Joy Comes in the Mourning
Walking with God in the Loneliness of Loss
It’s surreal to plan your mother’s funeral while most women your age are planning weddings with their mothers. I never imagined losing both my grandmother and my mother at 23, especially not nine days apart; it never occurred to me even a month ago that my time with them would end so soon. Yet, it has. They’re gone. The two women who embodied my childhood are no longer here.
This is what the Lord gave me in the first month of 2017. As stress-inducing, tear-jerking, and emotional of a roller coaster as it’s been, I find my eyes still look upward (certainly through no strength of my own) to see the Beautiful One on his throne.
Disappointed to Devastated
I spent this last year at home, exactly the opposite of where I wanted to be. After graduating college, I wanted to be in Japan, or Europe, or Africa. Seriously, anywhere but my small hometown in Missouri.
But many different happenstances (another word for the guiding hand of God) landed me there and kept me long past the original six months I had been adamant were my max. Instead of trusting that the Lord had me there for a reason, I spent a good part of the last year extremely frustrated and letting bitterness fester in my heart. I watched friends travel to the far reaches of the globe to study and teach and have so many wonderful adventures while nothing exciting ever happened in my life.
“It’s surreal to plan your mother’s funeral while most women your age are planning weddings with their mothers.”
Because of this intense envy and distrust, my heart numbed to the truths that the Lord’s plans are good for me and that his timing is better than my own. As a result, I did not treasure or love or serve or witness to my grandmother and mother in the last year as I should have. Rather, I wasted most of my time on the internet, or sighing about how unfair life was. In the last few months, mom was constantly at home, and I never had time alone.
Now I have all the alone time in the world, and I don’t want it. Nevertheless, my awe of God’s timing has been restored and brought to even greater heights; he has graciously reminded me that he has good in mind for me, not evil (Matthew 7:9–11). Even death, the greatest of all our enemies, has been turned to good for me (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 15:26).
Death Is in the Hands of God
Mortality is a grim reality in this world far removed from Eden (Romans 6:23). Though it presents itself in different forms — warfare, starvation, disease, old age, tragic accidents, intentional killings — death is a path we all must eventually take. This simple reality surrounds us, and when it involves someone close to us, it sometimes threatens to drown us. Though our culture does everything it can to ignore this fact, soon we will die and lose everything we have in this life.
For both believers and unbelievers, funerals remind us that this life is fleeting.
For the follower of Christ, we remember that the sin we mourn in the world will one day no longer be able to touch us, that the brokenness of our bodies and spirits will one day be wholly healed and fully aligned with our Lord. Death is a difficult, but desperately-needed reminder that we should not only strive to cherish the brief life God has given us here , but also, paradoxically, that we should hold it with open hands.
And for unbelievers it’s a startling, Ecclesiastes-esque dose of truth: addiction and beauty and fame and fortune are not saviors. In fact, at best, they are temporary escape artists in the end. As Queen Elizabeth I exclaimed in the final moments of her life, “All my possessions for a moment of time!” In this way, the Lord can work good by shattering our illusions of invincibility and use death to draw us to himself.
“The Lord can work good for us by shattering our illusions of invincibility and using death to draw us to himself.”
Even if the timing doesn’t seem right to us, death does not surprise God. We do not know the instant the Lord will call us to walk down the path into the valley of the shadow of death. Age is not always an indicator, neither is health, nor morality, nor wealth.
But believers can rest in the trust that the length of our days is not counted out for us by someone easily bribed by good deeds, or by someone looking to trample us. The number of our days are known by someone who keeps his children’s good ever before his eye, and who knows the intricacies of all lives over all of time. He never does anything that does not work out good in, through, and for his children (Romans 8:28).
Mourning to Dancing
The Lord always knows better than we do. And he has been unfathomably good to me. Better than I could ever earn or deserve — not only during my lifetime, but far before it, when his Son hung on the cross in my place, bearing a burden I could never bear.
It is to this and this alone that all my hope must cling, or it is wasted. I prayed many times for both my grandmother and my mother to be healed. But I knew that even if they were not, his purposes would still be good and right, and his timing would be perfect and beautiful. Those truths have not changed in light of the searing sting and gnawing emptiness these losses have brought into my life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t still miss those that have passed away. I always imagined my wedding day without my father, but never without my mother. That is, however, my reality now. Tears were also shed when I realized that 2016 was the last Christmas at Grandma’s house.
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Christ turns our mourning into dancing.”
As much as it aches, all of this is but an inner pointer forward and upward to a day when I will know and see my true home for the first time: the presence of Christ. There I will truly hunger for what is good, and I will truly be satisfied by him. As A.W. Tozer said, “When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”
Take heart: weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Christ turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:5, 11). We cannot see why this storm or this drought or this waiting has come upon us. But if we trust in the God who gave up his Son for us, we can know that everything, even our worst pains, are a gracious gift from God — and it will be a short time until we can see those gifts ever more clearly.