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.
Ruth Mills says
Simply beautiful truth! Thank you & blessings, Jen!
Kellie Johnson says
Wow. Such delicate, holy experiences described here. What a beautiful show of the consequences of being rooted in God’s word when tragedy strikes. He is faithful.
Yes, Kellie – My dear friend has continued to model this for me as she trudges through this painful road of grief.
Thank you, Ruth.
I really needed this message this morning: “I’m choosing to not allow worry to be used as a weapon to harm me.”
I will pray this with you today, Elizabeth. We will not allow the Enemy to have his foothold.
Paula Davis says
As Thanksgiving approaches I am at the crossroads of joy and grief. We are preparing for a huge gathering of extended family for Thanksgiving but our son may not be able to join due to a serious knee injury. I need to remember to keep my eyes on Our Father and know that He and His Son will walk me through it all – happiness and possible disappointment.
Thank you for these beautiful and healing words that guided me to where I need to be – holding tightly to Our Father’s mighty right hand.
Oh Paula – I know that deep disappointment. Our mommas hearts just want all our babies home for the holidays (no matter how big they are,) so I’ll pray that he can make it but that if he doesn’t, you will still have a special time with extended family and not allow his absence steal your joy. Blessings to you.
Why am I surprised when God uses others to send me His message exactly when I need it? Your words immediately brought tears. I realize that as I prepare for a huge group of friends and family to gather at my house next week, my heart is breaking over recent revelations in my family that have brought pain and fractured relationships. I just want to lay in bed and cry, but I know that I need to provide a beautiful atmosphere for our Thanksgiving gathering next week. I trust that God knows how hard things are right now, but I also know that He is with me every moment and will be there to help next week to be the healing and loving time that my family will need. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. You have ministered to my broken heart. 🙂
Jennifer – I understand those feelings well. I’ve been on the cusp of tears for what seems like an extended occasion and yet it’s really allowed me to resonate with Ecclesiastes. I’m so sorry for the family fractures that have recently come to light. I pray right now that the Lord gives you the strength and wisdom to open your doors with love, grace and mercy and that this would be a healing time for all you are welcomed around your table.
Sweet blessings to you on this Thursday morning.
Oh thank you Jen for this. It is so helpful. Before I sat down to read this I was in that suffering, grieving place and needed this push to remind me that it is ok to rejoice. It has been a trying few years for me but I am beginning to see daylight more often. And I believe it is because of my deepening faith. The (in)courage community has contributed so much comfort for me. I cannot begin my day without it. Thank you and all who contribute.
Madeline – First I’m so sorry for the extended season of grief you’ve experienced but your sentence that you’re finally starting to see daylight is a beautiful reason for rejoicing.
And yes, those trials you’ve endured absolutely allows you to deepen your faith. You will be able to empathize and speak into others pain in new ways that you couldn’t before as you point them to the hope in Jesus.
Thank you for sharing. We are grateful for you.
Robin Dance says
On my way to comment, reading through everyone else’s thoughts, I can see how timely your encouragement is! The graphic with this post is dynamite in a small package, an inspired word, I’m sure! I’m praying over everyone (you, our sweet encourage community, and those in my little corner) who are living out the tensions of grief and gratitude, joy and sorrow. Thank you for using your experience to point others to Jesus. Beautiful, my friend.
Thank you, friend. Always love your heart of encouragement.
Stella Brown says
Wow. My feelings put to words my heart can understand. We lost my beloved sister-in-law to cancer on a Sunday afternoon and the next Saturday celebrated my loving Mom’s 90th birthday. My heart and head have been all over the place the past couple of weeks. It felt so odd to feel so much hurt and joy all at the same time. I have had to press hard into my faith as we struggle through this grief. Your words will help to encourage my heart as we journey through this holiday season.
So honored to help put feelings to words for you. Diving into that passage in Ecclesiastes helped me flush that out. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your sister in love. Always so painful to have loss and celebration so intricately intertwined. Praying for your heart during the holidays without such a special family member with you.
Brenda M. Russell says
Good morning Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
This is not easy to discuss but my childhood friend has a Homegoing Celebration for her grandson on Saturday. We have known each other since we were 12 years old in the 7th Grade. We met at Rowan Jr. High School. This friend is a kind person with a soft heart and a gentle demeanor. She is a breast cancer survivor and I am also. I don’t know how to comfort her at this time of bereavement. Yes, I am praying for my friend and I believe she knows my friendship is lasting. This has me thinking about funeral arrangements because her grandson did not have final arrangement insurance.
You know, money or the lack of money can keep one from making sound decisions. I feel like I was born on a budget because I have been married 42 years. I still get in trouble sometimes for going in the red. My husband is good with numbers and our checking account. I just like to know when to pay which bill.
