David L. Goetsch
COVID Isolation Can Cause You To Grieve (Jeremiah 29:11)
By now every American knows about the physical threat of COVID-19, but fewer people are aware of the emotional problems the virus can cause. Having your life turned upside down and not knowing if it will ever return to normal can cause you to grieve as if you have a lost loved one. In the case of COVID isolation, the “lost loved one” is the life you had before COVID. If feelings of isolation are causing you to grieve the loss of the life you had before the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the stages of emotional transition will help you know what to expect and, in turn, may help you cope better with the grief.
STAGES OF EMOTIONAL TRANSITION
The stages of emotional transition a grieving person goes through are as follows: 1) shock, 2) denial, 3) realization, 4) acceptance, 5) rebuilding, 6) understanding, and 7) recovery.
If you are experiencing circumstances that have left you mired in grief, anger, or bitterness, it is important for you to understand these seven stages of emotional transition. They represent the process you will have to go through to heal your heart, grow in faith, and restore your life. But a caveat is in order here. When you know the stages of emotional transition, it is only natural to want to go directly from stage one to stage seven, skipping all the other stages in between. Don’t attempt this.
Each stage serves a purpose in the healing process. Further, while your mind might be able to leap over stages, your heart can’t. Don’t try to rush your heart. A grieving heart heals in the same way a deep gash in your arm or leg heals: slowly and from the inside out. Trying to rush the process might close the wound on the outside while leaving you emotionally torn and bleeding on the inside.
Stage 1: Shock
Shock is a physical and emotional response to an unwelcome event that is at odds with your expectations or desires. When you are shocked by an unwelcome experience, your mind cannot process the message it is receiving. You are stunned, sometimes to the point that you cannot think or act. You may experience a kind of mental and emotional paralysis that is as real as physical paralysis. A lot of people had this experience when it dawned on them that the isolation of COVID-19 wasn’t going to be a short-term thing. They were shocked to think it could go on for a year or even more.
This kind of reaction to unwelcome circumstances is not just normal, it is the first stage in the emotional-transition process. When an unwelcome circumstance like COVID-19 intrudes on your life, expect your first response to be shock. This is a natural reaction to emotional trauma. Although it does not always happen and does not happen to everyone, it is typical and when it happens there is nothing you can do to prevent it. The shock you feel will run its course, but this can take time, and it is best to give it the needed time.
Stage 2: Denial
Denial means refusing to accept that something so unwelcome has happened. A common response to unwelcome circumstances is: “I can’t believe this!” Often, shock and denial run together in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching event, and though they are closely related, shock and denial are not the same thing. Shock, as stated in the previous section, renders your brain unable to process what your senses are telling it. Denial occurs as the shock begins to wear off and the brain begins to process the message. Because the harsh reality of the message is so unwelcome, you respond by denying what you are beginning to realize has happened. Denial is actually a defense mechanism that comes into play when you are so overwhelmed by circumstances you cannot cope with them. Hence, you deny them.
When counseling Christians who are in denial, I find that Jeremiah 29:11 can be helpful. It may help you. Jeremiah is so beaten down by discouragement, frustration, and grief that he wants to die. In fact, Biblical scholars often refer to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet.” In this verse, the Lord reassures Jeremiah, explaining He has plans for him and those plans are for good not evil and for hope and a better future.
In your darkest hour, God is nearby and He understands what you are going through. As He did for Jeremiah, God has a plan for you. He will bring you through the unwelcome circumstances that have turned your life upside down and give you hope and a better future just as He did for Jeremiah. To make sure this happens, cling to your faith in God. Do this in spite of the despair, anger, fear, or hopelessness you feel about COVID-19 and God will pull you through.
Stage 3: Realization
If I were to chart the seven stages of emotional transition for you, the realization stage would show a sudden drop in the chart, a precipitous downward dip to emotional rock bottom. Realization is often the most difficult of the seven stages. It is during this stage that your sorrow, disappointment, and discouragement are felt most intensely. This is the stage where clinging to your faith is most crucial. In this stage the message in Philippians 4:6-7 is important to remember. In these verses, you are told to avoid being anxious. Rather, you are to lay your troubles at God’s feet in prayer and supplication. If you do this “…the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
During the realization stage you can feel so overwhelmed by the reality of what you face that you become depressed and cannot function. It is also during this stage that you are most vulnerable to Satan’s devious machinations. This is where the message in Philippians 4:6-7 comes into play because it is the stage in the emotional-transition process where Satan will try to undermine your faith. Fortunately, the message in these verses from Scripture provides everything you need to repel his devious efforts.
