Grief in a Time of Uncertainty

What Is Happening Right Now?
Day to day, things are changing. We are losing vital contact and human connection. People are losing jobs and income is dwindling. Businesses are losing customers and revenue. Our freedoms, comforts, and normal ways of life are shrinking into more and more restriction. Not to mention the death toll that is piling up around the world and inching closer and closer to our own communities.

There is so much we do not know. There are so many plans we may wish to make, but simply cannot, due to an uncertain future. In a very real way, the human community around the world is facing intense and very real grief. Any time there is substantial change, there is loss. And any time there is meaningful loss, there is grief. And there are many ways of processing that grief from person to person. There are, of course, the widely known five stages of grief, which affect each person differently. Grieving is an essential and healthy process for our emotional and mental health in the midst of great loss.

So, let’s pause for a moment: In what ways are you grieving loss in your life? Have you slowed down enough to notice that you are or could be grieving?

Grieving Well as a Pathway to Spiritual Transformation
Pete Scazzero offers three phases of grieving that lead to transformation and notes that all three must be held together in tension as the Holy Spirit enlarges our soul through grief and loss.  

Phase 1: Pay attention and allow ourselves to feel deeply our grief and loss. 
This is the idea of being present to our own emotions in the midst of loss. Grief looks different on everyone. So an essential question in this phase is this: “What is going on under the surface in my heart? Have I slowed down enough to pray, ask the Spirit of God to search my heart, and process my emotions?”

One tendency in this phase is to numb or distract ourselves from our emotions, rather than actually feeling them. More on that in a moment, but in the end, this doesn’t work and only causes more harm. So another vital question for this phase is, “Are there ways in which I am trying to cope with my grief in unhealthy ways, such as numbing or distracting myself?” 

In our daily Scripture readings for this week, we will be looking at Psalm 63, a song of lament from King David. In this Psalm, David is grieving the loss of his son. You can read the story of David’s loss in 1 Samuel 15-19. Psalm 63 was likely written by David as he was weeping and mourning his son’s death in the wilderness. David models this phase for us well as he honestly pours his heart out to the Lord.

 Phase 2: Wait on God in the confusing in-between. 
Psalm 130 is a Psalm about actively waiting on God in the space in between the promise of total redemption and the fulfillment of that promise. We don’t actually know when the cloud of grief will lift. We don’t know when or if life will ever return to what was once familiar to us. We don’t know when the old will give way to the new. All we know is the grief and loss of right now. And it’s confusing.

So, we can do one of three things: ignore it, let it crush us, or we can learn how to wait on the Lord, with our eyes wide open expecting God to move. By the Spirit’s power in us, in the practice of silence and solitude before the Lord, immersed in the Scriptures and staying connected to God and one another in prayer, this season of waiting on God, no matter how long it takes, can and will lead us into phase 3: Transformation.

Phase 3: Let the old birth the new. 
This is the phase in which we actually let go of the way things were. Having lamented their passing and processed our grief with the Lord, we will see slowly but surely that the Spirit of God begins to transform and enlarge our souls as we embrace the new norm. This is not a one-and-done phase. In some ways, this phase may last the rest of our lives. Our traumas will always be a part of our stories, and they can have a powerfully transformative effect on our lives, if we lean into God’s process for grieving loss with him. This approach requires courage to face our emotions, discipline to slow down and be present to them, and total surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives. It’s not easy. But if we do, we can join the Psalmist in saying:

“People of God, put your hope in the Lord.
For there is faithful love with the Lord,
and with him is redemption in abundance.
He will redeem His people.”

Psalm 130:7-8

Epilogue: Three Stages of Social Isolation
Recently, a family in our church returned from the Dominican Republic after living there for several months where they had waited for the adoption of a young girl into their family to be legally processed. They shared the stages they went through as they were in a version of social isolation—living in an unfamiliar culture with a new language, away from family and friends, connected only by means of technology—in many ways, they returned to the U.S. having just undergone a journey similar to what we are all just now starting. They had many insights to share, and they will be sharing more of their story and experiences in the coming days, so stay tuned!   Jeff serves as one of our elders. During his first meeting back with us after returning from the DR and right before we shifted to online church, he shared some of their family experiences with us and prepared us for three stages of our social isolation.  

Stage 1: Survival Mode   
In this phase, each day feels like a week, and every moment anxieties are high as circumstances are changing. In survival mode, we’re trying to adjust to life as we know it, to take care of our needs, and process all of the changes coming at us. Some of the best and worst of people come out in survival mode. Ideally, this phase only lasts a couple of weeks. But it’s different for each person.  

Stage 2: Coping 
After days on end of high stress, managing the anxiety of both ourselves and others, grieving all kinds of loss, and adjusting to a new normal, oftentimes we’re just exhausted. We’re emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally spent. And in this vulnerable state, we may look for coping mechanisms to get us through. We may start to binge-watch, scroll social media endlessly, eat or drink in our boredom or exhaustion…really anything to just “feel good” for a moment or to distract us from feeling the way we’ve been feeling.

Stage 3: Dependence
Jeff described this phase like this: After their different ways of coping and distracting themselves just to get from day to day made them more miserable rather than less, they were left with no other option but to surrender themselves in total dependence to the Lord. So instead of trying to stay busy, entertained, and distracted each day, they began to carve out rhythms of reading and meditating on Scripture, prayer in silence and solitude, and embraced various spiritual disciplines of engagement and withdrawal.

This was still a very difficult time circumstantially, but by the Spirit’s work in them, they grew to become more and more at peace in the hard times and content with less and less. And as their active dependence on the Lord grew, His provision for them in their daily needs for community and connection increased. The Lord would provide the right encouragement from friends at just the right time.

At this point, it may be helpful to pause and ask: “In which stage am I? Survival mode, coping and distraction, or prayerful dependence on the Lord?”

Stay tuned for more of Jeff and Christiana’s story later this week.
Daily Scripture Readings: Starting Week of 3/30/20
Day 1: Psalm 63, John 12:20-26
Day 2: 1 Chronicles 29:1-22, Romans 15:1-13
Day 3: Isaiah 53:1-12, Hebrews 12:1-13
Day 4: Deuteronomy 15:7-11, 1 John 3:11-24
Day 5: Isaiah 29:13-19, Matthew 25:31-46
Day 6: James 1:2-18, Matthew 6:19-24
Day 7: Genesis 1:26 to 2:3, Hebrews 13:1-21

Resource: Listen to Pete Scazzero describe his three phases of transformation in grief and loss.

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