In her seminal work, On Death and Dying, the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:
While she wrote specifically of death, and think these stages can rightly be applied to nearly any hardship. Take chronic illness for instance. We may deny the cancer, or other ailment, but wishing doesn’t make it go away. So we progress to anger, shaking our fists at the heavens, declaring “This isn’t fair, God! Take it away.”
When he doesn’t, we bargain–telling him “If you’ll…, I’ll…” It seems however that he doesn’t respond to such conditional statements, wanting to be loved (rather than analyzed). When this bargaining doesn’t work out, we often fall into depression.
Thoughts of hopelessness swirl through our heads, clouding our vision, obscuring the way ahead. We can’t see the light for the tunnel is one of (seeming) perpetual night. But this is a trick of perception. We are locked in our skins, time bound, lives progressing in one inexorable direction.
But God is outside of all that. Above, beyond, transcendent: not bound by the laws of physics that keep us tethered to our mortal frames. By implication this means that his goodness is also transcendent–above the artifices and capriciousness of man. We–Christians–who claim to know him best are often the worst at this:
Just because God can do a thing, doesn’t mean he must. Because he has the power to heal, doesn’t mean he will heal. I believe we, especially in the American Evangelical church, are truly bad at this–believing that God somehow owes us something.
That He must heal us. He must do nothing of the sort. A far greater petitioner asked that a certain cup be taken; it was not. And if his request was thus denied, doesn’t it stand to reason that some of ours will be as well? As it says in Hebrews, “He (Jesus) learned obedience through those things which he suffered.”
Our expectations for lives of ease and comfort run smack dab into the very real road of pain we must walk. And so we get tripped up in the stages of grief, and vacillate between denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.
Never believing that by embracing acceptance we will find freedom.
One of the principles of recovery, recited as litany week after week, is: “Accepting, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is.” Meaning that, as a fallen world, bad stuff happens.
Even to God’s children.
Please join me in the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen.
Wisdom here dictates that God does not always answer our prayers the way we wish, or end our suffering when we wish. I wish he did, but until that day when he “shall wipe away every tear,” I pray for serenity, and for the grace to navigate my broken self, and this fallen world.
Will you join me?