I’ve been sitting in a delicate tension of both gratitude and grief this week as I think about recent gatherings of family and friends gathered.
With her faithful father by her side, my niece floated down the venue stairs. Robed in white, her shimmering eyes sparkled with a kind of innocent joy that’s rare these days. She glanced at her dad with adoring eyes and then stepped toward her future groom, clutching his hand with a little excited squeal thrown in for good measure.
Long before my brother knew the name of his daughter’s future spouse, he had been praying about the possibility of this day. From start to finish, it was the glorious affirmation of all they’d prayed for — the good and the beautiful that is at the heart of all covenantal wedding days. It was pure joy and my heart burst with gratitude at God’s faithfulness.
But my weekend also included one of life’s greatest sorrows — the tragic loss of my dear friend’s child. I was at my niece’s rehearsal dinner when I received her text. My crying gasp was audible, so I quickly walked away so as not to dampen the celebratory mood. As I was doubled over with grief, music and dancing, laughter and giggles echoed all around me. But on the other end of the phone, my friend’s heart was splayed open from the devastation of her loss. Her daughter was gone too soon, never to have a rehearsal dinner or dancing. A searing reminder that we have no guarantees.
Laughter and lamenting. Toasts and tears. All the “firsts” amidst such finality.
How could such emotions coexist? How was I suppose to function? With fourteen people staying in our home for the wedding, followed by a Sunday worship service (held in our backyard) for young families we mentor, I spent the wee hours of the weekend flushing out Ecclesiastes 3 in my heart. As I begged the Lord for wisdom on how to hold the grief and the joy, I was granted a gift.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 (NIV)
As I texted my grieving friend on the morning of the wedding, I shared that while I’d have to compartmentalize my feelings in order to celebrate, my heart wouldn’t be far from hers.
Her response came from someone who has spent decades deeply rooted in a biblical worldview that laid a solid foundation for her theology of suffering. She was understandably angry, completely devastated and living a parent’s worst nightmare, yet she also desired that through her darkest hour her Savior would be glorified.
She texted back, “Jen, go rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We will have plenty of time for mourning later.”
My memories of that wedding week are so complex, but they’ve taken me to a deeper level with the Lord than I’ve experienced in a long time. We want happy fairy tale days, and though our Lord does graciously give good gifts to His children, we are not guaranteed a life without grief and loss.
I’m choosing to not allow worry to be used as a weapon to harm me. Satan is trying his best, but I’m taking every single worry for myself, my dear friend and her family, and for our future, and wielding it as worship with my eyes fixed on the only Waymaker.
He is here amidst our laughter and lament, amidst our worry and our worship. I know this to be true and I will choose to continue to anchor my heart in His Word.
We’re all walking through such varied seasons right now, but one thing is certain: God is intricately involved in both our suffering and celebrating — our gratitude and grief.
And as we enter a week full of declaring gratitude and choosing to see all the ways His goodness intertwines amidst our grief, there, I find grace for myself, and there is grace for you too.