Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stages of Grief -- A Christian Viewpoint

Pastor Rick Warren has been mentioning on various interviews that he's seen 6 stages of grief as he and his wife have grieved the death of their son by suicide earlier this year.

I want to look into this more, but on first glance it makes a lot of sense to me. People have gravitated for years to the Kubler-Ross model and the idea of "stages" because it gives us a handle and a hope that there's a method to this madness of grief. But the Kubler-Ross model was written for people who were dying and what she observed in their experiences. It wasn't originally meant to light a path for those who are left behind to grieve the loss of a loved one.

Pastor Warren suggests there are 6 stages for the Christian commited to practicing their faith:
  • shock
  • sorrow
  • struggle
  • surrender
  • sanctification
  • service
Of course anything that can be so easily canned and alliterated is prone to over-simplification. And there are days, I'm sure, when even those who've been through all the stages find themselves landing flat on their sorrowing and struggling bottoms. Grief has a cyclical nature. But the greater truth is that God doesn't intend for us to wallow in the sorrow and struggle forever. Surrender, sanctification, and service are processes that will see the believer through to true freedom and peace.

I'm going to look into this further, and I hope you will too. A good place to start is with Rick Warren's take on the very first interview about their son's suicide, The Most Important Interview I've Ever Done. Or google Rick Warren stages of grief and you'll find shorter clips with other interviewers.

Let me know what you think...


  1. The above stages make a lot more sense then the Kubler-Ross ones.Grief cannot easily be put into stages at best,because we tend to move from one to the other and back again.This at least has been my experience.

  2. Ruth, a lot of people can relate to your experience..."we tend to move from one to the other and back again." I think that's pretty normal. The idea of "stages" tends to make people think they'll move from one to the other, and I see a lot of fear and dismay when they find themselves back in the previous stage. I wish they'd understand they haven't gone "backwards."
    Thank you for your comment Ruth, and for opening the conversation. I hope to hear from many more today on this important topic.

  3. I haven't seen the interview and am truly saddened for Rick and his family in the death of his son.
    I am uncertain and almost in unbelief that there is fixed stages or equation or format for grief. (I've yet to read it in God's word)
    However I am certain that grief is real.
    Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Christ was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. From the time he was two years old his life was being sought after. His entire life was one of grief, sorrow and suffering. And the most horrific grief of all grief's was when the Father turned his head away from him when he took upon him all our iniquities. This is one grief we will never have to experience is a moment of separation from the father's love..

    My precious husband was a Funeral Director/Embalmer and Bi-Vocational Minister. He attended many funerals of those who suffered grief, loss and endured much sorrow. He devoted 33 years of his life in funeral service and ministry he ministered to many families where there had been murders, suicides, infant deaths, natural deaths, diseased deaths and every imaginable death possible. But if he said it one time - he said it a hundred times "every funeral Jesus attended he always broke it up and turned mourning into joy"
    Why? Because he was the resurrection and the life.

    Is there a time frame for grief? Some say yes, others say no. In (Ezekiel 24:16-18) God told Ezekiel not to mourn or grieve because God was going to take away his wife "the very love and desire of his eyes"
    The children of Israel were given thirty days to grieve when Moses died.
    David washed his face and quit fasting and grieving when his baby died and went on with his life. David knew he would one day again be with his son.

    Now I don't believe any of the above had a specific format nor does God imply stages or an agenda re: their grief, other than it was grief and it was real, agonizing and painful.
    The only way over it - is through it - and as the Apostle Paul reminds us - Beloved I pray that you sorrow not as those who have no hope. Christ reminds us he is the resurrection and life everlasting. Mourning endures for the night but JOY comes in the morning.


  4. I think that the Kubler-Ross model could make sense if you are a person who is dying, but there is going to be a difference between the grief of dying, and the grief of death. When I look at Pastor Warren's 6 stages, the first thing that stands out for me is "Christian committed", how difficult it must be for someone to go through any stages if not a believer. Obviously there are no clear cut answers, but it would be interesting to know where other widows are, in there journey, and how long it has been for them. Not to compare, but just to know they are not alone, to know that they are "normal", and don't need to be over "it" like so many would suggest. It has been 21 months for me and I would have to say that I am somewhere between struggle and surrender. At times I go right back to shock and sorrow, but don't stay there long. I imagine that when I get to the point of surrender, there will still be struggles.

  5. What I Don't Understand Is Why I'm Having A Harder Time With Everything Now That I'm In My Third Year, I Feel Like I'm Back At Square One.... I Do Know ThIs You Are A Completely Different Person Now.....