I don’t want this attitude of mine to hinder my children from making wise financial decisions. We all see something we would like to buy but we don’t analyze what we need to do first, pay rent, pay utility bills, and pay the car note. Now, is there anything left in the budget? Probably only the gas money and grocery money. Wow, I have to wait another whole month to get what I want to buy. And I work hard but I don’t seem to ever have extra money for myself. This has been a statement I said for too many years. Guess what, I never did without anything that I needed. That’s what our Heavenly Father promised to us, He will never leave or forsake us and He will provide everything we need.
Enjoy your day. Focus on our Heavenly Father, He is a good, good Father. When we experience loss or grief, He is right beside us, leading and guiding our steps and decisions.
Your Sister in Christ
Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, Brenda. To have your dear friend lose a grandchild is unbearable. We often don’t know how to comfort during such a time but being present for her. Actually going to her house after she’s had some time with family and sitting with her. Making her coffee or bringing her food. You don’t have to have the right words but keeping the memory of her grandson alive and not avoiding the topic will mean so much to her. Often people run from the discomfort of being around someone grieving so if you can acknowledge it and be present, she will be forever grateful.
Also I know the tension of finances. It’s hard and yet, you’re right, He does provide. He is good and faithful through it all.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Jen all these situations can at times send to test us. To see how strong our faith is in God. But we can ask the questions why did this happen to such lovely people. They don’t deserve this. As I have good friends in Belfast. They belong to a beautiful Christian Church. The people in it have so much of God’s love in their hearts for either in the Church and others that don’t know the Lord. My friend in Belfast texted me over 2 or 3 years ago. Said would you pray for a family they just found out their daughter the eldest has bone cancer. They have two other kids. I never met the family. But I was sad to hear that this beautiful young girl had bone cancer. I felt for her family and her sister and brother too. I was glad to be able to pray for them. Especially her parents. I said God you know what this family is going through at this time. You are bigger that the cancer that is in their Daughter. You can heal their daughter if you want of it. But back in June this year their Daughter passed away. My Friend said it will be online for so many days if you want to the furneral service. I was not going to watch it. But glad I did. I did say why did she die so young. When had everything to live for. Her Dad said something at the furneral service that day with tears in his eyes. He said yes we lost her this side of earth. But we know it was God’s plan to take her home. To a far better place than this world. We not lost all. We might not have our beautiful Daughter this side of earth again nor her Sister or Brother. But we look forward to day we will see her all of us one day in Heaven again. There we will see her witt a bran new body no more pain and sickness. Yes we will miss her this side of earth. But we all look forward to that day. So we not lost everything. That gave me so much comfort. To know when a loved one dies especially if saved. No matter if just old age or at young age or because they were ill like this families Daughter. As this families Daughter was saved. That we will see them again in Glory or as people say Heaven. We have that to look forward to. No matter how much we miss them on earth. If taken home way to early. We have to know especially if they were saved God knew best to take them home to be with him. Yes it does break or hearts as we missed them lots and lots. We have all the good memories of times spent together and photos of them to look at. Think of the things they said and done that make us happy. So we can say it to do with friend or family member loosing someone close why why. Why God am I allowed to be happy it enjoying the special occasion why they are greifing. It not fair you can say. But the person like your friend wouldn’t want you not to have enjoyed that special occasion and be happy for the new married couple. But she will know you will be feel sad for her. But as she said your friend go be happy for them. There is another time for you to grief with your friend. As making memories is very important to keep in your heart. As when saddness happens. You have all the good memories to help you through the sad times. They are important to make as life is short. One thing I learnt in times to always tell family you love them. Even if they annoy you at times. As you not always get on our agree. But do make up as life is short. If not saved tell them you are praying for them. That Jesus loves them too. I do that for my Dad 82 in February next year. As my Dad does things than says things that annoy me at times. When he should be wearing his driving glasses when driving. Most times he doesn’t. He say I was not going that far in my car. So didn’t need them. He needs them to be worn all the time when driving even in short journeys. You can’t tell him. He not saved. He knows I am. You can’t tell him he need the Lord or any of my family. As they say keep all to yourself and you can have a row. Life to short to row. I just tell my Dad when after doing his home help as I do for him every day when going home. Love you Daddy keeping you in prayer. Once now and then I can get to tell him why he needs to be saved. He just laughs it of what I said. But I glad I told him. I know in God’s perfect timmimg he come to Lord one day. That all I want from my Dad before he leaves earth to know he is saved. Thank you Jen for today post and what you wrote. I said prayer for your friend and you. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
Beth Williams says
The devil is crafty. He tempts us any way He can. My co-worker quit suddenly & it changed my job drastically. Find myself grieving over what was & what isn’t anymore. I know God gave me this job for a reason. So I use my time at work while stocking rooms to pray away the worries. Asking God to remind me of all the many blessings I have.