying, “You know, honestly, I feel sad seeing this,” or “Honestly, this really hurts me to see,” and just introducing those words. Sometimes, Rebecca, when I say those things, I’ll see the family jump in and say, “Oh, no, no, no we don’t talk like that here,” or “Oh, that’s too negative. We don’t want to speak that death into the air.” I’ll retreat a little bit, but maybe my patient or the person that needed to hear that, they’ll just [Sigh] be able to breathe out just a little bit, to be able to say, “Okay, I am seen now. Somebody is not talking over me. So how do I navigate all those dynamics and just introduce it as subtly and as gently as I can?


Rebecca Ching: Mm, you know, that’s a really powerful reframe for me because I do have parts of me that get very, very reactive around those platitudes, and now I have a lot more compassion when those platitudes come up, it’s a data point of someone’s capacity and comfort level with what’s going on, and while those platitudes can (I believe, and I think we’re on the same page) do a lot of harm when they’re super rigid and there’s not a tolerance, but to stay curious. For me to stay curious when those platitudes come up, to lean into it gently, but it’s a dance, right? And so, I really appreciate that.

I always ask my guests about success, too. I’m curious, how has your understanding of success changed since you were younger, and what does success mean to you today, especially in light of your grief work as a chaplain?

JS Park: Yeah, you know, I probably won’t give a very original response to this, but I think success for a long time was about numbers, grades, metrics, key performance indicators, something tangible, something I could hold onto. And whether the reward was money or it was somebody publicly acknowledging me with a trophy or my name somewhere — my parents and my family, they so much love when they see my name in the news or something like that, and those successes, I guess, are really cool, and I’m so glad for them, and they do mean something.


I don’t want to discount or dismiss them, you know? Because, “Hey, I was recognized,” or “Hey, I worked hard to get this grade,” or “Hey, I worked hard to achieve the outcome.” But I think tying up our inherent worth into outcomes like that, it’s very volatile and can fluctuate too easily, as we all know.

And so, it’s almost like I’m tying my umbilical cord to something that can fly away from me at any moment, and what I’ve learned through my patients, each patient that I saw, so many patients I saw, their worlds, their autonomy their capacity was irreversibly changed by illness, injury, crisis. There’s a before and after moment in their lives, and suddenly the thing that gave them worth and meaning, what they contributed, what they produced, it changes, and they’re no longer able to do the thing they were able to do before. Does that make them any less worthy or significant or any less value? Of course it doesn’t. Does that make them any less loved? It doesn’t, and they may subjectively feel like, “Now in society’s eyes because I can’t produce, because I will no longer be a pillar of society, because I can’t contribute the way I did, I’m not worthy or valued anymore.” But I think the way that I’ve now measured success is not in what we can produce, what we can contribute, not in our outcomes, but rather in the resolve of our convictions. And I think the way that we need to measure our outcomes has to be relocated and changed. And we adjust according to how life unfolds.

So I’ll give you an example about that. There was a family who was so desperate to have their loved one resuscitated and kept alive and thought all the measures could work, and for them what success meant was, “Full recovery, resuscitation every time. They’re gonna be okay, God’s god this. God’s hearing our prayers,” that sort of thing.


And one of our chaplains, Amy (God bless her because she’s an amazing chaplain), but I’ve learned so much from Amy. She did a lot of palliative care, and she would say this thing where she would say — she may not say this to the patient, but she would say to us, “How can we help to relocate hope? How can we adjust our hope for this?”

And for this family where they ended up relocating their idea of success is, “How can we make our loved one most comfortable in their last moments?” It went from full recovery, resuscitation to, “We just want them to be comfortable. Should we put ChapStick on them daily,” because their lips were so dry. “Should we read to them every day and play their favorite music? How many pillows can we give them? Let’s put a quilt on them with all our family’s faces. Let’s make this room as much as home as we can for them because maybe they can still hear, maybe they still can see everything around them.”

