The night before I wrote these words, my wife and I drove over to meet and pray with a couple from our LifeGroup before her surgery. It was not a far drive and we were expecting it to rain on us.
Not our car; us.
Because of social distancing we are observing during the coronavirus pandemic, we could not go into their house like we normally would on such a visit, them perhaps on the sofa or loveseat and we perhaps in flanking chairs asking God for his grace, mercy, and healing. We would most likely hold hands while beseeching God for his watchful care the next morning, hug each other when leaving, and wait for the news after surgery.
Instead, they stood on their front porch while we stood in the yard—with the recommended space between—and prayed aloud, umbrella aloft in the misting rain. I said amen, we said goodbye, waved, and went our separate ways, them inside and we to our car.
I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced something that was so obviously good—yet felt like such a big piece was missing. It was a void that’s hard to describe, a sadness across the six-foot expanse. It was as if the circumstance set in place a bottomless crevice forbidding even the most brotherly/sisterly physical expressions of Christian love. We know the circle is unbroken, but in that moment, it felt busted into a dozen pieces.
In what is at least a New Temporary if not a New Normal, grief and loss will take different forms than, say, after a hurricane or flood. Graduations from high school to college are being canceled or postponed, gala weddings morphed into small, private affairs, vacations delayed, life goals altered, retirements rescheduled, and Easter services re-thought. None of these events represent the sum total of life itself, after all, jobs come after graduation, marriage after the wedding, and home always awaits after vacation. But, working four or five or six long years to finally walk across a stage, receive a diploma, move the tassel, and, hopefully, hearing among the din your name yelled in the cheers of your family is meaningful.
Losing these moments isn’t the end of the world, but it is a loss, and it isn’t wrong to grieve it. Perhaps it is wrong not to do so.
We do not experience the fulness of the grace of God until we recognize that it is His glory that casts shadows in the valley of death. He is not distant, but near. We do not grieve like those who have no hope, but we grieve nonetheless, even as on the other side of that grief is the grace of God that envelopes us, redeeming our grief and loss in the glory of his power. “Surely, he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” wrote the prophet (Isa. 53:4a, KJV). Jesus bore for us that which will otherwise over-burden and carries on our behalf that which could otherwise drown us in total despair.
We are right to reject the idea that the things of this world are eternal, or that temporal ceremonies or material accumulations should in any way be the primary supports of our lives, but we can still admit that some things we experience on this earth foretell our lives with Christ above. Joy is one of those things. When good things that bring us joy, that represent some of the good gifts from the Father of Lights, are snatched away from us; when physical distancing is forced upon us, even when we know it is for our own good and for those around us; or when goals—long hoped and worked for—suddenly evaporate like dew in the morning sun, grieving is a normal human response.
Grief and loss are endemic to our earthly sojourn even if pandemics are not. Grieving is the gift that helps us process through tragedy and loss. The Bible never commands us to “keep a stiff upper lip.” Instead, we are instructed: weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Before Job’s three friends ruined everything by opening their mouths, they sat in silence with him for seven full days, grieving with him the loss of his children, his flocks, and his herds. Tellingly, God never chastised Job for his grief.
Neither the losses that bring grief nor the valley traveled during it escape the grace of God. He says, “‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior” (Isa. 43:1b–3a, CSB).
So, let grief have its time when needed, then lean into the joy that Jesus in his grace provides.