Medical professionals are taught that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  It is argued that those who grieve will experience each of these stages, although everyone experiences them differently. They occur in different orders; some people skip a stage and then come back to it. Some experience two stages simultaneously, and others flit from stage to stage to stage as grief swirls uncontrollably around them.

I believe there is some truth to the theory of staging grief. But I also believe that it is lacking immensely. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Psalm 30:11 says, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.”

In Ecclesiastes God tells us that he has his own timeline for grief. He has given us a time for everything, for every purpose under heaven. He has given us time to weep, and he has given us time to mourn. He feels our pain and our grief as a father feels for his child, so deeply that he knows the grief better than we know it ourselves. He also gently tells us that there is a time to laugh, and a time to dance.

I don’t believe that there are strict stages of grieving. One moment you’re weeping and can’t fathom ever laughing again, but in the next moment, you laugh. Throughout a day spent grieving, mourning and dancing weave and swirl together, so much so that you lose track of where one begins and the other ends. They mix together as finely as two sands poured into the same sieve. Mourning and dancing become one and the same. Laughing and weeping are soon indistinguishable. Mourning is laughing, as you recall memories. Weeping is celebrating, as you revel in the mystery of God’s all-consuming peace. How can such an emotion be staged? Or explained? Or understood even by those who experience it?

Only the God who is sovereign over all things, including grief, can fully understand it. Only the one who created you can fully understand how you grieve. He understands that the time to dance and the time to mourn often walk so closely together that they become one. The theory of the five stages of grief is lacking so immensely because it has left out the comfort, the hope, the trust, and ultimately the peace that the child of God experiences throughout the grieving process. God takes you by the hand and ever so gently leads you through the tumultuous sea of emotions. He sweeps you from mourning into dancing, the transition so fluid and quiet that you cannot pinpoint the moment when your heart moved from downtrodden to joyous. He turns your weeping into laughter. He mixes them together. He turns laughing back to weeping and back again. He has created you, and he has designed a timeline for grief that is just for you. And all the while, his promises hold strong and sure. No matter what emotions swirl angrily around you, he holds you still. He promises to work those emotions toward your good.

Maybe you’re laughing, or maybe you’re mourning. Maybe you’re weeping, or maybe you’re dancing. Maybe you’re doing all of these at once. Everyone travels through grief in his own way. But we do not travel alone, and the destination is the same. God gently and lovingly walks you through every time, through every purpose under heaven. And when you finally reach heaven’s gates, he sweeps you into his arms, into a place where grief no longer exists, and where mourning and weeping have fallen softly and sweetly away.