So they relocated their hope, and is that a consolation? Is that too easy? It isn’t easy. It’s never easy. But I’m always asking, as a situation changes, as life unfolds, as crisis enters, how do we adjust and relocate our idea of what success means, of what our outcome is, of our metrics and our measures, and to be able to say with conviction, “I’m resolved to believe that this is where I’m landing, and my worth is permanent. It doesn’t change based on this, but now I am going to decide in my own body this is what is successful and that’s my metric, that’s my measure.”


Rebecca Ching: Dang, preach! Oh, my gosh, yes. Relocate hope. I’m gonna be thinking about that for a while. That is success. Yeah, it moves us out of the binary, and it really is a dynamic lived experience. That is success too and making sure our worthiness is not tied up into these external metrics for sure. Gosh, that was so much wisdom. Thank you, JS.

I want to keep talking to you, but you have got places to be and people to care for. I have a feeling I may be asking you to come back again on the show. But I want to wrap up with something I think is a little bit more light hearted, some quickfire questions. Are you ready for them?

JS Park: Lightning round, let’s go!

Rebecca Ching: Lightning round, okay. What are you reading right now?

JS Park: I’m reading two books right now. I haven’t read a theology book in forever, but this one Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman. Howard Thurman was sort of the literary mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he’s written some brilliant things. He talks about God in a way that, to me, I can relate to and resonate with. But if there’s anything that anybody reads about from Howard Thurman, I would go and read his speech called The Sound of the Genuine, and it talks about reclaiming and finding our own voice. It’s a beautiful, beautiful speech that he gave. But he was like an inspirational mentor for Dr. Martin Luther King, and I think his quote, which is sort of what I’ve taken on as my own sort of faith anchor is he says, “What does religion and Jesus Christ have to say for the man with his back against the wall?” And I think that’s an important question to ask whatever faith that we are. What does your religion have to say with the person who’s in the back row with their back against the wall?

And then the other book I’m reading, I think it’s called What We Tell Ourselves [What We Kept to Ourselves] by Nancy Jooyou Kim. Shoutout to Nancy. I love fiction. I just started reading it. I read her other book before that. I think it’s called The Last Story of Mina Lee. She’s a fantastic writer, so I recommend her works to everybody.


Rebecca Ching: What song are you playing on repeat?

JS Park: [Laughs] “Brahms’ Lullaby” for my baby.

Rebecca Ching: Some white noise. [Laughs]

JS Park: Cocomelon, Daniel Tiger, all the hits, you know?

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

JS Park: The Bluey soundtrack.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, goodness.

JS Park: You know, I’ve been listening to a lot of lofi because that’s kind of my writing music, but there’s a Japanese movie from 2008 called Departures that if you ever want to know what it’s like to be a chaplain, watch that movie. It is incredible. It actually won the Oscar for international feature that year. We watched it originally in my chaplaincy in my training. A fantastic movie, but the soundtrack is by the one and only, my favorite composer Joe Hisaishi who does all the Studio Ghibli stuff. So he is fantastic.

Rebecca Ching: No way.

JS Park: Yeah, he did the soundtrack for that movie. The violin, the piano, everything about it is beautiful. It will have you crying in seconds, but that’s a great movie about death, about loss. So that soundtrack, I’ve been listening to it over and over.

Rebecca Ching: What is the best TV show or movie that you’ve seen recently? 

JS Park: I just started watching, based on everyone’s recommendation, Andor?

Rebecca Ching: So good.

JS Park: The Star Wars show. I’m on, like, episode five or six. I have to say it’s way better than I could have imagined. The dialogue, the depth, it’s great. I think it’s really, really good.

Rebecca Ching: I was lukewarm going into that with my husband and son, and I think I ended up being even more engaged than the two of them. [Laughs]

JS Park: For sure. 

Rebecca Ching: It was really good.

JS Park: So I’m a huge, huge fan of time travel. I will watch anything time travel. It’s my favorite genre, written and movie, and there’s this really cute, quirky movie I’ve watched, a Japanese film called Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes.


Rebecca Ching: Okay.

JS Park: It’s an hour-long movie, but this guy finds his webcam that can look two minutes into the future, and they rig it so that they can keep looking into the future, and the whole movie was shot in one take, so there’s no cuts.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, wow.

