The gift of acceptance
(Updated Saturday 18 April 2020, 21.20)
Just over fifty years ago the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a new way of understanding grieving. According to Kübler-Ross, although almost all of us who are grieving begin by denying the reality of our situation, we end up accepting our loss after having gone through intermediate stages that include anger and depression. Kübler-Ross’s ‘five stages of grief’, as they have become known, are not now considered an entirely helpful way of understanding the grieving process. But it is undoubtedly the case that reaching the end-point, acceptance, is highly significant for those who are grieving. However hard-won, acceptance enables us to begin a new stage of life that is deeply informed by our loss but not completely dominated by it.
Although the current restrictions on our lifestyle are as nothing compared with the grief that comes with losing a loved one, some of the reactions I have seen on social media bear a striking resemblance to Kübler-Ross’s theoretical model. This should not surprise us: being asked to forego so much of what we have always taken for granted is a kind of loss - and anger and depression at such loss is understandable. But in the end, and however difficult to achieve in our present circumstances, a state of gracious acceptance is what is most likely to bring about a healthy spiritual and mental state of mind. And if we refuse to allow the loss of so much that is familiar to dominate our thoughts, we will in turn be able to approach life after the restrictions start to be lifted with a heightened sense of thankfulness for the gifts of this life that are so often overlooked, especially the simple joys of social interaction and the accompanying physical signs of friendship.
A former Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nicholls, was fond of saying that at the heart of the Christian faith are parties and prayer. It was a good turn of phrase, but contained a profound truth which is derived from the ministry of Jesus. In the Gospels Jesus is very often found eating and drinking in the company of others. In fact he was criticised for this: the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard” ... (Luke 7.34). But at other times Jesus withdrew from others completely - examples of what we might call voluntary social distancing. So just before Luke describes the great banquet that the tax collector Levi gives for Jesus, he tells us that Jesus would withdraw to deserted places and pray (Luke 5.16). As we face a continued period of restriction on what we are able to do and where we are able to go we need to accept that the parties must wait. For now, let us be thankful that we have prayer - our own and others’ - to sustain us.
With my own prayers and good wishes,