Three Things I’m Learning about the Five Stages of Grief


If you are grieving or have ever grieved a loss, then reading this post may be for you an exercise in the obvious.  If you’ve yet to experience serious loss and the grief that comes with it, then perhaps this will be new to you.

Either way, as a reminder or a lesson, I hope what I’m learning in my grief can be helpful to you.

So I offer these simple observations of grief and the stages often used to describe its process.

1.  They aren’t, of course, stages at all.

It is insightful and useful to note that grief is complex and includes within it anger and depression, bargaining and denial.  And it is necessary to understand that acceptance is the resolution at which we aim.  But–and I don’t pretend this any great news flash–the process of grief is a gauntlet that shoves and pulls and batters and bounces us between all of these states of mind and heart.

Denial (“How could this happen?”) can quickly turn to depression (“Will the pain ever end?”) which can easily spawn anger (“Why is life so unjust?”).  But sometimes we’re sent into moments of acceptance, too…of calm and perspective (“I see how life can go on.”).

When we find ourselves there, in acceptance, we must work and pray to remain there as long as possible.  Stretching those moments into hours and days.  Eventually, stringing days of acceptance together and making this place our HQ.  Less and less frequently allowing excursions outside it.

2. Even so, acceptance is underwhelming.

Acceptance is the desired outcome of the grieving process, but it’s still just acceptance, just coming to terms with our loss.

It’s really only filling in the hole so we can begin laying the foundation for the future.  It’s the end of the beginning.

3. Emotion can be an ocean inside us.

Until I experienced the grief of deep loss, I felt in control of my emotions and would have advised others to not let their emotions get out of control, not to be ruled by them.

That’s not an incorrect perspective, but when it comes to grief, it’s incomplete.

I never knew my emotions could be so strong, such a force as to carry me, crash over me.  Never knew so much water could come out of my eyes.  Never knew my thoughts could become so thick with fog.  When the tide of my grief begins to swell I can find myself simply riding it out–truly, sometimes unpredictably, moved.

But life in Jesus means storms can be calmed, waters can even be parted, and faith and peace can rise.  He, too, is there, inside me.

This is some of what I’m learning, what I can share.  My prayer is that in the sharing we can each learn to lean on Him who never leaves us.

Our zeal is based on His sacrifice.

Jesus passionately gave His life for the mission so that we could too.

In Titus 2:14, Paul wrote:

“[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

I love what pastor and author John Piper writes in reference to this verse in his book, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die

We all live for what we believe

I know this now.
Every man gives his life for what he believes.
Every woman gives her life for what she believes.
Sometimes people believe in little or nothing,
and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing.
One life is all we have
and we live it as we believe in living it
and then it’s gone.
But to surrender what you are
and to live without belief
is more terrible than dying
—even more terrible than dying young.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431)

The Potter Has a Purpose

Last month I asked, “What makes you weep or pound the table?” and made the point that the answer to that question says a lot about you, how God made you, and what God has in mind for you.

Let’s talk more about that.  We’re touching on a core truth here:

What God has in mind for you can be seen in how He made you.

That means we do well to take some time and make an effort to understand ourselves.  This oft-quoted maxim has been attributed to various authors, but it’s profoundly true: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

So we ask ourselves, “What did God put within me?  How did He make me?”    I believe strongly that the unique way God made each of us says a lot about what He has in mind for us to do and be in His Kingdom.  God didn’t make you as He did by accident, but on purpose and with purpose.

Let’s dive into that…

Find your own Calcutta.

This true story that Tony Campolo tells is too good not to share…

A woman who had been deserted by her husband visited a pastor friend of mine one day.  Her husband had run off with a younger woman, leaving her bereft, troubled, and broken.

My friend suggested that she put some time in missionary work, thinking that doing something for others might help her forget herself for alittle while and alleviate her pain.

Taking his advice, the dejected wife wrote to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.

Hungry people are everywhere.

Hungry people are everywhere.

One morning, years ago, I was running tight to leave for work.  I was standing at the kitchen counter drinking my morning protein shake and my five year-old son Elijah walked in from just waking up.

“Dad, I want some breakfast.”

Renee was still asleep from working late the night before and I said, “I’m sorry, son.  I can’t get you anything right now.  Mom will be up soon and she’ll take care of you.”

He paused thoughtfully while I finished my shake and then said, “Dad, if you saw a hungry man, would you give him something to eat?”

Now how do you answer that?

The appreciating factor of youth

Today our son Elijah turns 15. Is that even possible?

It seems it was just not at all that long ago I was sliding through icy intersections getting Renee to the hospital so we could meet little Elijah Moses.  How quickly the years have gone.

I suppose a father is allowed to wax a bit nostalgic (and maybe even proud) as he considers his son getting closer and closer to adulthood.

Elijah is intelligent, great with little kids, ministry-minded, and has an entertaining sense of humor.  I just like being around him.  And he still tells us that he loves us a few times a day.

I’m happy to be his dad.

As I reflect on this, I simply want to encourage you in this post to appreciate a young person in your life.

Adventure Advantage: The world is waiting

When we think of adventure we may picture James Bond or Mission Impossible in which the stakes at hand are nothing less saving the planet’s population from ruin and destruction.  You know the scene.  As the agent is given his or her mission, they’re told, “the fate of the world lies in your hands.”  Those who discover the Adventure Advantage understand that their mission is a rescue mission and that indeed in many ways “the fate of the whole world lies in their hands.”

People are dying of a deadly disease and we have the cure.  People are struggling with tough questions and we have the answer.  People believe lies for lack of knowing the truth.  We know it.  We know Him.

The Adventure Advantage

In the early 1900s, the following advertisement once appeared in a London newspaper:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.”

The ad was signed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctic explorer. Amazingly, the ad drew thousands of respondents, eager to sacrifice everything for the sheer prospect of meaningful adventure.

Men and women are emboldened when a great cause is laid before them, when a dire need is waiting to be met, when a grave injustice needs rectified.  History has been changed by men and women like you and me who have simply risen to the occasion and answered the call to serve their generation.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”