“Do you ever pre-grieve your life?”
This is a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately, curious as to how much this particular condition affects others beyond myself. I define pre-grieving as the act of mourning in advance outcomes that are not guaranteed. Or, in other words, giving a voice to anxiety where it has no place; being sad in advance over a future that may or may not ever come.
More often than not, in response to this question, I hear, “Oh yes. I pre-grieve all the time. I thought I was the only one.”
Recently, I took to Instagram to ask even more friends if they struggle with this too. Out of the nearly one hundred people who responded, 87% said they could relate. These numbers aren’t scientific, but the pattern of pre-grief remains: far too many of us are living in captivity to fear of the future.
We fear what we cannot control.
We mourn before there is anything to mourn.
We do not allow ourselves to hope.
We do not fully trust God to be good.
Examples of Pre-Grief
The closest medically-recognized example of pre-grieving is anticipatory grief, usually in expectation of the death of a loved one. But pre-grief isn’t limited only to this.
When I asked people about how pre-grief plays a role in their own lives, they shared a few things, and shed some light on the things they pre-grieve the most.
Pre-grieving the loss of a present season – anticipating painful change.
Pre-grieving worst-case scenarios in the realm of uncertainties.
Pre-grieving the possibility of breakups. The death of loved ones. The pain of losing people.
Pre-grieving losing joy.
Pre-grieving an imagined (and impossible) future where God is not truly faithful or good or worthy of trusting with everything.
Somehow, for some reason, I think we can pre-grieve because we don’t want to be blindsided by loss when it does come. This isn’t always the case, but I think we reason that if we can’t control the future, we can at least get a head start on processing now – as if somehow, by mourning now, it will lessen the blow of the pain later, or it will be less shattering. Common sense tells us that doesn’t work – it just makes us more anxious and miserable in the present.
Grieving potential futures now is not an effective way of preventing pain – instead, we’re paralyzing ourselves with anxiety, often unfounded anxiety, and robbing ourselves of the joy of the present.
Where This Stems From
Over and over, I see this pattern – we are afraid. We are afraid of losing. We are afraid of being out of control. We are afraid of pain. And this fear is often rooted in lack of trust that God will be good.
Because if God is good, there is no room for fear – because perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
If God is good, then His plans are good – all of them – because ALL things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).
If God, the most powerful One in existence is, in fact, good, then there is no other power in heaven or on earth that can supersede God’s power – and He alone is the one in whom we trust (Psalm 56:3-4).
The times in which we revert to pre-grieving our lives will always be we fall into believing that our uncertain future has more power over us than God’s faithful goodness does.
Our Big Mistake
I once had a conversation with a wise person that changed my life. He said to me, “I spent my entire life captive to the feeling that my life was too good, always emotionally preparing for something devastating to happen. And when tragedy did come, my first thought was, ‘Aha. I knew it.’ And at that moment, I realized that I had just spent decades of my life in unnecessary fear and pre-grief – and even though the pain was real, God was still faithful and good, and carried me through with some of the most powerful reminders of His presence I’ve ever experienced.”
That shook me to my core.
When we pre-grieve, we do not factor in the truth that even though pain is virtually inevitable, God’s faithfulness never ceases. We worry about what the worst-case scenarios will look like, and yet we are so prone to leaving God’s presence out of that imagined future.
As Christians, one of the greatest hopes we have in our lives is that God does not change. Over and over in Scripture, we see this so evidently (Psalm 102:27; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).
One of my favorite verses is James 1:17, which tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” He gives us good gifts; He does not change.
Therefore, if He is faithful today, He will be faithful tomorrow.
If He is good today, He will be good tomorrow.
If He is present today, He will be present tomorrow.
If He is gracious and compassionate today, He will be gracious and compassionate tomorrow.
And because of this, we can echo Job’s words in saying that “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21b). We aren’t denying that pain will probably come, but we are kicking out the anxiety that threatens to steal our joy in the present and keep us from trusting God with everything. He is worthy of praise, no matter what, because regardless of what happens, He is always good.
Breaking the Patterns of Pre-Grief
Slowly, slowly, I am learning to break the patterns of pre-grief in my life. Late at night, when I find myself overthinking everything with a well-worn journal in my lap, I go through these questions and force myself to answer honestly:
Do I trust God to be good enough and powerful enough to write a good story?
Do I trust God to be good enough for me no matter what?
Do I trust that God delights in giving good gifts to His kids?
Sooner or later, we will all come to terms with the reality that there is so much out of our control – and mourning over the things that may one day be lost will not keep them there. Trusting God is our hope.
We must choose to hold onto temporary things loosely, and hold onto Him tightly. Not because we should love the temporary things any less, but because God is the only steady One when our reality is uncertain. And if He is good, there is no room for fear, or worry, or anxiety over the things to come, because He has never left us and He never will. Our hope will always, ultimately be rooted in who He is.
We can only flourish if we’re willing to let go – so we can instead hold onto the One who holds our lives so much better than we can.
He’s good. He’s really, really good. And so, we are faced with a choice: will we trust Him?
It’s time we stopped pre-grieving.