On Sorrow & Grief

It’s important to grieve.

It’s natural to grieve.

It is good to grieve.

Many (particularly Christians, for some reason) try to coax a premature joy in the midst of sorrow–from each other as well as ourselves. I am terribly guilty of this lately. I hear myself saying to my closest friends and family that “I just want to get back to normal.” It comes, I’m sure, with the best of intentions. But sorrow does not mean the absence of peace. Grief does not mean we have refused joy. And joy is not always something we can conjure. It is something that comes in its time–in its appropriate time.

I think we mistake joy for a flame we can produce, like striking a match. And maybe in some moments, in some regards, we can.

In the midst of grief, however, I think joy comes more like the sunrise, an undeniable light and warmth and life after hours (or days…or weeks…or months…maybe even years) of the cold, dark, loneliness of night.

And how does the sun rise?

Does the sun appear instantly in the day sky, like someone flipped a switch?

No, the answer is in the question: The sun rises.

In our experience, it may occur quickly or it may occur slowly, but it always occurs from an earthbound vantage as rising. It comes upon our world bit by bit, inch by inch, until it covers all we know in the revelation of daylight.

I think–though I’ll be the first to confess to you that I don’t have extensive experience with joy as most people would express it–this is how joy comes upon us. Sorrow and grief are the dark hours of the night, and there is no sense in arguing about where the daylight is. We may have other lights to help us, to guide us, to give us hope and courage–the moon, the stars, the aurora, the galaxy (and perhaps in this we could talk about the moon being a reflection of the light for which we long; I’m sure there’s something there to discuss)–but none of that satisfies our longing for the risen sun. And even as it comes, it is a process. It is a subtle change from black to deep violet; from deep violet to an intense blue and a few less stars; a blue to a soft green, waking birds and critters from their reverie; a soft green to an amazing orange and pink; and then–yes, then–suddenly, a brilliant day sky.

And in that moment, I think we have a tendency to say one of two things (or maybe, sometimes, both). The first is, “Thank God! I survived the night!” The second is, “Beautiful!”

Isn’t it funny? The thing that we so long for, that so eludes us in our grief, that seems such a distant dream we may never attain–that, itself, is something we call beauty. Beauty comes out of mess and struggle and sorrow. Don’t ever forget.

It reminds me of one of my favorite passages in scripture (and the reason, primarily, that I dared to begin my Psalms Project).

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8, NIV)

Morning and evening do not flip like a switch. Morning dawns. Evening fades. And where (not when, but where) those subtle changes occur, God calls forth songs of joy. This idea is repeated in the passage God showed me more than twenty years ago.

weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5, NIV)

Can we trust Him to bring us through our sorrow to that place where He fills us with irrepressible songs of joy? We can.

We must, friends. We must. For it is only in our sorrow, in our struggle, that we can recognize our deep need for His presence and joy. It is only in brokenness that we can yearn to be made whole. If we never experienced sorrow, joy would be our default; and while I grant you that this may be very nice, it would, I think, become so commonplace as to lose something in our estimation.

Maybe you view joy and sorrow differently than I–and that’s okay. I’m not here to judge you or say you’ve got it wrong. I’m here to encourage those who are grieving and who can’t yet find joy in the midst of it. If that’s you, if you’re caught in a struggle or despair that you can’t wrestle yourself out of, take heart.

Take heart.

Night does not last forever.

Joy is not a bird that flutters away each time you get close. It is a gift that is granted freely from a God who cherishes every hair on your head.

Sorrow may last for the night; joy comes in the morning. That is His promise–to you, to me, to all who love Him and are called by His name.

Do not fear your sorrows, for it is the blessing of grief that gives birth to the blessing of joy.

Pax Christe.


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