The second stage of the grieving process is bargaining. A bargain is usually described as a transaction or agreement that takes place between two people. One or both parties usually walk away with something in the end. This is an emotionally tricky stage to spend a lot of time in. When it comes to grief, it is very hard to see the results we want in the time we may demand to see them.
Bargaining can happen on two different levels.
The first is bargaining with ourselves. These are the inner vows we make with ourselves as a result of grief. They are usually unspoken and sometimes even subconscious. If I were deeply wounded by someone I care about, I may defend myself against ever feeling that type of pain again. In the first stage, I deny that the hurt happened, but with bargaining I make a vow with myself to avoid future pain in relationships.
The second bargaining strategy we might use is with God. When we experience a hard situation, we may try to bargain our way out of it through prayer. A great example of this is Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament. Hannah was mocked and ridiculed profusely for not being able to bare any children. One day she entered the temple and broke down with loud cries to the Lord. That day she made a bargain with the Lord saying, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”
Bargaining statements can be recognized by the words “if” and “then.” In the case of Hannah, she prayed, “God if you give me a son, then I will give him back to You.” Looking back over my own story, I have made many vows with myself to defend against future pain. When my father left, I vowed to never feel that level of pain again. I made the bargain with myself that said, “If pain is near, I will do everything I can to defend against feeling it.” As a result of this vow, I struggle with intimacy in relationships that are healthy and safe to risk in. This vow has also hindered me from risking and knowing true intimacy with God. I have had to work on breaking my vow and learning to risk.
All pain is hard; no one likes it. But some wounds can be trusted; some pain is worth risking for. I don’t want to defend myself against grief so much that I lose out on knowing deep love and intimacy. My grieving still illuminates old vows and bargains in me. I guess that is why grief is called a process.
Some questions that I am still working through are:
- What is my response when my bargain leaves me empty?
- How do I respond to God when He says no or nothing at all and it feels like He didn’t hold up His end of the bargain?
- What do I do when I walk away from a bargain with nothing?