Joy comes with the morning

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The pandemic has been a period of loss for all of us. For some of us, it will be as basic as the loss of a normal way of life, the loss of the freedom to go about our days, getting out of the house and seeing people. Along with that, there will be the loss of social and physical contact. You will be counting back the days to the last time you had a hug or even a handshake. This may be true even if you are married and/or living with family. You will miss a specific loved one, a parent, grand-parent or grandchild. Many of us have loss loved ones and friends. The reality is that the death of over 100,000 will be affecting still many more. And then there are those who have lost jobs and livelihoods. In my case, I know what it is like to have lost a job during the pandemic and this also meant that we lost a church family too.

Loss means grief and whether that is grieving the loss of a loved one or a way of life, many of us find ourselves in that period of mourning now.  Grief tends to include a whole range of motions that affect us at particular stages. There are periods of shock and disbelief, denial and bargaining, guilt and anger as well as sadness and tears. I can say that I’ve been hit by all of them at different times. Even when you’ve had some time to prepare for the coming loss, there is still the moment when the shock of it all hits you. Then for me, there were moments when I would say that I tried to bargain.  This of course didn’t involve keeping my job, the money simply wasn’t there to pay me and the church needed to adjust back to a fully lay leadership in line with its Brethren roots.  And yet, there’s the ongoing pull. You think that you can have continuing involvement. You hear of challenges the church is facing and you begin to start processing how you can help or respond as though you still had a given responsibility. I understand that former Prime Ministers, especially those in office for a long time like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair go through something similar.

I’ve also been hit with moments of guilt, feeling that I somehow had failed, that I’m letting the church and community down, that I’ve failed my wife. And of course, there’s anger. That is the most unpleasant and unwelcome of emotions in grief isn’t it. It creeps up on you without warning, striking or being awakened by seemingly innocuous and unrelated events, just as it takes only something small and silly to move you to tears. But give me the tears and sense of aching sadness over anger any day.  I know what to do with that.  In grief, it is the sadness and tears that tell me I’m alive still after the numbness. Anger on the other hand is an unwelcome and uncontrollable companion.

Psalm 30 seems to me a song for those in the depths of grief. There is that sense of going down into the grave as well. There is an experience of anger, not of your own anger but of the Lord’s righteous anger and judgement. Then there is the promise of resurrection, of being raised. There is hope in the despair. There is the point where we can say:

“Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.”[1]

The literature on grieving talks about a phase called acceptance. As a believer, I think there is something more  than, better than acceptance. I’m not even sure that when we think about grief over death that “acceptance” is even that helpful. Of course, when we have lost an elderly relative who has lived a long life, there is the acceptance that their time had come. There is the acceptance that what was lost really has gone. However, we don’t completely accept the sting of death because death is an enemy and when other losses were unjust or just tragic, I’m not sure we are meant to just accept them as okay.

No, what I have discovered over the years as a pastor and experienced for myself in the midst of grief is that there is something for the believer on a different level. There is hope of resurrection. This hope is always there, right from the beginning. Sometimes we need to be reminded of it and sometimes it needs a little kindling. Yet, even in the darkest hours it is present. That’s why during the depths of the pandemic I’ve kept reminding people that #SummerIsComing. The hope that seems like a flickering pain that will so easily be snuffed out by the waves of despair, sadness and anger grows stronger each day so that one day even though the other emotions are there, we realise that the hope is stronger, the light is winning and dawn is breaking.

A point comes when we are looking forward, more than we are looking back.

You may feel like that hour is a long way off. It may still feel very dark for you but that dawn is breaking, winter is turning to spring and summer is coming. Pause for a moment and listen to those sounds of dawn, open your spiritual eyes and see the light that is kissing the horizon. There have been tears through the night but the joy of morning is coming.

[1] Psalm 30:5.

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