It is not uncommon for believers to feel their faith slipping away during this stage in the emotional-transition process, nor is it uncommon for them to sink into a state of depression. This is where you might become angry at God, where bitterness and resentment might seep into your heart. This is the stage where you have to make a conscious choice to run to God or run from Him. If you feel Satan pulling you away from God at this stage, get help from a Christian counselor or pastor right away. Don’t allow Satan to use your depression to rob you of your faith at the point when you need it most.
Stage 4: Acceptance
“Acceptance” is a bit of a misnomer. It does not mean you agree with what has happened or believe it should have happened. Rather, it means you have progressed to the point you are ready to face the harsh reality of the situation and begin the rebuilding process. In this stage, you are ready to say, “This situation is depressing and I wish it had not happened, but I know it did and now I must deal with it.”
If you are grieving the loss of your pre-COVID life, you might find solace in the words of 1 John 5:13-14: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” It is the assurance in these verses that God will hear our prayers that is most comforting to people who are grieving.
The acceptance stage is where progress toward recovery begins to be seen. This is the good news. The bad news is that this stage can take time. It is important that you give yourself the time needed to allow your acceptance of a bad situation to take hold. I am sure you want the pain and frustration to stop and the sooner the better, but don’t try to rush this stage. Emotional wounds are like physical wounds in that they take time to heal, and trying to rush the process can just reopen the wound. Instead, spend this stage in constant prayer, asking God to help you heal, recover, and rebuild. Also ask Him to help you do so in ways that will increase your faith in Him.
Stage 5: Rebuilding
The rebuilding stage of the emotional-transition process is where you pull yourself up from despair and start down a path that leads to restoration. It is in this stage that hope and healing gain a foothold and begin pushing aside the lingering anger, bitterness, and resentment that can inhibit the healing process. In this stage you begin to act on the admonition in 1 Chronicles 16:11 to seek the Lord’s strength and presence every day. By doing this you take a major step toward restoration and growing in faith.
You rebuild by praying continually, seeking guidance in Scripture, and undertaking specific actions that are positive, productive, and helpful. When you pray, ask God to lift you up and keep you on the path to restoration while also strengthening your faith in Him. This is important because even in this stage, the healing process can consist of taking two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back. You may have periodic relapses into anger, bitterness, and resentment. Your faith might falter on the bad days. Don’t despair when this happens. It is normal and understandable. Emotional healing is seldom linear. Rather, it is an up-and-down, back-and-forth, good-days-and-bad-days kind of process. This is why it is important to pray continually so that God will help keep you on the path to recovery.
When you seek guidance in Scripture, dig deeply and find those verses that are most helpful to you. I have always found James 1:12 helpful when life hurts. This verse assures us that “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him.” Psalm 27:14 is also helpful: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Of course, by this stage, Romans 8:28 and Romans 5:3-4 will be helpful too. But people are individuals. We respond in different ways to different verses, so seek out those that are helpful to you.
Stage 6: Understanding
In this stage of the emotional-transition process, you begin to understand the situation that turned your life upside down as well as why you responded as you did. You now understand that God did not single you out for loss, pain, or hardship. You were not being punished when COVID-19 intruded on your life. Additionally, you now understand that in a fallen world, bad things do happen to good people. Consequently, the only real protection you have from life’s difficulties is the armor of God.
You also understand that the armor of God is donned not to prevent bad things from happening to you, but to provide the strength you need to bear up when they do. You also understand that the peace, comfort, and assurance you need in a world that can be cold and bleak is found only in the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Finally, you understand that the pathway to Christ is illuminated by your faith.
Stage 7: Recovery
This is the stage in the emotional-transition process where you discover the healing power of sharing your experience with others who are hurting. You don’t recover by repressing or forgetting the unwelcome events that knock you down in life. Rather, you recover by acknowledging them and trusting God to help you face up to them in faith. Only when you deal openly, frankly, and in faith with your losses in life have you truly recovered from them. Once you have reached this stage, you have been given an invaluable gift; the gift of your experience. Share what you have gone through and learned from it with others who are struggling to cope with the loss of their pre-COVID life. Doing so will not only help them, it will nail down your recovery and make it complete.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.