Even when we do everything we can to heal our broken relationship, there will be times when our relationship will not be reconciled and the relationship ends. If that’s where we are, we find ourselves grieving.
What is grieving and who feels it?
Grief is a deep sadness especially for the loss of someone or something loved. This includes loss of a marriage or other intimate relationship, a parent-child relationship, a friendship, a pet, or the loss of a dream or the hope of how we wanted a relationship to be. God designed loss to be part of the human experience.
Everyone experiences grief, even very small children. Toddlers who hang on our bathroom door having a meltdown just because we went to the bathroom and closed the door is a grief response. Grief becomes part of our life experience from the get-go.
And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. Gen. 6:6 NKJV.
This scripture describes God’s state of mind just prior to instructing Noah to build the ark. God was grieving the loss of how He wanted His relationship with us to be. He was grieving the loss of communion, the bond, the attachment that He wanted to have with us. He was also grieving the upcoming loss of life that he knew would occur as a result of the flood.
Grieving is a universal experience. Everyone grieves. Even God.
Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grieving
Kubler-Ross’ model of grief has been around since 1969 and it was originally used to describe the process of grief that we experience when a loved one dies. But this model also describes what occurs when the differences in a relationship will not be reconciled.
There is, however, one important distinction to make when we use this model to describe the loss of a relationship: there are feelings that a person might experience when a relationship ends that a person might not experience when a loved one dies. These feelings might include rejection, abandonment, guilt, shame, betrayal, and a sense of failure. These feelings are probably the most prominent during a divorce or when a parent-child relationship is severed. And if we have minor children when we divorce, we have to keep dealing with the spouse who triggers those feelings in us which only prolongs the grieving.
Sometimes when a particularly toxic relationship ends, we are not really grieving that lost relationship because there wasn’t much good about the relationship to grieve. In this case, we are actually grieving the loss of the dream or the hope of how we wanted the relationship to be rather than the relationship itself. This is probably where God was when he sent the flood.
Note that while Kubler-Ross’ model describes grieving in a linear fashion to make it easier for us to understand, there is nothing linear about moving through these stages with our emotions. We might not experience a particular stage at all, we might move from stage one to stage three and then back to stage two or we might be in more than one stage at a time.
The first stage is denial
And I’m not talking about the river that Moses found himself floating in when he was baby. Denial gets a bad rap that it doesn’t always deserve. Denial can be a good thing. It can give us the time we need to pick ourselves up off the ground, dust ourselves off, and begin the grueling work that is ahead. In addition to denying the loss itself, we might also deny or minimize the effect the loss has on us because to acknowledge the awfulness can be overwhelming and it can render us unable to function in any capacity. Denial lets us deal with the loss as we are able.
Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David…” 1 Samuel 19:1 NKJV. So Jonathan said to him [David], “By no means! You shall not die! Indeed, my father will do nothing either great or small without first telling me. And why should my father hide this thing from me? It is not so.” 1 Samuel 20:2 NKJV
Even though Jonathan heard his father’s words (…that they should kill David…) with his own ears, Jonathan was still in denial. He was not ready to begin the grueling work that was ahead of him.
The second stage is bargaining
Bargaining is something we do in an attempt to stave off the loss. We can bargain with the person who is leaving us or we can bargain with God. We saw Hannah bargain with God.
And she [Hannah] made a vow, and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” 1 Samuel 1:11 NKJV
Hannah was grieving the loss of her dream to have a baby. As noted earlier, grieving the loss of a dream or hope is quite common.
So, when Hannah’s baby, Samuel, was born, did she stop grieving? The Bible doesn’t say, but from the birth of her child until he was weaned, she refused to go to the Lord’s yearly sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:22 NKJV). Perhaps she refused to go because she did not want the reminder that she was going to lose Samuel. We also know that after Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord, she continued “to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year.” 1 Samuel 2:19 NKJV. She continued to grieve even though she had other children after the birth of Samuel.
