This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. ~ Frederich Buechner.
Day 8: Matthew 5:4
Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them.
When I first read the beatitudes I was pretty confused, and I’m sure the same was true for those who originally heard Jesus preach these things. How can you be happy and mourn at the same time? It’s a statement that’s very hard to understand. Mourning really messes me up. The sadness and grief are such overwhelming emotions! How is it possible to be happy or feel blessed in the midst of grief?
God does not abandon us when we are suffering and weak. When our physical circumstances are bad it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. God doesn’t condemn us for our lack of faith when we are sad. He doesn’t expect us to fake being happy, or to pretend that we’re OK when we are not. God and mankind reach out to each other during these times so that even where there is mourning there can also be happiness and blessing.
I think Jesus is reiterating a passage from Isaiah 61, a prophecy about the coming Messiah: “He has sent me to comfort all who mourn, to give to those who mourn in Zion joy and gladness instead of grief, a song of praise instead of sorrow.” This passage in Isaiah reveals the heart of both Jesus and Father God – that we should be healed of our sorrows and restored to gladness. God does not abandon us when we are suffering and weak. When our physical circumstances are bad it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. God doesn’t condemn us for our lack of faith when we are sad. He doesn’t expect us to fake being happy, or to pretend that we’re OK when we are not. God and mankind reach out to each other during these times so that even where there is mourning there can also be happiness and blessing.
I lost my mom a few years ago. She was 88 years old and had been in very bad health for many years. Nevertheless, her passing was a very painful experience for me. I had pains all over my body for months and at one point I experienced true depression. It was like a black hole. I prayed a lot during that time. I wanted to know where the blackness was coming from. I knew it wasn’t a good thing. I could sense it was unnatural and unhealthy.
I reflected on how I felt as a little girl. I reflected how I adored my mom. She was crazy about her kids. She was so kind and funny and encouraging and she always had faith in us, even when we screwed up. I remembered that when I was a little girl I was scared that my mom would get killed in a car accident. Every time she went out with my dad at night I made a big scene. It was very traumatic for all of us. Nowadays they would have given me some counseling or something, but that was very uncommon back then.
After about a year of mourning I had a revelation. I heard some words in my head, “If your mom dies you will have to go to an orphanage.” I was immediately swept back to a time when I was a young child, reading “Little Orphan Annie”. I remember wondering about what would happen to me if my parents died. My sisters were busy with high school and college. How could they take care of me? My grandmother? She lived with us, but she was very elderly and she kept saying that she was going to die any day. My dad? It never dawned on me that he would either be willing or able to take care of me. He was too busy working. I would be alone all the time. I came to the conclusion that my mom was the only one in my family who could take care of me. So I remember sitting there reading that comic strip and coming to the conclusion that if my mom died I would have to go to an orphanage.
Wow. Was that dumb. I know now that my dad and my sisters would have done whatever was necessary to take care of me. They all loved me very much and they would have found a way to make it work. But I was just a little girl and I didn’t know any better. It was flawed logic and a bad conclusion. I realized that the blackness, the sense of impending doom I had felt since her death was related to this. In my subconscious I was afraid that I was going to be yanked away from my life and my home and my family and whisked away to an orphanage. At the age of 51. Suddenly, the blackness was gone and I felt free.
I don’t think what happened to me was that uncommon. I have spent a lot of time during my life as a pastor’s wife talking to people about their problems. It’s amazing how some little seed planted in a child’s mind can take root and control them even into adulthood, even if it doesn’t make any sense. People are weird that way.
So this, I think, is an example of what Jesus is saying when he says, “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them.” I may not have been happy during that year of blackness, but I came out of it in much better shape, having let go of a false belief that was controlling my life and perhaps shaping my behavior in unexpected ways.
But I’m not one to say that “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger” or that every cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes bad things hurt us deeply and leave us forever scarred with wounds that never heal. Sometimes bad things result in nothing but bad and more bad. But I think this story illustrates that times of mourning and pain may cause us to look a little deeper and lead to a better understanding of who we are. And the passing of others can awaken in us a sense of our own mortality that gives us a greater appreciation for life and a spirit of joyful living.
And even in the worst cases the raw wound of mourning loses its edge. We are created to pick ourselves up and move on. The pain of separation lessens, and we remember the good times. Yes, the good times are what endures and allows us to carry on. Like it says in Psalm 30:5, “Tears may flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” We can only be sad and morose for so long, because there are a lot of beautiful things going on in the world and joy eventually breaks through. Death and mourning are part of life. We just have to have faith in the process.
What does this scripture say to you?