To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn…
I grew up in a household where I recognized those lyrics by the Byrds before I knew them as words from scripture. It’s a catchy tune that is fun to sing along. But the reality of what scripture tells us isn’t so soft and sweet.
The writer of Ecclesiastes starts off telling us that everything is meaningless. Many of us have felt that way at times. But when tragedy strikes, that’s not the answer we’re looking for. We want to know that there is some meaning to what is taking place, what we’re going through.
And the writer continues on with this at the start of Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
Pretty words. But too often, that’s all they are. Words alone are not very comforting.
Who We Sing With When Heartache Happens
In the late summer of 1999, my wife and I learned that she was pregnant. We had only been married a couple of years, and we were filled with nervous excitement. We had told our families and a number of close friends.
And then tragedy struck. I distinctly remember the day. I was at Mt. St. Helens while my wife and her father traveled to Spokane to see her sister. Before the day was over, my wife was at a hospital learning that she had miscarried. It was gut wrenching. I wasn’t even able to be there for her.
Later, after we were both home and trying to console each other’s grief, the phone rang. Traci Fredricks greeted me with a “Hello Papa Sandefur!” She became the first person outside of our family and housemates to learn what had happened. To this day, I am grateful that she was the first person I talked to.
The next morning, we arrived at church and were quickly embraced by our small group, including Jon and Traci. So many things stand out. My wife and I were a part of the worship team but had that weekend off. Many of our small group were playing that morning. And one of them even suggested to Jon who was the worship pastor that maybe they should change up the songs.
That morning, surrounded by our close friends, we sang a song called “I’m Trading My Sorrows.”
Frankly, I still cry every time I hear the song, not because of sadness or grief, but in recognition that it is exactly what I needed to hear that morning:
“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame, I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord… I’m pressed but not crushed persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. I’m blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure and his joy’s gonna be my strength. Though the sorrow may last for the night His joy comes with the morning.” Trading my Sorrows, Darrell Evans
It was more than the words we were singing. It is also about who we were singing them with. We were in the midst of people who loved us and that added to the power of what God was doing in those few minutes.
Thankfully, we went on to be blessed with three children, two biological and one adopted. Any parents out there know that this brings its own share of joys and sorrows!
When God Grieves
Nearly 10 years after that fateful weekend, I was teaching a church conference in Romania. In one of the sessions, I spoke about God’s goodness. The average age of the attendees was maybe 23, so it was a young crowd with only two sets of parents there.
I think it was in response to a question from the audience that I found myself talking about our youngest child and the time he spent in the hospital as a nine month old. One young lady’s follow up question was somewhat theoretical:
What would I have felt about God’s goodness if my son had died from his illness?
I found myself talking about that fateful day and how I know that God is good.
That is largely what I want to share here. God is good. In the midst of hurt, pain, grief and more. God is good. Even when the circumstances are screaming at us that this does not make sense, the truth is that God is still good.
Psalm 103:13 reads, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.”
The meaning of compassion is to “suffer with.” The Bible is clearly stating that God suffers with those who He has called His children.
We also see this “suffering with” in the life of Jesus. Some may joke about the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” What is often missed is that his response is over the death of a friend.
John 11 tells of the illness and the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. When Jesus arrives, John tells us that Jesus saw other’s weeping and he was greatly troubled. And then, He too wept.
This is not God separate from His creation, but One who deeply cares.
How We Can Grieve
I will be the first to admit that I do not always handle my emotions well. In fact, there are times when I can seem downright insensitive. Some of that is a defense mechanism I learned early on. But that is not always the case and there have been times when it has been detrimental to my own heart and mind.
A few years ago, I struggled with burnout. Through that experience, I learned some key things about hurt, healing, and grief. The biggest thing I learned is that you have to allow time for the grieving process.
I had the mindset that I just needed to push through the hurt. And what that essentially did was never allow the hurts to heal. Every new experience that was similar or reminded me of the initial hurt has like picking off the scab of a wound, opening it up again and putting the healing process on hold.
Let me just say, this is not a good thing. It is not what God wants for us.
Now unfortunately, the opposite can be just as harmful. Reveling in our hurts is also not what God wants for us. When we dwell in our hurts, never truly healing, we enslave ourselves. You keep telling yourself how horrible things are, maybe even how horrible you yourself are, that you are unworthy of happiness and love. And eventually you truly begin to believe those things. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The Bible also tells us that while we were still against God, which should make us unlovable, God showed His love by sending His son Jesus. And Jesus continued this demonstration by taking our place and suffering the punishment we deserved. When we entrap ourselves and wallow in our misery we are essentially saying that what Jesus did was not enough.
Time to Mourn
There is a time to mourn and none of us can truly define how long that time is. But not enough time and too much time are not what God desires.
There is an interesting story about King David in the Bible. After committing adultery, murder, and more, we find David being told that his newborn child is terribly ill. David mourns and prays for forgiveness and mercy. When the child dies after seven days, a truly strange thing occurs: David stops mourning, cleans himself up and goes to worship God.
When his servants expressed their dismay at his behavior, he responded with this, in 2 Samuel 12: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he will not return to me.”
On its surface, this seems like a cold hearted statement. But it’s really a statement of belief about who God is.
God may have healed David’s son in this life. But David also believed that there is more to come. In Revelations, John tells us that one day, there will be a new earth with no more suffering or pain. Jesus tells us that we will have new bodies that are free from the hurts and pains we now suffer.
Hope in what God has told us is true about the future allows us to mourn, grieve, and then, move on.
Grieving Together With Hope
One of the most vital things I have learned is that it is important to share the burden of my feelings with others. Part of why that Sunday morning after our miscarriage was so important stemmed from the fact that we were not alone in our grief. We are called by Paul to bear each others burdens. We are not alone.
Consider the impact war has on groups of soldiers. The reason they can talk about “a band of brothers” is because they have suffered together which has brought them closer together. So, too, for us in the church.
We are not called to suffer in isolation, but to do so together so that we grow closer and better support each other. And we remind each other of the hope that we have. As Paul and Peter both wrote, we grieve for a little time, but it is a grief with an understanding of the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
I bottled up my grief and hurt for too long, and it not only affected me, but my family and friends. It was only when I opened up and shared my thoughts and feelings with them that God truly began to heal my heart. And I am truly grateful for those people who walked with me through my grief.
In them, I saw true demonstration of God’s love for me.