Joy in the Mourning

     One of the most important things we teach our children is manners. At an early age they learn to parrot back the proper response to “What do you say?” when they have been given something. Please and thank you are ingrained in them, and the smart ones realize as they grow up that a heartfelt please and thank you will help them go far in life.

     At the dedication of David’s palace, he remembered his manners. He invited others to join in with a hearty “thank you” to God for the gift of this place. David was acutely aware of God’s power and provision in his life and this special celebration was no exception. He marked with day with gratitude, joy, dancing, and revelry, making sure that God got all the praise and attention.

     David had known a lot of sadness in his life. From the falling out with his hero Saul, to the death of his firstborn, David had experienced grief.

Psalm 30 (Common English Bible)

You who are faithful to the Lord,
    sing praises to him;
    give thanks to his holy name!
His anger lasts for only a second,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime.
Weeping may stay all night,
    but by morning, joy!

11 You changed my mourning into dancing.
    You took off my funeral clothes
        and dressed me up in joy
12     so that my whole being
    might sing praises to you and never stop.
Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

     I love the beautiful set of contrasts in this passage. Anger and favor, night and morning, weeping and joy … we can see David’s grasp on the ups and downs of life, and it is a relief when he lands on singing praise at the end.

     It is good to remember that joy follows weeping when we are grieving the loss of someone or something important. There is a certainty in the rising of the sun every morning that brings comfort to the dark 3:00 am moments when we are so troubled, we can’t sleep. Hang on, this psalm advises. Joy will come.

     This passage literally says, “weeping will spend the night.” We are reminded of that houseguest we barely tolerate as we look forward to their departure. Have you ever counted the days until a houseguest leaves? I have! The good news is that grief has an appointed check-out time, and we can anticipate finding joy when it finally begins to abate. Grief may return again, but with God’s help we learn to accommodate it in better ways as time goes on. God’s word in this psalm is a reminder that sadness can turn into gladness with the passing of time and the remembering of God’s great works …and with good grief counseling. When you’re sad, it really helps to talk to someone.

     It also helps to remember that the sorrow of the night of the crucifixion was followed by the joy that came on Easter morning when the tomb was found to be empty. Facing grief with the surety of the resurrection can soothe even the most troubled heart.

     Focusing on the greatness of God helped David get through the tough moments of his life. That can help us, too. Psalm 30 reminds us that God can help us take off our funeral clothes and dress us up in joy if we yield our sadness to the power of the Holy Spirit.

May joy come in your mourning as you seek God’s face.

Joy in Bloom by Kathy Schumacher

Weeping Through the Night

One fateful night, a pastor is called to the Emergency Room of a large hospital. Two teenagers have been in a horrific car crash. One is in the operating room, and the other in the morgue. Both sets of parents are there. One set waits in hopeful anticipation of the doctor coming out of surgery to say that their son will recover. The other set sits in stunned silence outside the morgue with no hope. But as the night goes on, it is discovered that the dead boy is the son of the parents outside the operating room. Those hopeful parents must now face the reality of death. It falls to the pastor to speak into this situation. What can we say to ease the horror of losing a child?

In the 37th chapter of Genesis, we read of the enormous grief that Jacob felt upon learning of the death of his favorite son, Joseph. We, the reader, know that Joseph is not actually dead but was sold into slavery by his devious and spiteful brothers. His braggadocios stories of his dreams that foretold the brothers bowing down to him as he swaggered in his precious brightly colored coat (a gift of favor from his father) led them to dispose of him in a cruel way. Even more cruel is their ability to watch their father grieve Joseph’s death without rushing to confess that he is alive as they present Jacob with Joseph’s bloody coat:

Genesis 37:33-35 (Common English Bible)

33 Jacob recognized it and said, “It’s my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him. Joseph must have been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put a simple mourning cloth around his waist, and mourned for his son for many days. 35 All of his sons and daughters got up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, telling them, “I’ll go to my grave mourning for my son.” And Joseph’s father wept for him.

Jacob’s grief is expressed in a powerfully visible way. He tears his clothes, he mourns and weeps, and he resigns himself to a life of grief that he will take to his grave. Have you ever experienced grief like this? It is said that grief is the price we pay for a love well-loved, and many of us in our lifetime will know the crushing emptiness of death.

For Jacob, his belief that his son was dead was his reality. This reminds us of the power of belief, and perhaps this can be a source of calm reassurance when someone passes. What do you believe happens at death? Where is God? 