JS Park: And it’s an hour long of them basically hacking time to see into the future. It’s a fantastic, funny movie, and it’s about regrets and taking chances, and I love it. I love those quirky, little, unknown films.

Rebecca Ching: That sounds awesome.

JS Park: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: So I’m an eighties kid, so I always ask my guests what your favorite piece of eighties pop culture is, and if the eighties is not your jam, whatever genre is your jam. What’s your favorite piece of pop culture?

JS Park: [Laughs] Well, I think I was on the news recently, and they put up a picture of me from my childhood. I didn’t know that they would do this.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

JS Park: But I think it showed me with my mushroom cut —

Rebecca Ching: Nice, Oh, nice.

JS Park: — that every good Korean-American boy has had at some point in their life. And so, I’ve been rethinking as my son’s in the world, “What kind of haircut do I want to give him eventually.” But for some reason I’ve just been nostalgic about the mushroom cut. I’m like, “Should this come back?” [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Do we have an answer for that? I don’t know. I feel like that’s an obvious one, but I will trust you. I will trust you.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: We’ll see what your son wants. I mean, I’m partial to — it’s called the mullet, universally, but in Minnesota we call it hockey hair, you know, because it sticks out of your helmets. So when it comes to hairstyles I’m nostalgic for hockey hair always.

JS Park: Hockey hair. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now?

JS Park: My previous therapist who just retired, she taught me four-six-seven breathing, which is I inhale for four, hold it for six, breathe out for seven, and so, I’ve been finding myself counting that a lot.


Four-six-seven. So for anybody who’s listening, that’s been super helpful for me to center myself, and she’ll say as you do it, just focus on the numbers. You don’t have to think about anything else. Just count in four, hold for six, out for seven. And I notice when I do that a few times, I definitely feel more in my body. 

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, we stay online. We stay online in our executive functioning.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: What is an unpopular opinion that you hold?

JS Park: You know what, maybe what I shared in the podcast earlier about how when someone says those clichés and platitudes, I used to be so outraged, and now I’m just a little bit more sympathetic and empathic towards that. Even prosperity gospel I know gets a bad rap, and there are parts of it that are, of course, extremely harmful and toxic, but I don’t think I push back on it when my patients talk about it as much as I used to because there’s just something in the moment that if it helps my patient, and if it works for them it works for them. I’ll share a really super quick story.

I visited this patient, he and his family. They were watching this prosperity gospel preacher on their phone, and they stopped when they saw my chaplain badge, and, “Oh, chaplain, we asked for you and everything.” And then they turned the phone at me and said, “Hey, what do you think about this preacher? Everybody calls him a false teacher. Do you think this pastor is a bad guy?”

Rebecca Ching: No pressure!

JS Park: Yeah, and it was one of those preachers that I thought, “Oh, man, I hope you haven given any money to this guy,” you know, that kind of thing. I think he was talking about manifesting your destiny — manifesting your something. You know, “If you just think positive, then it’ll come true.”


And so, the phone was playing and they were asking me this, and I did the therapist thing. You know, “What do y’all think,” right?

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Yeah.

JS Park: “How do you feel about that?” And they said, “You know, this guy, we know that he’s just kind of fluffy, and he’s saying all this inspirational stuff,” and the patient had some terminal illness. And he said, “But every time we watch his sermons, we feel so much better after. Could he really be a false teacher?” And we got into this pretty deep discussion. And here’s what I noticed, Rebecca. I kept my answers pretty close to my chest. I didn’t just want to say what I really felt. I said some version of, “If it works for you, it works for you. That’s awesome.” But here’s what I noticed. This family huddled around the phone. I ended up watching the sermon with them, and you know what? It was a good sermon. It was very inspirational. It was so fluffy, but he was a great speaker, and what I noticed though is every time that pastor on the phone made a joke, this family would all look at each other and laugh, and I thought, “Yeah, they’re pretty aware that this is very fluffy, but it’s bringing them together.”

