Crying is common right now, isn’t it? There is death. How my heart cries for those who are burying the dead when even the comforts of our rituals of loss are denied them. There is enormous and unsettling uncertainty. As bravely as some speak of the future, the fact is that we have no idea how this crisis will affect our lives in the long term. There is sacrifice. Countless families cry as they send someone off to care for the sick or to provide some ‘essential’ service, not knowing if that speck of a virus will somehow bring sickness home. There is isolation. We miss the comfort of contact with our church, our colleagues, our extended family and it hurts.
Are you crying, or at least feeling like you could, if you relaxed the grip on your emotions? There is an idea, oversold among many Christians, that the only acceptable response to hardship is joy, that a genuine faith will dry our tears and send us into the day with a wide smile pasted on our face. The Scripture and the experience of Christians who face life honestly will teach us that there is a place for crying, as Ecclesiastes says “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, NIV) Are you brave enough to keep reading today?
I remember two days particularly in my life when crying would not stop.
On January 1, 1988, I wept for the entire day. Because of some poor choices I made and some sinful decisions made all around me, including my own, a snowball of conflict enveloped my life and after months of fighting, I had lost my position, my income, my dreams, and many friends. I woke up with the knowledge of the losses and the pain caused to so many, with the reality of having no income for my family, and to a silent telephone with no prospects. It seemed that God had forsaken me and I cried for the entire day; not tears of self-pity, but mixed tears of regret, repentance, and desperation!
On January 1, 2016 I cried, too. Great sobs tore through my body after burying my wife of 41 years. I could not even imagine a life without my partner, my friend, my lover, my counselor.
Both of those days are hard to remember. I’d love to wrap them up in a neat little package and tell you that ‘time heals all wounds’ but that is not the truth. I live with the memory of that conflict of 1987 almost every day, and with the knowledge of what my sin cost the Kingdom of God. I still grieve for Bev, though not with the same intensity of that first day after her burial!
Here is what I can tell you with complete assurance. Sorrow, if matched with faith, does things in the soul of a person that nothing else will accomplish. There are discoveries about myself and my God that only were possible when desperation ripped open my heart and left me struggling for breath, for hope, for tomorrow. I do not write that to suggest that we need to go make a mess of our lives so we can ‘find God.’ That’s silly. But, we do need to accept the tears, enter into times of grief, and stop trying so hard to preserve the phony ‘joy’ that is mistaken for the comfort of the Holy Spirit. One of the things that contributes to the shallow Christian spirituality so common in our American churches is our near total unwillingness to accept the place of mourning in our walk with God.
While we turn quickly to the Psalms that speak of joy, there are many that are full of crying. They teach us how to mourn.
Read this song of David and don’t miss the pain in the lines.
” O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat,
saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord because he has been so good to me.” (Psalm 13:1-6, NLT)
What do we learn from that Psalm and others like it?
- Face the pain, the doubt, the fear honestly.
“How long, God?”
- Choose faith.
“But, I trust in YOU.”
- Anticipate the renewal He promises.
“I will rejoice.”
In 1988, after that awful day of sorrow, I saw God rebuild my life. Did He replace what was lost? No, but He graciously gave a new place, leading me to a ministry I would not have considered in my days of triumph, that proved to be a richly blessed. In the years since Bev’s death, I have found a new kind of life that was simply beyond my faith prior. It is not better or worse, it is simply different, and as I accepted this season, He has shown grace and goodness to me unknown before.
Are you crying, inside perhaps, but feeling a kind of desperation? Let yourself feel that ache, allow yourself to mourn. Jesus wept, too. The Perfect God-man felt our sorrow. When His friends failed to pray with Him in the Garden, He cried in His isolation. When He stood outside Lazarus’ tomb, He wept at the pain of death that the Curse of sin visits on the earth. When He saw the Cross ahead, He cried, shuddering at the cost of the Father’s will for His life. Can we expect that somehow we can escape the sorrow that is part of the human experience?
Even as you weep, letting your heart be broken for the suffering of the world, the uncertainties, the unanswered questions – choose faith and let the Spirit inspire the hope of renewal. That is the completion of the story for us who live ‘in Christ.’
Here is a word from the Word. Marinate your mind in the full truth – that through our ‘cracked pot,’ – mortal body – God’s glory shines. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, NIV)
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)
When peace like a river
Attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot
Thou hast taught me to say
It is well
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well
It is well with my soul
Tho’ Satan should buffet
Tho’ trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded
My helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood
For my soul
My sin O the bliss
Of this glorious tho’t
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross
And I bear it no more
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord O my soul
And Lord haste the day
When the faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound
And the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well
With my soul
Horatio Gates Spafford | Philip Paul Bliss
© Words: Public Domain