Four years after my dad died, I sucked in my breath and blinked away tears of grief while on a preschool field trip with my daughter. It was so thoroughly unexpected, like a surprise visitor knocking on your front door when you’re still in your pajamas and the laundry is piled on the living room sofa and the dirty dishes are in the sink.
I was not prepared.
My dad was a firefighter, so standing at the firehouse with a crowd of four-year-olds uncovered a still-tender place in my heart. I oohed and aahed over ladder trucks and hoses, snapped photos of my daughter in gigantic boots and a red hat, and then we went home. That’s where I cried.
On the days we anticipate grief, we can work hard to prepare for it and meet it with strategy and emotional strength. We prepare ourselves for Father’s Day or anniversaries or birthdays.
But grief can slip in quietly behind our best defenses.
And it comes in all forms. We mourn the losses of those we dearly love, but there are other losses also: ending a relationship, moving from our hometown, leaving a job, stopping a ministry, or laying down a long-treasured dream. This is a different kind of mourning. Still there are goodbyes. There are memories. There is a defining life-moment of “before” and “after.”
Scripture doesn’t tell us to buck up, be strong, and have the kind of faith that pretends all is well.
Instead, we’re told there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
I used to think a season like this came, left, and then you moved onto something new. Now I know this weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing might all tumble together in one complex day.
I didn’t linger over my sadness after the fire station visit. I had a good cry and then I moved along to enjoy the beauty of the present. But there will be other days, other memories that remind me of my dad or make me miss a dear friend lost to cancer.
These grief-triggers used to be unwelcome visitors for me. Then a friend told me after her husband’s funeral, “Better to have those memories that stir up grief than to forget completely.” So I’ve begun to embrace memories with sadness as a chance to give thanks for God’s past gifts and to anticipate His work now and in the future.
It also helps to know that Jesus responds to our grief. He doesn’t ignore it or condemn it; He feels deep compassion for our sorrow.
Jesus stood at Lazarus’s tomb and wept even though He would raise Lazarus from the dead within minutes. He cried on behalf of the sisters and the crowd who were grieving.
When He watched a widow from the town of Nain wail at the funeral procession for her only son, Jesus “had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). Then with a touch and a word, Jesus raised her son from the dead.
“Nain” means beauty, and beauty is what Christ brought this grieving wife and mom.
Beauty is what Christ brings us also, right into the middle of our hardest days and saddest seasons.
And even though Christ’s work in our situations is not always resurrection in the present, it is always transformation: beauty for ashes, gladness for mourning, praise for despair.
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61:3).
We don’t have to do the work, force the joy, or avoid the pain. But we do entrust our sorrow and hurts to Jesus because He is a compassionate Savior who knows grief and understands sadness.
He cradles us, He heals our brokenness, and He transforms the ashes we bring Him into a crown of beauty only He could create.