And so, maybe my unpopular opinion, as hard as it is, is I’ve become a little softer about that, about that sort of theology. That sort of theology has held up people of color for I want to say centuries even, at least for decades. And so, are there parts of it that are harmful? Of course, but are there parts of it that are life-giving? I think so.

Rebecca Ching: Thank you for that. Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and a better human?

JS Park: Oh, including you, Rebecca?

Rebecca Ching: Oh, jeeze. [Laughs]

JS Park: You ever get that answer? [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: No!

JS Park: I’m sure you get that answer.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Jeeze. No, for you, truly.

JS Park: Oh, my goodness. You ever go on those Twitter bios that are, “Faithful, Christian, husband, dad, pastor”? You know that sort of thing? So I’m gonna be one of those kinds of guys for just a second.


Rebecca Ching: Let’s bring it.

JS Park: Yeah, this is such a corny, cheesy answer.

Rebecca Ching: But it’s true.

JS Park: Hey, my wife inspires me. You know, she’s a nurse practitioner. She does incredible work. I see her literally producing food from her own body for our newborn, and how can I not be blown away by that, you know? And just the way that she kept working through the pandemic and just — my wife is awesome. She’s one of my heroes. You know, I don’t always talk about her as much online or on my platforms. She doesn’t have any social media. She cherishes her own privacy. This is a shoutout to my wife. I mean, she believed in me just as you believed in me way back then, but she believed in me way back when, you know, when I was struggling. There was a time I was jobless. There was a time I wasn’t sure if this book or my platform would ever get any attention, and she has hung with me through it, and she has been my inspiration. I love her. There are, of course, difficulties like in any marriage, conflict, you know? Can you believe it, Rebecca? [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I truly can.

JS Park: But yeah, she inspires me, so I’ve just got to give a shoutout to Julia, my wife. Love her and shoutout to all our amazing healthcare workers. She does incredible work, so shoutout to all of them.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, they really have been holding the line for a long time.

JS Park: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Jun, where can people connect with you and your writings and your new book?

JS Park: Yeah! Instagram, Facebook, all the regular culprits, you know? [Laughs] My book can be found on www.aslongasyouneedbook.com. You can preorder from there, and it comes out April 16th! 

Rebecca Ching: I’m so excited! So excited for the world to have this book in their hands and in their hearts. Thank you so much for your time and for coming back on the show, Jun. Take care of your heart and your beautiful growing family. I really appreciate you.


JS Park: Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you for inviting me.

Rebecca Ching: Jun offers us an updated view of grief that does not offer a timeline and invites us to encounter and witness our grief so it can do what it needs instead of choosing to bypass, minimize, deny its presence, which, pro tip, never works. Jun also shared his own personal experiences with grief and the deep interconnection with trauma, shame, and grief. I really want to encourage you to pick up a copy of Jun’s book As Long As You Need, and he recorded the audiobook, so after listening to this conversation, you can get more of his heart and care if you choose to listen to his book.

I’ve got some questions for you. After listening to my conversation with Jun, what shifted in how you want to approach grief? What grief stories are you carrying that need to get a witness and be encountered with curiosity and compassion? Who in your life would benefit from your witness of their grief story? Now, as I said earlier, our relationship with how we grieve is inextricably connected to how we love and lead. Grieving well is not tidy nor an experience with rigid timelines, but it welcomes space and conversation and the messiness of the human heart and experience, which dares to be all in with love and life. And this is the ongoing work of an Unburdened Leader.

[Inspirational Music]

Thank you so much for listening to this powerful and important episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, free Unburdened Leader resources, and ways to sign up for my email, and ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com. And this episode was produced by the amazing team at Yellow House Media!

[Inspirational Music]

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meet the founder

I’m Rebecca Ching, LMFT.

I help change-making leaders get to the root of recurring struggles and get confidently back on track with your values, your vision, and your bottom line. 

I combine psychotherapeutic principles, future-forward coaching, and healthy business practices to meet the unique needs and challenges of highly-committed leaders in a high-stakes world.

This is unburdened leadership

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