I have a dear friend in California who introduced me to the concept of "pre-grieving." At first it sounded like sheer silliness, but the more I listened to her explanation, the more sense it made. She said that when she knew -- or even suspected -- that something bad was about to happen, she would start grieving even before the bad thing would come. It was a way, she said, of preparing to feel the loss and it gave her a head-start on the experience of grief that would inevitably come.
On the one hand, there's a problem with that strategy: we cannot be sure what will happen in the future. Even when we feel certain about what is coming next, we simply cannot be sure. Especially given the way most of us worry, we then end up grieving about things that might never happen. In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul encourages us not to be anxious about anything. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). So dwelling on what might happen is clearly a problem.
On the other hand, some of what causes our sadness these days is the uncertainty itself. We don't, of course, know exactly what might happen next, but we are quite sure that the world is changing right before our eyes. Even as we quote Philippians 4:6 to ourselves and to others, we live with a deep sense of loss. And what we're losing is the world we thought we knew, the world where we felt at least marginally "at home."
According to David Kessler, what we're actually dealing with is grief. It's quite a label, but David Kessler is said to be "the world's foremost expert on grief." In a recent conversation, he explained that what many people are feeling these days is "anticipatory grief."
This is how he explains the deep discomfort many of us are carrying around these days:
Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds
when we're uncertain. Usually it centers on death.
We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis
or when we have the normal thought that we'll lose a parent someday.
Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures.
There is a storm coming. There's something bad out there.
With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people.
Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can't see it.
This breaks our sense of safety.
We're feeling that loss of safety.
David Kessler says it's a good idea to name what it is that we're feeling; he's pretty sure that it's grief. Grief about things that haven't happened yet. Grief that is already anticipating what might happen. Grief over the uncertainty of the future. (Honestly, wouldn't this be easier to deal with if we knew how long the chaos would last?) According to David Kessler, giving a name to what we're feeling and honestly admitting that this is hard is a good start.
But people of faith can go a few steps beyond that. We have a foundation that provides us with a place to stand. The core truths that we have lived with for years are a trustworthy anchor. And even as we recite the promises to ourselves, we surely must find ways to share these same promises with those around us -- in many case, with people who are trying to deal with their fears without the certainty of these marvelous promises.
God is at work. God is present.
God is aware. God loves us.
God holds us in his strong arms.
God delights in us. God is with us.
God is able.
God will never leave us.
Those certainties do NOT mean that we will never deal with grief. We all know what it's like to live in this world; we know that there is both sunshine and rain.
But we also know that we are not nearly as alone as we might feel. God is with us.
And because that's true, we should try not to worry too much about things that haven't happened yet. As Jesus reminded us, "each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34). And as people who love and follow this Jesus, it is our high privilege to live today . . . with hope and trust and confidence . . . and with deep, deep compassion for other people.
So pre-grieve if you must.
But don't let your pre-grieving get in the way of living your life today.