It needs to be said: I am a teeny bit of a freak show right now.
Yesterday, we moved out of our house, which was (after months of supreme effort) stripped and echoing, like a rumbling empty stomach. A half an hour before we left, we said goodbye to our dogs, who wagged their tails obliviously down the dirt road on their leashes with their new owners. (My children were in tears.) We said goodbye to our closest Ugandan friends. (My husband and I were in tears.) We prayed in a tight circle on the front lawn.
It was at least a month ago when my husband looked at me, my face pink and slimy again from tears that seemed to squeeze out at all the wrong times for months on end. He said, “I’m not frustrated you’re crying. I’m just remembering that you’re grieving, and that takes a long time.”
(Have I mentioned I love him?)
I was reminded of is words when a friend mentioned that in the year after someone dear passed away, very few people walked that road with her. Grief is…lonely. And we grieve in waves. Sometimes the waves are close together, sloshing upon each other with slopping, crashing forces and sucking undertow.
Shouldn’t Christians be happy?
I’ve written before about the hidden art of Christian lament and profound grief; of bringing our deepest questions into the sanctuary that is our worship and gratitude. One of the most mystifying words in the Bible to me is joy. What in the world does “joy” mean? When I think of it, I consider someone who’s, say, lost a child. What’s joy look like there, when the edges of your world curl black?
I find value in the words of John Piper:
We [Christians] are a happy people. But we are not what you might call “chipper.” There is a plaintive strain in the symphony of our lives. I think Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. And O how sorrowful! A man of sorrows…
[The world] need[s] the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands…They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
A friend shared with me an exercise she learned in counseling. She took a sheet of paper, and chose a color to represent every emotion she was feeling. Then, she covered her paper with circles whose size was proportionate each emotion. I think of this when I realize I’m often experiencing many emotions at the same time. Even on our blackest days, we have a pervasive, underlying sense of contentment, hope, and even happiness in God.
Yet joy might not even be accurately described as an emotion. The words of Tim Keller were a balm to me this morning:
…we must remember that in the Bible, the ‘heart’ is not identical to emotions. The heart is understood as the place of your deepest commitments, trusts, and hopes. From those commitments flow our emotions, thoughts, and actions. To “rejoice” in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.
Here is how it works. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God. It is just as when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat…The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.
When I think about grasping joy in grief, I find it inextricably braided with trust; with God’s inexplicable, unshakable care for me—that inimitable trio, faith, hope, and love. So hope, to me, is a defining characteristic of Christian grief: We do not grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Our grief is different.
What hope is not
Here is what hope is not always. It doesn’t always mean
- Answers (see Job).
- Rescue (see Jesus).
- Lack of weakness (see Paul).
- Lack of doubt (see John the Baptist and Elijah).
- Happy feelings (see David).
Emily Dickinson famously wrote, Hope is the thing with feathers. It takes us beyond here, beating with life and promise.
In the previous post, I mentioned we grant humanity to those around us when we don’t walk around their pain, but lean into it. (Think the Good Samaritan here.) I am increasingly willing to walk through others’ pain. But what about walking through my own funk, when my own soul sprawls there, feeling robbed? As I texted a friend this morning who asked how I was doing: I am getting the idea that God wants me to walk through all this and not around it.
Wherever this finds you, may you unearth joy not after your sorrow, but even further within it.
Like this post? You might like