As crushing as grief can be, we must hold on to the hope of the resurrection to which we are all invited if we believe in Jesus. Upon his own death, Jesus invited the thief on the cross to join him in paradise that very day. In an act of penitence, the thief asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom. This was the thief’s confession of faith, and we are assured that upon his death, the thief entered eternal life.

Thus, our belief in eternal life can begin to sooth the horror of deep and overwhelming grief. We will meet again! This is exactly what the pastor said to the grieving parents that night. This is what our Lord says to us in our lowest moments. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5, New Revised Standard Version).

Joy Comes in the Morning by Michelle Robertson

Separation

If you live far away from your family, you know the pain that separation can bring. Missing out on daily joys and activities is hard. Thank goodness for technology like FaceTime that allows us to see and hear each other, but nothing can replace a warm hug and the feeling of a three-year-old holding your hand.

One of the things that heaven promises is that when we get there, we will never be separated again:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39, NIV 1984) 

God’s perspective of death is that death is not the end. It is not final, nor is it forever. God’s perspective is that by the power of the resurrection there is a death of death, as believers receive eternal life upon their death. And so, the good news is that nothing can separate us permanently from God or our families … not even death.

This means that this time of painful separation is only temporaryWhile the rest of your life will be spent without the one you love, the rest of your life is but a blink of an eye in the scope of eternity. Just as those highly anticipated moments in our lives seem forever to get here, like kids who wait for Christmas or brides who wait for their wedding day, those events are but a blink of an eye in the scope of an eternal lifetime. If you have older children, think back about their toddler and elementary years. How often do we say, “I can’t believe how fast it went”? And yet each pregnancy was its own lifetime!

The problem with grieving is that it slooowwws down time. We become suspended in an artificial reality that is all too real. Days are long and nights are longer because we are stuck in the moment of our crisis like a fly caught in tree sap. Our movements and our thoughts are sluggish. It takes forever to get simple things done, to make sentences come together, to remember why we have walked into a particular room. It is not uncommon to forget even names of friends and acquaintances after the shock of a death. Grief can make us feel as though we are swimming in tar, trying to reach a distant shore that keeps moving farther away and the swim is taking forever. Embracing God’s perspective that death and mourning are only temporary states can begin to help us shake off our sluggishness and get on with what is the rest of our short existence here. Hear these words of Psalm 90 that offer us a perspective of how God measures time: 

A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4, NIV 1984) 

So, if you are grieving right now, take heart. This separation won’t last forever, and you are not alone in your sorrow. Jesus himself walks with you today, and while you can’t feel him holding your hand, you can know for certain that he holds your heart.

This based on an excerpt from my book, Mourning Break, available at Amazon.

Gone the Sun by Sherri Henderson

Despair Prayers

Last week I spoke with a new widow in my congregation. Her husband of over 70 years passed away a month ago and it was her first time back in church. She described what many people experience with grief: she can’t stop crying, she is overwhelmed, she is depressed and lonely, and it took her a tremendous amount of effort just to come to church. I could feel the despair oozing out of her as she talked, and my heart was broken for her. I assured her that grieving like this is normal, and eventually she will learn new ways to live with her loss. I know this to be true, but the words sounded hollow and empty in the face of her suffering. She looked at me with trusting eyes and pulled herself together.

If I could invent a tonic for despair and bottle it up, I would give this woman cases of it. Her pain was etched into her face, her voice, and even the way she moved her hands as she spoke.

Pastoral care involves being with people in some of the worst moments of their lives. We visit in the hospitals, in hospice centers, in prisons, and in homes when someone’s life has just fallen apart, or a great loss has occurred. We sit in our offices as people come and describe the indescribable. When this happens, I think about the scriptures that assure us of Jesus’ promise of his presence, his salvation, his redemption, and the hope that he brings.

But sometimes I think about Job.

Job is a story of despair. Nobody in the Old Testament had it quite as bad as Job. Job lost his home, his hundreds of sheep and cows, his wife, all of his sons and daughters, and even his health. In the midst of all of his undeserved suffering, he prayed this prayer of despair:

Job 3 (Common English Bible)

3 Afterward, Job spoke up and cursed the day he was born.

Job said:
Perish the day I was born,
    the night someone said,
    “A boy has been conceived.”
That day—let it be darkness;
    may God above ignore it,
    and light not shine on it.
May deepest darkness claim it
    and a cloud linger over it;
    may all that darkens the day terrify it.
May gloom seize that night;
    may it not be counted in the days of a year;
    may it not appear in the months.
May that night be childless;
    may no happy singing come in it.
May those who curse the day curse it,
    those with enough skill to awaken Leviathan.
May its evening stars stay dark;
    may it wait in vain for light;
    may it not see dawn’s gleam,
10     because it didn’t close the doors of my mother’s womb,
    didn’t hide trouble from my eyes.

