If you’ve experienced grief you know it can be deceiving. You may have months of such severe heart-pain you are convinced it will last forever. Then, one day, you realize you aren’t in that place anymore. Your limbs don’t feel weighted with sand. You laugh more easily. You think, maybe this is finally over. Maybe you’ve finally healed. Without warning, the heaviness returns. You notice that you are stuck just behind the finish line, like landing on the Molasses Swamp square in Candyland.
That was me last night. Pushed back a few spaces. Stuck in grief. New hurts emerged that I thought I’d wept my way past. Hot tears. The last thing I wanted to do was set my alarm clock for church.
I read Psalm 56. When I got to verse 5, which asks: What can flesh do to me? I couldn’t help but respond: a lot. Flesh humiliates. It speaks the right lie at the right time. It leaves children orphans. It beheads Christians. It defiles what was pure. Flesh makes promises then breaks them. Falsely accuses. Slanders. Gets cancer. I am so sick of this flesh.
And yet these are the times I need to ask the Psalmist’s question: What kind of power does flesh really have in comparison to God’s? The answer is of course: very little. Very little in light of eternity. Flesh can sting, disappoint, even murder, but it can’t take away the future hope I have in Christ. That promise remains untouchable.
But what about all the pain this side of heaven?
God acknowledges it. He captures every private tear (Ps. 56:8). He does not downplay its presence in our lives, but instead tells us that those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:5). About this verse, John Piper writes:
Be realistic. Say to your tears: ‘Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed, sermon to be written). I know you will wet my face several times today, but I have work to do and you will just have to go with me.
This morning, despite heavy limbs and heart, I took Piper’s advice. I told my sorrow: You’ll have to come along, because I’m going to church. When I picked up my friend Jennifer on the way, I admitted to her that I was distracted. As a fellow griever, she understood. We arrived and I got to sing hymns alongside my family, the congregation. I was reminded during the sermon that glory is a promise; that trials are too. The pastor pointed out that the order in Scripture for Jesus and His followers is always:
suffering --> death --> glory
Accepting this did not take away my pain, but it validated it. There will be times when I sow in tears, when I must take my pain to church, to Walmart, the DMV, or coffee with a friend. But these tears are not forever and death is not the conclusion:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb. 2:14, 15)
Eternal joy is a promise worth dwelling on, especially during periods of earthly sadness. Read these promises to yourselves. Write them on your wrist, your friend’s Facebook wall, or your most oft-used bookmark. You’re going to need them:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4)
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 51:11)