“The dance of life finds its beginnings in grief… Here a completely new way of living is revealed. It is the way in which pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain.”
For far too long, I believed that seasons of deep sadness were incompatible with the Christian life. Somewhere along the way I had come to think that knowing God meant I should bear a perpetual smile, that to be a Christian was to always be exuberant and full of energy. “Christians should be the happiest of all people,” my pastor once said. On the one hand, I think he was right. We have much to celebrate and much to rejoice in; however, this does not mean we need to govern our lives by trite aphorisms or glib sayings.
The deep sadness, the bitter pain, the wrestling with despair does not mean that you are far from God. No, it means that God is with you in the depths. We serve an empathetic, caring God. He is not put off by your grief. He is not put off by your despair. He is certainly not put off by your brokenness.
Perhaps one of the deepest losses I have ever felt was that of my grandfather’s passing. Our Southern, deeply connected family was led for as long as I could remember by this benevolent patriarch. He cared for each of his children and grandchildren dearly, and that was seen in every interaction. This could have been, in part, because he himself was an orphan. He knew the deep pain that is felt in the absence of a family or a tribe to call your own.
One of the things I still love most about my grandfather is the way he feigned gruffness or impatience. I say “feigned” because I don’t think he was truly trying to ruffle our feathers. Rather, this was his way of letting us know he was there and, in a roundabout way, he was there for us.
His memorial was marked by celebration in light of his homecoming and a life well-lived, but also by a thick and palpable grief. My 13-year-old self felt like the right thing to do was to try to cheer everyone up. An honest mistake, I think. I now realize it would’ve been better to sit in the loss and the grief of his passing, and allow others to do the same. Not sadness for sadness’ sake, but grief for our spirits’ sake.
The beautiful thing about the incarnation is that Jesus has experienced the fullness of the human condition. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). This means that when we grieve, we encounter not only an encouraging God, but also a suffering One. We serve a God who not only observes our pain and sorrow, but who enters into our grief with us.
In the fullness of His kingdom, “He will destroy death forever” and “wipe away the tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8). But in this present age, He walks through the darkness with us. God is not on the other side of our grief; we need not push through it to find Him. No, He is with us in our sorrow, our doubt, our loss, and our suffering. Remember. He is with us always.
Written by Andrew Stoddard