We all know what it is. Things get tough; the pain becomes overwhelming. So we enter, consciously or unconsciously, into some form of negotiation. Generally this is with God; sometimes it is even with the devil. (Literature abounds with stories of people making pacts with the devil.) We bargain with whomever we feel can relieve our situation.
Bargaining is really an attempt to postpone; it has to include a prize offered "for good behavior". It also sets a self-imposed "deadline" (one more day, the son's wedding), and it includes an implicit promise that the person will not ask for more if this one desire is granted.
King David went through this particular stage of grief. His son whom Bath Sheba bore fell ill (as had been prophesied). In 2Samuel 12:16-17 it says; "David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground... He would not eat any food." When the child died, David servants hesitated to tell him the sad news for fear that "he may do something desperate" (v. 18). However, once he heard the news, David went back to normal life. David explained his actions to his servants: "While the child still was alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2Samuel 12:22-23)
Even Jesus, in his humanity, knew this aspect of grief. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of his arrest, knowing the agony that lay ahead, he was "deeply distressed and troubled." He prayed, "Abba, Father...everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me" (Mark 14:33, 36). Jesus did not fast as David did in hopes that God might change His mind. Jesus did not presume that he understood God's character of righteousness better than God Himself. Instead, in the midst of his genuine grief and fear, he entrusted himself to God's will. His prayer ended: "Yet, not what I will, but what You will."
In Contrast, bargaining is (for most of us) a last ditch attempt to try to control life so that it will go our way. This phase of grief is often the briefest of all the stages. It is the final effort on the part of people to hold onto what is important to them. Or if it has already been lost, then to find some way to ease the pain.
Sometimes a reprieve does happen... cancers do suddenly go into remission... illnesses take a turn for the better. The problem is that if people feel that such reprises are somehow related to their bargaining, it can set them up to repeat the stages of denial and anger and bargaining if things once again take a turn for the worse. Bargaining is very human---it may even be a necessary part of the grief process; it is not, however the way one automatically alters events.
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