6:50 AM – After morning hugs, I’m headed out the door to work.
She says, “How about Mexican for lunch? El Gordo’s?”
“Yes! Text me when you are ready to head that way.”, I say on my way out.
I love their El Pastor Quesadillas!
9:53 AM – Stomach growls. I eat the daily 10AM yogurt snack, and think of El Gordo’s.
11:02 AM – Still feeling snackish. I tell myself to wait. El Gordo is coming, and I can save up my hunger for the chips and salsa.
11:35 AM – It is officially early lunch time and the best time to leave work to beat the crowd to lunch. I pick up my phone to text her when it buzzes in my hand.
“Let’s save money and just eat a salad instead.”
I’m not sure about you, but I dial my taste buds into a certain flavor, and they can anticipate the goodness of it all for hours beforehand.
I can also be terribly disappointed at a change of plans once my taste buds have been set to a certain desire.
This is a microscopic example of the pain that comes from unmet expectations.
Most of our pain and grief comes from unmet expectations.
Let’s dive into the deep end of the pool, now.
- One year ago, my sister called and told me about Ken’s cancer diagnosis.
- In December 2016, my friend Beth Primm received a cancer diagnosis.
- A few weeks ago, one of my Pastors received a cancer diagnosis.
- And on and on and on…
Walking through these life-changing events with my friends and family, I have noticed a profound sense of grief following the diagnosis.
It is different than fear. Sure, fear is part of it, especially surrounding the severe treatment options of chemo, radiation, and surgery.
It is most assuredly grief.
One thing to note, here. I’m talking about Christians who are confident that death is a doorway to a restored body and soul in communion with Christ forever. Death is not the end of our “dash” as seen on a tombstone.
I have noticed, though, that the comfort of Christian hope can trigger an unnecessary layer of guilt.
I repeat, feeling guilty for grief is unnecessary.
Back to my silly lunch example.
I had set myself up with legitimate expectations. I was looking forward to lunch, to chips and salsa, and to delicious pork and pico. There’s nothing wrong with that.
When plans changed, I was legitimately sad. I won’t say grieved, because it was just lunch.
But when it comes to life – the life we expected – we grieve because we have lost something precious. It’s OK.
We wanted to see grandkids, nieces, and nephews graduate. We wanted to finish that book. We had planned to _______________________________________________________. The list is endless.
As Christians, we are not grieving the loss of life because life is not lost.
Instead, we grieve the loss of events.
It’s okay to grieve.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what has become known as the “five stages of grief”. They are:
- Denial – This cannot be happening to me.
- Anger – Why is this happening to me? This should not be happening to me. Why is God doing this to me? Why would God allow this to happen to me?
- Bargaining – What can I do; what prayer can I pray; how can I pray; who can I get to pray; how many can I get to pray so that this won’t happen to me?
- Depression – I just do not care. At all. I’m done.
- Acceptance – Okay.
This is not a linear timetable. You can not put these steps on the calendar.
They pop up in asynchronous order, and each person is different.
Personally, I have flipped between anger and acceptance on a minute by minute basis like a flashing traffic light.
Knowing about these DOES help, though. It helps because it let’s us know that our emotional roller coaster is NORMAL.
Do not beat yourself up for being angry. And don’t beat anyone else up in your anger. 😉
Even the bargaining stage is not cause for guilt. Run to your Father in prayer. Jesus himself prayed all night long in the Garden of Gethsemane with tears and sweat.
[Mat 26:37-39 HCSB] 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with Me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
My point here is not to give a comprehensive post on the grieving process.
My point is to prevent you from adding a debilitating layer of guilt on top of the grieving process.
Let the Lord open your eyes to the experiences he is giving you on a daily basis in this beautiful creation with your lovely loved ones.
Shut down the “monkey brain” that chatters 24-7 about unrealized expectations.
Don’t let the inner voice fuss at you saying, “You are a Christian. You shouldn’t feel depressed. You shouldn’t be angry with God! You shouldn’t bargain with God. ”
These are lies. God can handle our emotional ups and downs. Take them to the Lord in prayer.
[Psa 6:6-7 HCSB] 6 I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. 7 My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies.
In context, David was running for his life from enemies with swords. Still, it is comforting to call an enemy an enemy. We have cancerous enemies. We have mental enemies accusing us of guilt for feeling sad. We can pray many of the prayers of David and receive the comfort that he received.
The Path Forward
Here is a short list of perspectives and actions that have helped me over the past few years.
- Thank the Father for the hope we have in Christ. This is the Big Picture.
- Relish the miniscule moments of happiness. This is the small picture.
The unexpected phone call/text; an encouraging email; the song of a bird; the splash of a fountain; the touch of a loved one; the smile of a stranger; familiar hymns; favorite songs; the list is infinite in every moment. “[Psa 119:18 HCSB] 18 Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction.”
- Give yourself as much grace as Christ gave you. Don’t put on your neck a yoke of EMOTIONAL PERFECTION that Christ does not require. “[Eph 2:8 HCSB] 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.”
It was okay to miss my El Pastor Quesadillas. And it is okay to grieve over the unrealized expectations of future plans. But by God’s grace may he open our eyes to the blessings that attend a different path.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you on every different path.