Sorry for the lengthy absence! This is the third part of a series that was published in the local paper, again with light editing.

“Suppose,” Abraham asks God, “there were fifty righteous people in Sodom; would you really sweep away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it?”

When confronted with the possibility of a loss, it is natural to bargain. If the boss threatens to fire us, we may offer to work harder, or maybe take a pay-cut. If a person declares they’re leaving the relationship, we may promise to “shape up” or otherwise change our behavior, so that they’ll stay. When the doctors tell us about a life-threatening illness, whether it affects us or those we care about, we may try to come up with other options, and get the doctor to try something else. In each case we ask, “how can I stop this from happening?”

In the previous post, I wrote about anger as a response to loss, and bargaining is closely related. When we’re faced with a bad situation in which we feel overwhelmed and powerless, it’s natural to try to regain leverage. We try to do something, even when there is nothing to be done. And as with anger, it’s not a necessary “stage” that we go through: not everyone tries to bargain when coming to terms with a loss. It is a normal reaction, however.

People often try to strike a bargain when anticipating a loss; this was particularly noted by the psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. In her book, On Death and Dying, she wrote about the “five stages of grief,” which has served as a kind of map to an unfamiliar territory ever since. In the previous two posts, I’ve written about the first two stages, denial and anger; in the next two posts, I will write about depression and acceptance. Knowing that this is a familiar pattern has helped many people through difficult times of transition. Although she was writing about dying, we see similar reactions to other kinds of losses, such as losing a job or ending a relationship. These are common stages that people pass through, but every person’s journey is unique, and it’s important to honor the process of grief for the individual. At the same time, it can be comforting to know that other people have gone through similar experiences.

When I was working as a chaplain in a hospital, I often heard family members of patients wish they could take the place of the suffering patient. “Why couldn’t it have been me?” It often seems as if it would be easier to bear pain oneself than to watch a loved one suffer. Just about eight years ago, my daughter had to undergo the first in a series of back surgeries. After a long and slow recovery she’s better now, but she can no longer do some of the things she enjoyed before, such as swimming and playing soccer. I remember feeling powerless, and wondering why this had to happen to her, rather than me. I grieved the possibilities that seem to lie ahead of my little girl, potentials cut short, and wonder why it couldn’t have been me instead.

Similarly, after a death, family members often wonder what else they could have done, second-guessing themselves. This, too, is a kind of bargaining, even though it’s after the fact, asking “what if…?” How might we have changed things to get a different outcome? Most of the time, we can’t know the answers to these questions; often, the final result would have been the same regardless.

In each case, we want a different outcome. Bargaining is an attempt to regain some control in a situation where we feel out of control. However, even when we can’t see it in the moment, we have to trust that God will make things work out in the long run.

Views: 97

Comment by William F Rushby on 1st mo. 28, 2015 at 1:27pm

Thanks for the insights!

Comment by William Peale on 2nd mo. 20, 2015 at 8:47pm

Thanks Craig! I definitely get what your saying here. When my son first became ill many years ago, my wife and I were both offering ourselves to take on our son's suffering. The bargaining and second guessing were constant. At times that urge returns.

One thing that has always helped has been to "meet" folks who understand the sort of thing your writing about. It's a good thing to reconsider and hear what someone else has learned about suffering.

Wonderful entry. Thanks so much.

Be Well, Bill


You need to be a member of QuakerQuaker to add comments!

Join QuakerQuaker

Support Us

Did you know that QuakerQuaker is 100% reader supported? If you think this kind of outreach and conversation is important, please support it with a monthly subscription or one-time gift.

You can also make a one-time donation.

Latest Activity

Scott MacLeod updated their profile
4th month 28
William F Rushby posted a blog post

\John Woolman's Journal; Among the Indians

A Word from John WoolmanMoved by Love 12th day, 6th month, and first of the week. It being a rainy…See More
4th month 28
Jay Thatcher commented on Jay Thatcher's blog post 'Psalm 23'
"The text is from the New Jerusalem Bible.  To copy and paste I usually go to…"
4th month 25
Sergio Mouser updated their profile
4th month 24
Sergio Mouser liked Howard Brod's discussion Why do Liberal Friends not Record Ministers or Spiritual Gifts?
4th month 24
William F Rushby commented on Jay Thatcher's blog post 'Psalm 23'
"Thanks for this imaginative paraphrase!   And for the photos of Border Collies, of which…"
4th month 24
Jay Thatcher posted a blog post

Psalm 23

Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he…See More
4th month 22
David Keel commented on Rob Fensom's photo


"Thats a nice photo.  Road trips are so enjoyable. "
4th month 22

© 2021   Created by QuakerQuaker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service