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Faith and Health

What Are The 5 Stages of Grief When Facing a Health Diagnosis?

My life was almost perfect. I had hopes and dreams. I was going to do amazing things. Everything was going according to plan.  

Until it wasn’t.  

While I’d always been a healthy individual, I suddenly found myself dealing with some rather strange symptoms.

This led to an 18-month-long journey filled with a multitude of doctors, appointments, tests, therapies, and treatments. Until finally, one day I received an answer.  

At first, I was elated.

After all, this meant I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t all in my head. There really was something wrong with me.  

But then it hit me.  

There really was something wrong with me.  

The doctor had called it a chronic condition. He’d said it would never go away. Which meant my life was never going to be the same.  

I was diagnosed with the hyperadrenergic subtype of POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). This condition makes it difficult for me to stand or walk for extended periods of time. 

Facing a future of physical limitations sent me into a season of grief. 

Because when we’re diagnosed with a debilitating health condition or a life-threatening disease, while we may not realize it at first . . . we’re facing a very significant loss.  

The loss of our health. 

And just like with any loss, we typically experience grief over this in stages. 

What are the 5 stages of grief?

The 5 stages of grief are:  

  • 1) Denial  
  • 2) Anger  
  • 3) Bargaining  
  • 4) Depression  
  • 5) Acceptance  

An important thing to remember though is that this is the typical order of the stages of grief people go through. However, for some people, things may be different.  

We may go through them in a different order. And we may even go through these stages at multiple times in our lives.  

Because when we’ve lost something as big as our health . . . the grief can come and go.   

And that’s okay.  

A side view of a woman praying. And the verse, "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." -Psalm

1) Denial

Sometimes we live in denial of our health issues. We try to pretend we’re normal and can do what everyone else can do.   

It can be difficult to admit our weaknesses.   

But inevitably, when we live in denial, we push our bodies too hard and end up paying for it later.   

***

I most often do this when talking to someone that doesn’t know about my health conditions. I stand and talk with them, not wanting to admit my limitations, and afterwards end up feeling dizzy, nauseous, fatigued, or dealing with the pain of a migraine headache.   

All because I was stubborn and stood for too long. Even when I knew I shouldn’t. 

Sigh.  

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

-1 Peter 5:17 NLT

2) Anger

Sometimes we feel angry that God is allowing this difficult health condition to rule our lives. We get frustrated when He doesn’t fix it or heal us.   

I mean, He healed lots of people in the Bible . . . so why won’t He heal us?

It doesn’t make sense. It hurts. And the anger over it all makes our hearts burn.   

***

This has happened to me many times. Like when my son came home all excited from school practically shouting, “We’re going on a field trip to the zoo!”  

And then I watched the smile suddenly fade from his face as he said, “I was going to ask you to chaperone, but that would be too far for you to walk.”  

My heart broke into a million pieces. And then I got angry.   

Why would a good God who loves me take away special occasions like this? Moments where I could make precious memories with my kids?  

I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be a part of God’s plan. And it made me mad.  

“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 

-1 Peter 4:19 NLT
A woman holding her hands up in prayer while resting them on her Bible. And the words, "Lean on Jesus when life hurts."

3) Bargaining

Sometimes we bargain with God over our health issues. This happens when our prayers sound like this:  

“Lord, I will do whatever you tell me to do and go wherever you tell me to go, if you will just heal me.”   

Or  

“Jesus, I will follow you for the rest of my life if you cure me of my disease.”  

We may even start praying, reading our Bibles, going to church, tithing, or giving to charity all in an attempt to get on God’s good side so He will grant our request for healing.   

(Don’t feel bad. I’ve done it, too. The point is to recognize this, confess and repent, and get back to a place where we do these things because we love God . . . not because of what He could do for us.)  

***

I’ve always loved to sing. But I told God if He wanted me to serve Him on the worship team at church, then He would have to heal me so I could stand and sing for Him onstage.   

Then one day I was watching an online service of another church when . . . lo and behold there was a girl onstage singing from a chair.   

I was immediately convicted. And challenged.   

I contacted my church, and they were totally willing to let me sing with the worship team onstage . . . while sitting on a chair.  

So, that’s what I did.   

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

-Romans 8:28 NIV
A road stretching out through a pine forest. And the words, "God has a plan. Even when we don't understand."

4) Depression

Sometimes we struggle with feeling depressed over our health problems.  

It’s hard to think about the life we once lived, and how we will never live that way again. It’s difficult to accept all the ways our lives have changed due to poor health. And it’s frustrating to accept weaknesses and limitations.  

It’s a loss.  

And just like with any loss we need to take the time to grieve. To take it easy and rest. To give our hearts and minds the time and space they need to process what we’re going through.  

Not dealing with grief or trying to ignore the situation never works.    

“If you don’t grieve, the pain won’t leave.”    

-Jim Cress

We need to give ourselves permission to grieve the loss of our health.  

