I was angry! I can’t remember exactly which day during lockdown I felt this way, as most days have blurred into one, but I know that it happened. There was anger welling up inside of me and I wasn’t even sure who or what had made me angry. Fortunately, the anger passed and I’m grateful that it didn’t leave too many emotional scars.
Then a few days later, I woke up feeling depressed! It was such a struggle to drag myself through another day of working from home, recording video sermons, home-schooling our three sons, carrying on with chores, doing some exercise and even just trying to eat. Everything felt like it was squeezing me into a little dark corner. I was left scrambling to halt the downward spiral of depression. Thankfully this also passed, but it left me shaken.
A mental health check
I’m not sure of your lockdown experience, but in reflecting on how my mental health has vacillated from one extreme to another, I realised that I was actually going through the various stages of grief.
As a minister I naively thought that we only experienced these stages and emotions when we physically lost a loved one through death. I was wrong.
In the end, I have come to realise that whenever we lose something important in our lives, we will journey through the various stages of grief.
What we’ve lost during lockdown
There are lots of things that we have lost during this time of lockdown. Here are a few that spring to mind:
- The ability to work as ‘normal’ and move about freely for business
- Control over earning enough in order to put food on the table
- The freedom to exercise, explore and meet up with friends
- Meeting together with fellow believers in Church gatherings, bible studies and small groups
- The financial freedom we may have once enjoyed
- Our privacy in a new ‘normal’ home environment
- The deep concern about education for our children
- Waiting anxiously at home while loved ones are confined to a hospital bed without visitors
- The ability to make personal decisions concerning everyday events and the future
- Freedom to travel to those we love and want to be with
And of course, there are a whole lot more.
The five stages of grief
It was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who initially wrote on the five stages of grief, in her book Death and Dying, published in 1969. Although each of these stages referred to the emotions that people journey through in their experience of death, it is worth noting these stages and highlighting how they may be impacting upon our lives in other areas of loss (i.e. times of crisis and even lockdown).
The 5 stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
There isn’t space to go deeper into each one of these stages in this article, but it may be worthwhile thinking through your lockdown experience. Do any of these stages resonate with you? For me, I admit that I have gone through each one of them and then sometimes seen the cycle repeat itself.
A journey through scripture
When we look at the scriptures, it is interesting to see that a number of our ‘heroes’ experienced similar stages of grief or emotional trauma during their own faith journey’s. Let us take Elijah for example. His story is covered in 1 Kings 17-19. When you read through these three chapters, you will note a combination of these moods – denial, anger, bargaining depression, and acceptance. The same can be said of people like Gideon (his story is in Judges 6), Moses and even Jonah.
Biblical characters were not exempt from loss. Many of them wore their hearts and emotions on their sleeves, revealing their own struggles of faith and acceptance of God’s will. If you are looking for an interesting exercise to do whilst in lockdown, perhaps read through the Scriptures and look for signs of these stages of grief – it could prove to be very insightful.
So where does this leave us? Where do we go from here?
When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was drawing near to the end of her earthly life, she wrote these moving words: “I now know that the purpose of my life is more than these stages….It is not just about the life lost but also the life lived.”
Perhaps it was these words that inspired her fellow collaborator David Kessler to write his book entitled Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage. During my time of lockdown I have wondered if we just keep repeating these five stages ad nauseam, like a person trapped in a maze from which there is no escape. However, some quick research pointed out that Kessler’s book provides a huge measure of hope in the context of loss.
“Many people look for “closure” after a loss. Kessler argues that it’s finding meaning beyond the stages of grief most of us are familiar with—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—that can transform grief into a more peaceful and hopeful experience.”
And there lies our challenge – finding meaning in each story of our own loss.
The peace of Jesus
This is where I believe the words of Jesus Christ can speak into our times of loss and general grief. Jesus spoke these familiar words to his disciples, at a time when they were dealing with the hammer-blow that he was leaving them. In the numbness of their impending loss, Jesus said:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
This is where I desire to rest – in the presence and peace of Jesus. It is in God’s peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding, that we find contentment, purpose and rest. I still accept that I will go through the five stages of grief from time to time, but as I look to the sixth stage of finding meaning, I can fully trust in Jesus to lead me to those peaceful streams of living water.