This is despair at a very deep level. To wish you had never been born is an indication of a profound loss of hope and debilitating depression. Have you ever felt that way?

11 Why didn’t I die at birth,
    come forth from the womb and die?
12 Why did knees receive me
    and breasts let me nurse?
13 For now I would be lying down quietly;
    I’d sleep; rest would be mine
14         with kings and earth’s advisors,
        who rebuild ruins for themselves,
15         or with princes who have gold,
        who fill their houses with silver.
16 Or why wasn’t I like a buried miscarried infant,
    like babies who never see light?
17 There the wicked rage no more;
    there the weak rest.
18 Prisoners are entirely at ease;
    they don’t hear a boss’s voice.
19 Both small and great are there;
    a servant is free from his masters.

Job’s despair goes from hopelessness to anguish. He longs for the blackness of death over the light of life:

20 Why is light given to the hard worker,
    life to those bitter of soul,
21     those waiting in vain for death,
        who search for it more than for treasure,
22     who rejoice excitedly,
        who are thrilled when they find a grave?
23 Why is light given to the person whose way is hidden,
    whom God has fenced in?

In this next section, we read words that many of us have felt in the darkest moments of our lives. We dreaded something and it came. Our groans become our daily bread, and our roars for rescue pour out like water. In the 26th verse, Job echoes what many people feel in moments of defeat. We have no ease. We have no quiet. We can find no rest.

24 My groans become my bread;
    my roars pour out like water.
25 Because I was afraid of something awful,
    and it arrived;
    what I dreaded came to me.
26 I had no ease, quiet, or rest,
    and trembling came.

And so, to the list of everything Job lost, we can add more things. Job lost his peace of mind and his ability to rest. But do you know what Job didn’t lose?

His faith.

At the end of his story, Job’s life was restored to him because he didn’t lose his faith. This brings us comfort in our misery, knowing that God’s presence is never gone from us in times of trouble. We can expect that in some measure, life will return after a siege. “New normals” replace old normals and God helps us pick ourselves up and get on with things. No, my new widow’s husband won’t ever come back to her. But in due time, she will indeed learn to live with her grief and find comfort in happy memories of their life together.

We do recover.

So, if you find yourself in a season of despair right now, remember Job. Don’t lose your faith, and don’t give up your hope. God is with you.

Always.

Reflections of a New Day by Michelle Robertson

Reigning over Anger

Have you ever gotten really, really angry at God?

There are times in our lives when confusion, despair, disbelief, and tragedy can make us lie flat on our backs in a darkened room where we work hard just to breathe. The shell shock of abrupt loss can rend us speechless, mindless, and hopeless. A sudden death. A sudden divorce. A sudden business closure. A sudden betrayal. All that is left is anger.

I felt this way many years ago when a precious friend and co-worker died of cancer in her late 40’s. Her kindness and joy were a bright light in every situation, and when cancer did its ugly thing, I thought the warmth of her light had gone from the earth permanently and I was ANGRY at God.

A few months after her death, I went out to the beach in the middle of a terrible storm and stood on a sand dune for hours. The winds and the ocean raged around me as I raged at God. In the end, I came to realize one thing: God is mightier than the loudest thunder of my grief and mightier than the most destructive breakers in my sea of anger. He met me there with the warmth of his light and taught me how to go on and find a light of my own.

Psalm 93 (New International Version)

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
    indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
Your throne was established long ago;
    you are from all eternity.

Realizing that God is from all eternity puts an exclamation mark where death and loss have tried to leave a question mark. There is nothing to fear when we accept that God’s throne was established long ago, way before our misery began. Even before the devastation came, the Lord on high, mighty and robed in majesty, was present. Without minimizing our agony, God still reigns in the reality of eternity. And so we can let go of our grief and grasp ahold of the hem of his robe, where healing and hope can be found.

The seas have lifted up, Lord,
    the seas have lifted up their voice;
    the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
    mightier than the breakers of the sea—
    the Lord on high is mighty.

I don’t know what sorrows or griefs you are dealing with today, but know this: the Lord is greater than your struggle. He sent his only son to die so that you might have life, and have it abundantly. So while you wait to breathe again and for the light to return, look to the one who is mightier than the deepest sea. God longs to soothe you with his love.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days.

May he reign over your happiness for endless days and nights as you seek the warmth of his strength. His presence is firm and secure, and he will never leave you, no matter how angry you are.

The Seas Lift Up Their Voice by Michelle Robertson