The Five Stages of Grief
Turning Grief into Joy (John 16:20)
(continued…) Expressing and sharing our grief are essential, but something more is needed. Isn’t there anything more to be said to a grieving person other than to say death is a natural part of life, make sure you go through the five stages, express your feelings, reach out to others, time will bring healing, life will go on, etc. If not, then even after grieving in all the right ways, and even after the passage of time has softened the blow and somewhat healed the wound, even after all that, DEATH will still be sitting on the throne smiling smugly, and declaring, “I won, you lose, I’ll be back.” The dead are still dead and gone, and there is more grief to come.
That is what the women were expecting when they went to the tomb of Jesus. They expected to prepare a dead body for burial, and they expected that that would be the end of it– except for the grief, which, as always, would take a while to get over. But that was all that was left for them now.
But then what they found at the tomb was something totally unexpected. There was no dead body. The tomb was empty, except for two men, very much alive and with clothes that shined like lightening, saying, “Why do you look for the living here among the dead? Jesus is not here, He is risen!”
He is risen! That one sentence changes everything. It says to all the world and for all time that death does not have to be the end, and the tomb is not the last stop, and grief does not get the last word. That brief statement adds a whole new dimension to the grieving process. It adds promise. It adds hope. So now, with faith in that risen Lord, the whole approach to grief changes; instead of dealing with an eternal loss in death, we are dealing with a temporary separation.
Without that hope and promise, the best we can do is find ways to deal with our grief. But the New Testament has very little to say about how to deal with grief. The New Testament’s emphasis lies elsewhere. The New Testament emphasis is on the resurrection of Jesus and on the proclamation of the promise that death has been defeated. The Bible acknowledges the grief that follows a death, and it describes people who grieve; including the grief of Jesus himself who wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. But you won’t find anything in the New Testament about the five stages of grief, or, helpful hints for dealing with loss and getting on with your life. Indeed, this life must go on for those who are left, and there is nothing simple about that. But when the New Testament speaks of death, it is almost always at the same time speaking about life eternal in heaven. And to remember that hope and promise gives to the grieving person the greatest possible opportunity for comfort, peace of mind, and healing.
One of the few times that the apostle Paul does speak about grief is in I Thessalonians 4:13, and there he simply says that we Christians do not “grieve as those who have no hope.” Notice that Paul does not say that we do not grieve, but he says we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope. We grieve a separation, not a loss. We grieve like parents grieve when, after eighteen years of life under the same roof, they send their daughter off to college a thousand miles away, and they know they won’t see her until Christmas. Or we grieve like a wife and children grieve as they say good-bye to their soldier husband and father who is on his way to the Mideast for a year. Even if they are quite sure he will be safe, they will still grieve the yearlong separation. They are used to being together every day, and now they won’t be together at all for a very long time. A significant portion of their lives will be lived without the presence of that loved one, but they will see each other again. The future return date next year seems like a long ways off, but the future does have a way of becoming the present. It is always wonderfully heartwarming to see stories on the news families being reunited after those long separations.
So as Paul says, of course we are going to grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. He goes on then to more fully describe what we have to look forward to when he writes:
We do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep in death, or to grieve like those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will be raised. And so then we will be with the Lord forever. Encourage one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
But those words do talk about something in the distant future; too far distant, perhaps, to even imagine, hope for, or take comfort in. But as for the family whose father and husband leaves for a year, the distant future does have a way of getting here and becoming the present. I remember as a child looking way ahead into to the distant future when it would be the year 2000. I did the math and I realized that I would be 46 years old then. But it didn’t even seem real to me at that time. A twelve year old cannot even imagine 34 years into the future and being 46 years old. But the year 2000 did get here, and we are now another twenty years beyond that.
We all, already have had the experience of seeing the distant future become the present. The future kingdom of God, promised in the Bible, will also get here; and by believing in Jesus, we can know that we will be there for it.
As so, therefore, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Christ is risen from the dead, and believing in him, we have the hope and promise of our own resurrection.
And that changes everything.
John 16:20-22 — (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.“
PRAYER FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES:
We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us. You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you. Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die. So death is only an horizon, and an horizon is only the limit of our sight. Open our eyes to see more clearly, and draw us closer to you, and then we may be nearer to our loved ones who are with you. You have told us that you are preparing a place for us. Prepare us also for that happy place, so that where you are, we also may be; O dear Lord of life and death. Amen.
–William Penn (1644-1718)