Grief & Change

Anne C. Miles > Thoughts and prayers > Grief & Change

So I have this theory. My theory is that whenever we try to change in any way for the better, we go through the stages of grief before the reformation is accomplished. I think that’s why there’s this idea of “putting to death the deeds of the flesh” in the New Testament. Certainly I’m experiencing this myself in trying to form new habits (exercise, daily writing, healthy eating and other areas). I’m trying to not procrastinate, for instance. Observing my own initial thoughts and responses has been really interesting since this occurred to me.

The stages of grief are, briefly, denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. Some websites I’ve read reference seven stages. But I think these five work for my purposes pretty well. I’m going to explore them in the context of dieting as that’s an easy one to explore. I think most people have tried a diet at some point in time.

Denial: I don’t really need to stop doing ______.

or conversely

I don’t really need to start doing _________.

Say I want to diet. I choose a program that seems good to me and when tempted to eat outside the prescribed rules, denial is the first thing to rear its ugly head. “I don’t really need to diet.” I don’t say that to myself. It’s just there, the idea that I’m quite all right as I am and changing is too much bother. No sense getting radical. This isn’t really that important. It’s just a cookie. 

That’s why mirrors are so effective if you’re dieting. They can silence the argument quickly. Mirrors and scales. Nothing dispels denial quite as quickly as statistics.

Often the conviction isn’t overt, the denial is unspoken. If verbalized, it’s too easily refuted. In my experience denial is more stealthy than this. It quite happily places a picture in your mind of you as less large or less unhealthy than you are and suggests without words your anxiety over health or appearance isn’t necessary at all. I think denial and bargaining are twins; they often appear together. So, immediately following this suggestion is the idea that “I can start really following this tomorrow.” At which point I might agree heartily and eat a cookie.

Now looking at the armor of God we have some weapons. I believe that these are provided to win the war against the flesh. I often hear about them being employed against the Enemy. But sometimes we forget there is another enemy and he is us. They’re effective tools.

Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil.

12 For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist andstand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place].

14 Stand therefore [hold your ground], having tightened the belt of truth around your loins and having put on the breastplate of integrity and of moral rectitude andright standing with God,

15 And having shod your feet in preparation [to face the enemy with the [a]firm-footed stability, the promptness, and the readiness [b]produced by the good news] of the Gospel of peace.

16 Lift up over all the [covering] shield of [c]saving faith, upon which you can quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked [one].

17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword that the Spirit [d]wields, which is the Word of God.

18 Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty. To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints (God’s consecrated people).

The first weapon is the truth. In this case, the mirror helps to dispel the lie we’re believing (things aren’t that bad, this isn’t necessary). But first we have to come to grips with that unverbalized half-formed, image in our heads and verbalize it. We have to become more aware. Otherwise we’ll be justifying and excusing all sorts of nonsense for ourselves. 
Truth is, we often do. 
After we reject the denial, the bargaining sets in. Not only “you can start tomorrow,” but also things like “Just take one bite” or “you can eat less tomorrow and make up the calories.” My favorite? “You can work it off.” As if I will. If I reject the bargaining, then in rushes anger.  It isn’t the anger at a friend who upsets you or at a boss who wrongfully yells at you. It’s the anger of the selfish soul: “I deserve this.”
“I deserve this,” that quiet, angry thought that defiantly challenges any attempt to change, is lethal. It will have you drink yourself to death. It will allow you to max out your credit cards. It will force feed you until you cannot walk. It will let you betray your loved ones. 
“I deserve this” is anger. It is in its essence the idea that to deny the flesh the object of its lust is to commit an assault, to bereave. It’s an offense. The impetus to reform is wrong and unjust and therefore must be challenged. This is where humility must speak out and the truth reviewed again. Self-pity rejected, the breastplate of righteousness put on. 
Because what exactly do you deserve
I know what I deserve apart from Christ. It isn’t a cookie. 
At this point I recognize I’m in a battle, if I did not before. My logic comes up and very sweetly inquires: who is it that wants to keep me from eating that cookie? I have an inner conflict. There are two sides at war within me. Which side has the curly mustache and black hat and murderous intent? 
Integrity. Moral rectitude. Right standing with God. What side are they on? 
Along with multiple urges to self to read every verse on gluttony, denial will chime in and claim I really don’t need to diet at all. It comes back with a vengeance. Bargaining will join in.

If this wave passes without defeat, then we meet depression.

Depression whispers to me that there is no hope. I’m only going to have to go through this every day for the rest of my life and I do not have the strength. I’m never going to truly overcome. It reminds me of the 53 pounds I lost one year and then points to the mirror. I’ve gained it all back. It blames the fertilizer put on the food and chemicals in the water and hormones and age and tells me I can’t win.

L.M. Montgomery, in her classic, Anne of Green Gables, tells us that to despair is to turn your back on God. Bless her, that one line spoken by a character in the book has saved me more times than I care to admit. The Godspell says we can change. Really change. And so I put on those shoes of the gospel of peace. There’s a new King in charge.

The only way to fail is to quit. Give up. that’s depression’s goal. You’re going to fail anyway, it says.

There’s more here to be explored. But I think we can come to acceptance. I think just like with actual grief over a loved one there is a process of grieving that must be endured, but it leads to healing. I also think that a new creation is formed in this way. 
Thank God He is also kind enough to walk with us in it. To heal the festering wounds in all the dark corners of our hearts that become exposed through this. 
I’ll leave you with this thought. My Twitter brother Joshua Jones says temptation is never more dangerous than when it comes disguised as relief.
What is worship?


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