For those of us who have lost a loved one or a relationship, we know the pain of loss. Someone from whom we had gained comfort, companionship and love is suddenly (or slowly then finally) gone. That loss hurts! We try to figure out what we might have done differently to not suffer the loss, or get angry that the person is no longer here, or we try to run away from the loss by not thinking about it, working or serving or anything to distract us. Sound familiar? Those are some of the methods humans use to deal with loss. The good news is -- well, frankly, the good news is the Good News, the Best News Ever -- death is no longer final, no longer the enemy it once was, no longer to be feared, because Jesus Christ has given us and every human being new life with no end. So then, how can we deal with grieving in light of the Good News? Let's see.
Psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published On Death and Dying in 1969, a landmark book that laid out stages of grief. These stages are not all neatly in a row -- people tend to bounce back and forth between them -- and they are different in each unique person, but they are a place to begin. We'll look at each of those briefly -- but through the lens of our life in Jesus Christ, and see how that helps us.
Denial: This is the shock we first feel when we hear a cancer diagnosis, or a loved one dies suddenly. We can't believe it's true, and are unable to consider it's true, so we desperately search for a way back to the time before the event, or some news that it was all a mistake.
Anger: This news we've been faced with can't be true, but if it is, it must be someone's fault. It may be our own, or it may be someone else's, and we try to find someone to receive our anger. Sometimes we're angry with God for letting it happen.
Bargaining: David wished that he could have died in place of his son Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33). We also bargain with God about our sins and our losses by promising things will be different next time.
Depression: We experience sadness once we realize that our denial, anger and bargaining aren't going to change anything, and we lose the energy and desire to laugh again, because we think, "What's the use, nothing will ever look good again."
Acceptance: Finally, we awake one day and realize that this loss is true, it's a new part of our lives, and since we are going to keep living anyway, our task is to make the most of this new day.
How does the Good News change all this? Because Jesus has died, one death for all humanity (2 Cor. 5:14) and has been raised from the dead, never to die again, and he gathers us all into that resurrection (1 Cor. 15:21-22). And because of his new, everlasting life to which we are ALL invited, death itself will one day be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). Our biggest reason for grief – death – is defeated! So how do those stages look in this light?
Denial: When the shock of loss arrives in our lives, we will bring our hurt and even our denial to the foot of the cross and to the empty tomb of Jesus, who has already experienced our pain and who gives us the strength to suffer through it.
Anger: We may get angry with God or others about our loss, but we will remember that the Father knows what loss is, because his Son died in order to redeem humanity. We will pray through this with God, and certainly not to take it out on others including our spouses.
Bargaining: We may bargain with God about the reality of it, but we are talking to the One who is Truth personified, and he will help us deal with truth.
Depression: We may get depressed, but we will remember that God is close to the broken-hearted, the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to lift our heads up out of depression and remember who is really in charge of the universe, and that his love for us hasn’t stopped.
Acceptance: We will surrender the other stages to our Savior, accept the truth and get up again to walk in the light of the Lord.
It won't happen as quickly as you just read this list, but it will happen.
Jesus tells us “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mat. 5:6), and we’re also told to help each other through our mouning, to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). God gives healing as we bring our losses to him, and he also gives us his grace through others, so we must open ourselves to the companionship of friends as we heal. May the Lord’s grace be with you as you journey.