To let the tears flow down our face as we fall before the throne of grace. To cry out to God and pour out our hearts before Him. And then to let the Holy Spirit shelter us from the rain and comfort us in our pain.  

Because this is how the healing process begins.   

***

For a long time, I struggled with feeling useless.  

I went from being able to walk four miles while pushing two kids in a stroller to barely being able to walk around my block.   

I went from working full-time at home and homeschooling my kids to putting my kids in school and working just part-time from home.  

And sometimes even struggling to do that.   

My limitations made me feel worthless. And to be honest, for a while I let these feelings take over . . . making me sad, depressed, and bitter.  

“Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.” 

-Lamentations 2:19 NLT

“O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” 

-Psalm 62:8 NLT
Pink boards with white baby's breath flowers in the corners. And the words, "We can let our hard times make us BITTER. Or we can let God use our hard times to make us BETTER."

5) Acceptance

Finally, we reach a stage where we accept what we’ve been given and find peace. 

  • Where we choose to find joy in the journey God has us on . . . even if we don’t always like it.   
  • Where we choose to trust that God is working . . . even in our health issues. 
  • Where we find ways to be grateful for what we have . . . while doing what we can to help others.   
  • Where we believe with every fiber of our being that God is working all things for our good. (Romans 8:28) That He has a plan, even if we don’t quite understand.  

And we choose to let our hard times cultivate a rich faith in the God who loves us more passionately than we could ever imagine.   

This is the place where good things happen.  

While we need to go through the other stages, this is what they all lead to. A place of acceptance where we allow God to grow and develop us. And bring us to a place where He can use us.   

Because when people see how we have faith even in our most difficult struggles, it makes them wonder about the joy and hope we have.  

That is when we can tell them about Jesus.  

And the difference He’s made in our lives.    

“Let your roots grow down into him and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”    

-Colossians 2:7 NLT

***

Slowly, I began to let my health issues drive me deeper in my faith in God. He helped me move from a place of being bitter . . . to allowing Him to use my situation to make me better.  

And He began to show me things from His perspective.   

When I had to use a wheelchair as a young woman at places like the zoo or an aquarium . . . God was teaching me to accept the help of others.   

When I had to lie down every afternoon due to the dizziness . . . God was teaching me to slow down, rest, and pray. To make room for quiet and peace. To sit back and enjoy the life He’d given me.  

I had to be careful about what I said yes to. To be intentional about what I gave my energy and time to. 

Which meant I learned the value of being present in the moment. And to be thankful for all the things I COULD do . . . like talking with my children or sitting outside with my husband.  

As I allowed my suffering to grow my faith roots down deep into Christ; my faith grew stronger, and I learned how to be more grateful for everything. 

Even a condition that weakens me. 

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” 

-Psalm 73:26 NLT
The bottom half of a woman in a white dress walking on top of a small cement wall in a forest. And the words, "I choose to find joy in the journey God has placed before me."

Which stage of grief is the hardest?

The depression stage is usually the hardest one to get through. Because we may struggle with wondering if life will ever feel good again. We may wrestle with wondering why God would allow this.  

Because it just doesn’t feel fair.  

While depression can be the longest and most difficult stage to go through when we grieve, this is also the place where we find the most healing. 

By facing our sadness over what happened we can come to a place of acceptance.  

Where we realize that we have two choices: Hold onto the pain and sorrow. Or trust the God who already knows all our tomorrows. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” 

-Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT
Sunrise over a lake with city lights and hills in the background. And the words, "We have two choices: Hold onto the pain and sorrow. Or trust the God who already knows all our tomorrows."

Which stage of grief is the shortest?

The bargaining stage is usually the shortest of them all. We tend to quickly realize that we can’t fix it. No matter how hard we try.  

But we can find meaning in it, especially with God’s help. We can trust Him. He is in control. Even in this.  

And He has a plan.

Even when we don’t understand.  

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” 

-John 14:1 NLT

How long does grief usually last?

Typically, we go through the 5 stages of grief within a year or so. But keep in mind it can take longer for some people and for others it may be shorter.  

What matters more than how long it takes, is that we let God guide us through the process. Allowing ourselves to take the time to grieve can help our hearts to heal as we learn to deal with our health issues and diseases.  

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

-John 14:17 NIV
A woman sitting with her knees to her chest while holding onto a kleenex box in her lap. And holding a kleenex up to her face. And the words, "What are the 5 stages of grief when facing a health diagnosis?"
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How God Helps Us Process Our Grief

God is our loving Father, so He never leaves us alone in our grief. He is right by our side the entire time. To heal, comfort, and give us the strength to keep going through the grief process.  

We can lean on Him when life hurts. And as we do, His love and grace will remind us that He is working all things out for our good. (Romans 8:28) 

Even the things that don’t feel so good . . . like grief. 

If you find this encouraging, then please share so it can help others!

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