“I agree that marriage it hard, and a good marriage is worth it. However, the hardest thing I've ever done isn't marriage....the hardest thing I've ever done was a long, ugly, extremely messy divorce and the unhealthy, dysfunctional co-parenting relationship I have with their dad.”
I was sitting in the studio interviewing relationship experts Jeff and Debbie McElroy about the goodness of marriage when my phone buzzed with this message from a friend who was listening. She knew she could contact me, because we have walked the same journey of “long, ugly, messy divorce”.
As I sat in the studio with Jeff and Debbie I was encouraged. Encouraged to see two people so deeply committed to each other and so obviously in love. As Jeff described the “why” of marriage I found myself nodding along, “yes, this is what marriage is for! It’s for showing the gospel!” Jeff and Debbie continued painting the picture of how marriage models the gospel for us, how it shows us redemption in tangible ways. How in each marriage God wants to enter into every hopeless and dead place and bring resurrection. As Jeff says “Every marriage has a Sunday Morning coming.”
After they left the studio I needed to be alone for a few minutes. I needed to sit with the reality that the “Sunday Morning” of my marriage will never come. I needed space to grieve that fact, to take that truth to Jesus and sit with Him in the pain of it.
Last week we received a message from someone who was hurting. He had heard a story of how God had healed a man’s wife of cancer, but his wife died. The same God who allowed cancer to take his wife’s life allowed another man’s wife to have more years with her husband and kids. His “Sunday Morning” of cancer-free-life will never come. And, I imagine, the reality of that truth hurts daily.
What do we do when the reality of our situation is that for us here in this moment Sunday Morning isn’t coming?
Today I’ve been thinking about Job and all that he lost. I saw him sitting there in sackcloth and ashes with dust literally pouring from his head and I was jealous. Not of all that Job had gone through, but of the time Job took to sit and mourn his loss. I was jealous of Job’s ashes. Ashes that told everyone who saw him and everyone who came in contact with him that this was a man in mourning.
I sometimes wish we had something to wear to let others know that our season of mourning hasn’t past yet and that we are still filled with grief.
I think we do a pretty lousy job in our American culture of grieving that which is important. We wear black to funerals and the next morning wake up and put on whatever color suits us. As quickly as the flowers from the funeral spray shrivel up, die, and are thrown in the trash, society tells us to move on. We’re not allowed to sit and blankly stare, or to talk about our loss, or cry. Our employers give us a day, maybe two, off of work to attend the funeral and say our goodbyes and then we’re expected to return to work and the task at hand.
But grief isn’t an occasion that comes and passes, it comes and stays, lingering at the door of our heart. It sneaks up on you unexpectantly in the strangest places. When you’re going through your day as normal and all of a sudden you catch the scent of something that reminds you of them. When those day’s come when time slows and memories seem to wrap your mind like a blanket and grief is stirred back up again. And you have to leave the room and lock yourself in the bathroom to mourn in private, because it’s unacceptable to mourn in public.
We live in a society that is afraid of emotion. We don’t know how to express it and we don’t know how to comfort others that do. We’ve been trained to not grieve and mourn, we’ve been trained to get over it, or at least pretend that we have.
But God is not afraid of our grief, or our anger, or questioning, or fear. He is not caught off guard or intimidated when we come to Him with shaking fists and tear stained cheeks and beg for the pain to go away. He doesn’t mind when our eyes fill up with tears at the most awkward moments. He doesn’t turn His back to us when we come with questions and fears and ask “why”.
Jesus was a man acquainted with grief. He wept and was sorrowful. Jesus mourned. And He shed tears, unashamedly.
He welcomed the broken woman who literally washed His feet with her tears and He did not push her away or tell her to pull herself together. He welcomed her to His feet to pour out every single bit of grief that she had carried for so many years. He did not dismiss her tears. Yet, we feel as if we can’t bring our emotions into the throne room of grace because we feel like we can’t bring our emotions into our modern day churches or workplaces or homes. But if there is one place that grief is welcome, it is in the presence of God.
I hear people talk often about how in Heaven we’ll never cry again, but I’m not sure that’s true. Revelation 21:4 says “He will wipe every tear from their eyes”. To me the picture of Jesus wiping tears from our eyes is not the picture of bride who never cries, but a picture of a husband who lets her, and who comforts her when she does.
Tears are precious to God. He collects them, He doesn’t dismiss them. We are welcomed into the presence of God when our hearts are filled with grief and sorrow.
I find it interesting that in biblical times ashes were a symbol of grief. When someone they loved died or a tragedy happened they would literally take ashes and throw them on their heads. They would cover themselves in filth to represent the darkness of heart they felt.
“To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isa. 61:3
Jesus offers us a holy exchange. He invites us to come to Him, ash covered and tear stained. He bends down into our sorrow and He wipes the tears from our eyes and pours oil over our heads. And as that oil runs rivets down our face and our shoulders and our hands and feet, it washes away the ashes of our mourning.
But we have to come.
We have to come to Him and bring every bit of sorrow. We have to come and sit with Him in the pain. Only when we come can He reveal the true beauty there.