The third stage is anger
Anger is something we feel when we realize the loss is upon us and there isn’t much we can do about it. Our child is really done with us. Our marriage is really over. Remember those feelings mentioned earlier in this article? Rejection, abandonment, guilt, shame, betrayal, feeling like a failure. These are none of the feelings any of us want to have and when we have them, we feel especially vulnerable. So, we morph these feelings into anger. Because when we feel anger, we feel in control, we feel powerful, we feel safe, and we feel justified.
So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully. 1 Samuel 20:34 NKJV
Just prior to this verse, Jonathan had pled for David’s life and Saul responded by hurling a spear at Jonathan confirming for Jonathan that Saul was intent on killing David. So what feelings were behind Jonathan’s anger? The Bible doesn’t say, but maybe he experienced rejection. Sometimes when we have a very strong personal conviction that is part of our core (the Bible is clear that Jonathan did not believe Saul should kill David) and our belief is rejected by a loved one, we can feel personally rejected. Did he feel shame? Maybe. We can certainly feel shame when a loved one behaves in the horrible way that Saul did. Betrayal? Maybe. He may have felt that Saul betrayed the friendship that Jonathan had with David. Helplessness? Probably. Saul determined that he would kill David, and Jonathan was coming to terms what how little he could do.
The fourth stage is depression
Have mercy on me [David], O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. Psalm 31:9, 10 NKJV
David asked God to put him out his misery when he said to God, “Have mercy on me…” David also acknowledges the toll that the depression had on his soul and his body. He acknowledges that his strength is gone and that his bones waste away. Depression is a very physical condition and experience.
Depression is what we feel when we are finally done fighting the fight. We give up. Behind the depression is hopelessness regarding the loss. We find ourselves drowning in the middle of all the deep sadness and we cannot get out. We feel the loss in our bones and in our core. It can seem that our loss defines who we are and that we are nothing more. Sometimes we can’t even pray and we need others to pray for us.
The fifth stage is acceptance
Woe is me [Jeremiah] for my hurt! My wound is severe. But I say, “Truly this is an infirmity, and I must bear it.” Jeremiah 10:19 NKJV
Jeremiah acknowledges that the pending destruction by God’s hand mentioned in earlier chapters is upon them and he “must bear it.” Notice there is no denial, bargaining, or anger. Perhaps Jeremiah is also feeling depression, but later in the chapter, Jeremiah acknowledges that God is in control and therefore, Jeremiah can see a way out of all the darkness. Acceptance is about experiencing God’s peace because God is in control and always has been even while we were in denial, while we were bargaining, and while we were feeling anger and depression.
There still might be things about the lost relationship that we don’t understand and some unanswered questions. But we can begin again to define ourselves as something more than just the loss and begin to feel hope again. Jeremiah did. Another important challenge that acceptance brings is learning to incorporate the loss into who we are going to become. Acceptance is about restoring our relationship with God and feeling the peace that passes all understanding.
What lies ahead?
Loss will change us and we decide whether that change will be positive or negative. Dave Willis at davewillis.org blogs that:
- “we can choose grace or we can choose revenge.” Grace is a polite way of behaving. If, however, Dave Willis was talking about a loftier kind of grace, it means an unwarranted mercy. If we find that we’re just not ready to grant unwarranted mercy, we can at least choose to leave the other person alone.
- “we can choose to trust in God’s plan or we can choose our plan.” Knowing God’s plan isn’t always apparent. But being cognizant of the fact that God has a plan for us will at least give us pause to listen.
- “we can choose joy or we can choose bitterness and unhappiness.” We talked earlier about feeling like a failure when a relationship ends simply because it ended. But one individual is never sufficient to make a relationship work. There are two important points here:
- we can and should control our input into the relationship, but we cannot control the outcome (all by God’s design); and
- when a relationship ends, we should be determined to leave that relationship a better partner than we were when we entered that relationship. By taking what we learned with us, it becomes more likely that we will be in a better relationship the next time.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV.
For more information, you can go to Coping with a Breakup or Divorce.