William Bridges, author of “Managing Transitions” has documented that it is impossible to move into the future without first coming to the realization and grief that accompanies the death of the past. Life and leadership are forever changing. We intuitively know and realize things will be different. But nonetheless, all change is disruptive. It was different to go to the airport after 9/11. It will be different tomorrow. The loss of normalcy, the fear of change, the uncertain future, and the loss of familiarity are all a part of the early stages of a grieving process.
Anticipatory Grief is the term given to what we feel when we head into a different future of uncertain things. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the thought of what we’ll lose as jobs end, neighborhoods change, and people close to us depart.
Anticipatory grief is also more broadly about imagined storms that are coming; the knowledge that there is unknown out there, and all the loss of what could happen if I/we “get the virus.” It’s that grief and fear that something bad and unknown could happen that draws out this different kind of emotion. We are grieving a past that will not come back, and a future yet to unfold. Grief does not just go away. There are stages to the grieving process.
The FIVE Stages of Grief
Stage 1: Denial… It starts with dismissive chatter, not really able to acknowledge life has changed and things are any different.
Stage 2: Anger… It then moves to the feelings that the event or change is something that ought not to have occurred and often someone else’s faults.
Stage 3: Rationalization… It moves to a series of explanations and reasons as to why this has occurred, how it’s not that bad, and life as we know it will return.
Stage 4: Despair… Moving to a sense of lostness, dread, pain and, the inability to cope or even survive.
Stage 5: Acceptance… It arrives at the place and resigns, acceptance, release, and eventually the potential of new creativity.
As we go through a time of transition and change, what is the posture that helps us survive the process and able to get all we can out of the process of moving beyond the past, and into the future? Let me suggest… adopting a “sovereign mindset.”
mind-set (n) 1. A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s response to, and interpretations of, situations. (2) An inclination or habit.
“Mindset” became a new term in the English language in the 1920s. A mind-set is formed as a result of seeing life differently, either as a result of experience, education, prejudice, or event—or because of a viewpoint that serves to predetermine a person’s responses and interpretations of various situations.
A sovereign mindset believes that there is an ultimate, God-ordained purpose for our lives, whether seen or unseen. It believes that God is active, not passive. Regarding a Christ follower’s development, a sovereign mindset believes that God uses life to shape life. It believes that a Christ-follower can live a life within this viewpoint. Each life in God’s economy is part of an ultimate grand narrative. It is about taking the deep theological truth of sovereignty and making it immensely practical.
Lives lived differently from the world inspire others. Within each Christ-follower is the potential to live differently. But to do so requires followers to process their transitions with a different mindset, one that acknowledges that God has the right to be God. It is a commitment to life lived according to God’s sovereign purposes, anchored in God’s sovereign character.
The life of a Christ-follower is not about personal success, accomplishment, or even significance. It’s about joining the larger story of redemption. This type of life can be lived now; it has been lived before. The cry of John the Baptist summarizes the mind-set of this life: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). Translated: How He is at work is of greater importance in my life, than how I am at work.
Anticipatory grief will play its role in all of our lives both today and in the near future. The Five Stages of Grief will be a journey many of us will travel on en-route to what’s next. Whatever is ahead it will mean letting go of where we have been. That will mean loss. Approaching the future with a “sovereign mindset” could mean the difference from being mired in the past and being better able to navigate what’s ahead.