    1. I thought that after 3 years I would be getting better, actually it took me 5 years to finally start to feel normal again. There is no time line for greif, surround yourself with positive and happy Christians, this will help you more than anything. Relax and don't worry about being back at square one. Get up, dress up, show up and keep your head up. God Bless

  6. I honestly don't like whole concept of "stages" or "timelines". Grief is as unique as a person's genes. It's hard enough to grieve as it is then to add more pressure to yourself to follow or stay within a stage or timeline.

    I still think here in America people have a difficult time with death and grieving. Many will avoid talking about grief and tend to avoid those who are grieving.

    I sometimes also think that others may believe that the wake/funeral is the only place where you should show your grief. It's the feeling like once the funeral is over..everyone should be strong and just move on.

    I think there should be more awareness and understanding for those who are grieving and/or how to be there for someone who is grieving. I think many people avoid grief or those who are grieving because they just don't know have the knowledge and coping skills to go about it.

  7. Swans Forever . . . I TOTALLY agree! And Believers can be some of the worst in their coping with grief thinking that because the portion in I Thess. 4:13 says: "that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope", it means we don't grieve or shouldn't grieve at all. I do have the HOPE that I will see my loved ones again, but that does not mean I don't grieve being without them right now.

  8. Yes there are stages and whether you pass through them in moments, days, weeks, months or years it is important to understand that there are indeed stages. I do think the more important point is that God does not intend for us to wallow in the sorrow and struggle forever and at the same time God is not going to simply remove our grief. We have to make an effort to move toward surrender, sanctification and service.

  9. I've just read your blog, Ferree. I'm slightly saddened by the symphony of s's. What next? The A TO Z of bereavement. I prayed much for Rick, his wife and family when they lost their son. Also, for Rick re great pressures he may suffer being a public figure. Now, with the 's' list another generation may tick off the 's' stages, as they have in the past with previous grief formats. It doesn't seem that long ago since Rick lost his beloved son, therefore having learned so much, so very quickly - it seems, to me, I feel that he is turning his experience or understanding of it into a 'lesson' or a 'sermon' for others. God bless his heart, though. It may be the teacher in him...if he is, in fact, a bible teacher. I go around in circles. It's a pattern (not a stage) I've come to recognise. Love Babs B.

  10. I never agreed that people grieve in neat orderly stages. My son-in-law was angry immediately (Oct 2009). Now that my daughter has a 4 month old baby with no Grandpa at Christmas this year, she had a major meltdown and said she is angry. Yes she was upset in different ways over the past 4 years but this was different. We all talked and cried through it and then all felt better.

  11. I was privileged to watch part of the interview on CNN. My heart went out to Rick and his family as it did when I first learnt of their son's death. I read parts of the interview in the link above and even though I agree that its difficult to say this or that are the different stages of grief t I believe knowing some of the emotions or stages to expect is useful. Like many of us I found my self going back and forth in different stages and I still do 21 months after. Rick and Kay admitted that they still experience shock many months after. I could identify with that because there are moments when the loss of my husband hits me afresh and I experience shock, sorrow and stuggle with all the why's etc. however it's much better now than before and instead of an almost constant nagging pain I have times when I am happy,I can laugh and enjoy life and moments of pain, sorrow or struggle. I think what they are saying is yes, we pass through different stages which may not necessarily follow any order but A very important stage RicknWarren mentions is surrender,sanctification and service. they have to do with choices we must make to surrender our struggles and sorrows to God in order to move on and not get stuck in grief. Service gives us the opportunity to channel our pain to something that will bless others and glorify God. Rick Warren's stages may not say it all but I found it true to my experience and helpful. At a point I knew I had to surrender all to God and simply trust him. Another decision I made was not to waste my pain but give purpose to it. Halima

  12. I once heard a minister say "God is the potter and I am the clay"
    and God is in control of the thermostat when the clay is upon the wheel and when he lovingly places the clay into the oven. When the clay willingly yields to be fashioned by the potter, in time it becomes the beautiful vessel of his own design and intent.

  13. I am only 7 weeks in and I have to say I prefer Rick Warren's list. It resonates with me. Not in a "stages" kind of way, but definitely from a "what to expect" standpoint. I may change my mind the more days pass. But I have already tripped upon - or intentionally walked into it, depending on which it is - each of these more than once.

    With every new realization of another door closing, of understanding something else that will never be again or will never ever be, I think I go through that whole cycle of shock-sorrow-struggle-surrender-sanctification and understand and desire that this training ground will someday be used for his service.


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