Changed by Grief, Transformed Through Hope
Grief can be a grace—if we let it.
That doesn’t sound like a pleasant thing, doesn’t it? In many cases, it doesn’t even seem possible. Are we truly supposed to accept unacceptable situations, such as abuse and injustice?
Strangely enough, the answer is yes—all while keeping in mind that acceptance doesn’t mean toleration of something that should never be tolerated.
So what is radical acceptance, and how does it help us move through the stages of grief as we navigate healing from a toxic relationship?
The only way to reach healing is to accept where we are in the present moment, and to face the grief this may cause. Even so, this needs to be done not in despair of our situation, but in a hopeful, prayer-filled way.
Avoiding pain will only backfire. When we try to avoid pain, we cause ourselves more pain.
“Fully accepting the reality of our situation, including the sadness, will lead to calm and freedom. Fighting, suppressing, and catastrophizing reality keeps you stuck in the sadness.”
As we take a look at the stages of grief, it’s important to understand that they’re not linear. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote extensively on grief, describing the stages in detail: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Yet she made it clear that we can move in and out of the phases, skip over some, or think we’ve made it close to the finish line—only to find ourselves back in the “denial” stage. This is perfectly normal, and it doesn’t mean we’re regressing or not healing. It simply means we’ve hit a new vista on our journey, and that we have something further to process in order to open the doors to even greater and more profound self-rejuvenation.
The first thing to accept on this journey is that our grief is not only real, but valid. This can be an unusual and even shocking thing for some people to come to terms with, especially those who are still in their relationships. Why grieve something that isn’t over? Why grieve the death of someone (or something) that hasn’t died?
Yet anyone who has endured a toxic relationship is inevitably grieving, even if that relationship is ongoing. We’re grieving a death, even if not a physical one: the death of what could have been, the death of what we thought we had, even the death of our dreams.
Yet dreams can be rebuilt, elaborated upon, and expanded. This is a divine promise.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Acknowledging our grief, rather than minimizing or avoiding it, helps us to process where we are in the present moment and discern where God wants us to go from here.
The CHRIST Program at Hope’s Garden teaches a set of therapeutic skills to help individuals discover the proper balance between accepting what’s outside of our control, while practicing the skills to help us make crucial changes in our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. This healing program points out that moving into the stage of acceptance means allowing us to discern the will of God in order to make positive, hopeful, healing changes.
“It’s difficult to discern the next right thing Jesus is calling me to do if I’m denying or distorting the reality of the present situation.
“Once I have accepted the reality as it is, then I can discern what, if anything, Jesus is asking me to change.
“Acceptance of what is doesn’t mean condoning abuse or mistreatment.”
(CHRIST Program, Hope’s Garden)
When we accept what is—for example, yes, my relationship is harmful to myself and my family—then we can make the changes we need as we move forward in healing and grace. Change can take many forms—it depends on our individual situations—but as long as it’s Christ-centered and Christ-driven, it will always be for our highest good.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)
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