My husband bought a used Ford F-150 almost 20 years ago, shortly after we got married. He maintained it for many years, replacing the engine, the brakes and the transmission. But the little stuff all pooped out. The radio quit, and the doors won’t lock. The heater hasn’t worked for years. There are rust holes in the truck bed. It never did have cupholders.
But no matter how bad it got, he would not let go of that truck. All the neighbors knew him when he drove down the road. He’s one of the few guys in town who doesn’t blow a big wad on shiny trucks, and he’s proud of that.
Finally a few weeks ago, the starter gave out, and he said, “That’s it. Time to buy a new truck.” He shopped for days on line, then coaxed me to take him half way across the state to buy the one he picked out. When we got there, we discovered there would be a delay in obtaining the title from the owner, so he drove it home without the title and parked it behind the barn.
The next day he bought a starter for his old truck and got it running again. I started wondering if we were ever going to see the end of that old thing! But instead of blowing up, I tried to remember how much he loved it. He was in denial, unable to let go and grieve the loss.
People say all kinds of negative things about “being in denial”, but really, denial is a useful phase on the way to grief and change. It’s for that time when your soul cannot keep up with the pace of change going on around you: just ignore the change, maybe it will go away. Just keep fixing that old truck!
In churches experiencing loss, I think it’s wise to give people time to work through their denial. It takes time to recognize the change that has already occured, never mind what’s coming down the pike! While some in a congregation are ready to get on with grieving and acceptance of change, others will hang back, tending to old details that may seem crazy (this is known fondly as “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”).
The problems occur when we let those who are in denial hold the rest of the congregation hostage. If you are afraid to bring up the elephant in the room because Aunt Tilly might keel over from shock, the group will never be able to move forward.
Michael Weldon, in his book “A Struggle for Holy Ground” suggests the use of ritual as a way to help congregations move through their grief. He writes,
Effective grieving rites formally articulate that the loss affects not only individuals within the culture but the whole culture itself…Unarticulated grief encourages a host of culture-destroying behaviors, often including holding on to time-tested ways of living. But holding on strangles; letting go heals.
Does this imply that we should throw a funeral for my husband’s truck?
I would like to report that he has finally let go of that old truck and is embracing the shiny new one. But no. Today he loaded up the oldie, saying, “I’m going out in the mud and I don’t want to get the new one dirty.”
Oh well. Acceptance will come in time. And thank God, it’s coming with cupholders!