I am suspicious of good things. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, but I wonder how long the fun will last before an argument starts and the fun ends. I have a job that I enjoy but think about how long I will love it before office politics kick in and take something I was once excited to start, turn into something that has me counting down the days until I leave.
From what I shared, you would probably guess I was a pessimist. Surprisingly though, I am quite the optimist. The girl who doesn’t throw pens away in the hopes that someday they will write again. The girl who has been described as “very hopeful” in a way that brought about both disgust and admiration all in one. Ever the optimist (but also realist) I enter most situations with a bent towards, “everything is going to be ok!” Reminiscent of a phrase that runs on a loop in my mind from a tv show several years back, “There’s no situation so bad you can’t laugh about it.” Except… for these past few years, that laughter has been a lot harder to sift out.
Those moments when you return from a walk with friends to see you have 30+ missed calls on your phone. You pick it up and shakily dial one of those numbers back only to hear your sister tell you that your cousin, the one you grew up with and just saw a few weeks ago, has died. At the age of 35, with 3 young kids and a husband. The laughter is a little more hard-fought for in those moments. Or when you pray and believe for your friend to be healed, only to receive a text that they passed. Laughter sounds a little different in that moment.
Fewer things make us cautious of joy, like grief. Grief tends to rewire and rewrite the things we once thought we knew. It takes things we never even previously considered, or took for granted, and makes them the only thing we can think about. It brings strong people to their knees and timid ones to rage. It changes us.
Often times we isolate grief to the physical death of a person, but such a complex thing will not be resolved to such simplicity. The apathy you feel after searching for a job, in pursuit of what you heard God say, but not finding something that matches it. The insecurity that is bred out of never being chosen by a man as “desirable” enough to be in a relationship with. The disappointment that sets in when you follow and obey God’s word but feel like He overlooks the deepest desires of your heart. The anger that erupts when you feel like those closest to you don’t understand you. Grief has many faces.
I remember writing in my journal one year, “The older I get the less I believe in fairytales. Not because I no longer believe in magic, but because I know monsters are real.” It was my young mind’s way of summarizing the disappointments and losses I had faced. It was the beginning of my thesis on grief written from experiencing the up and downs of life.
In today’s society we are taught two things: you either run headlong into every emotion you have and give all your attention to it or, cut anything off that makes you feel less than happy at all times, including people. We often are not taught what it means to sit in the middle of, or wrestle with anything, let alone grief. What it means to recognize our emotions as a gift but not the last word. How to be both hurt and hopeful. Joyful and sorrowful.
I used to think that joy and grief were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Two completely opposing powers, that if ever forced to cross paths would implode, but dare I say it isn’t so. It is only from knowing and experiencing deep senses of joy that we know the grief of experiencing the loss of it. Sometimes we can hear the word grief and run as far away as we can, but what if grief is a gift? An unwelcome one that has our name on it. The gift we reject when handed to us, but one that reveals beauty never known with each layer unwrapped. There is no gift that God gives that isn’t good. For some reason our bodies were created to feel and cry, there was intention in our creation.
As we enter into the new year it’s easy to quickly dismiss the woes of the previous one and step headfirst into all that is expected ahead. But before you take one step forward, I challenge you to take one back. Count your losses, digest your disappointments and cry over what you hoped would be. Reflect. Give your griefs of days before the space to breathe without fear. Let what was have its day, but don’t allow it to rob you of the ones to come. Joy is ever before us.
“Even if the fig tree does not blossom, and there is no fruit on the vines, if the yield of the olive fails, and the fields produce no food, even if the flock disappears from the fold, and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength and He has made my feet like deer’s feet, and has me walk on my high places.”