Grief and Joy

Something was different this Advent and Christmas for me. I am not sure if it is because I have been working with people who are grieving or because God just peeled back another layer of my own life. Whatever the case may be, Advent 2017 has been all about God’s Word being revealed through the eyes of a griever. I’ll save this for another post, but I think Our Father is a griever, not in a human way, but in a divine way. He grieves that His beloved sons and daughters do not yet know Him and trust Him completely, and yet, He still loves us unconditionally and waits for us. I am a griever in a very human way. I will be one for the rest of my life here on earth. I am a griever not only because I lost my husband two and a half years ago, but because I am experiencing earthly life as an imperfect person who still questions God’s plan even in the light of my faith. In fact, we are all grievers. We are all grieving something. It may not be death, but it could be divorce, marital discord, rebellious teenagers, aging parents, financial insecurity, and the list goes on. You don’t have to look very hard to see that you are probably grieving something. Before we all fall into despair over the realization that we are all grieving something in this life, there is hope! In fact, I would say there can actually be joy, even in the midst of grief. Please don’t think that I am downplaying the intense pain of any kind of loss. I know first hand the feeling of despair, discouragement, disappointment and excruciating pain from loss. Finding joy can just seem laughable as a griever.
And, Joy, by definition is “great happiness or intense pleasure.” How in the world do we find THAT as a griever?

In today’s first reading, St. John the Evangelist, reminds us what the Old Testament has already told us that from the beginning that we were created by a God who loves us not because we are good, but because He is good. God has revealed to us that His covenant is True, that His Spirit is working in us and that His Son came for our salvation. The disciples have experienced it, they have seen it,and they have watched God’s Word become visible in the flesh. St. John shares this Good News with us so that we, as the disciples of this day and age, can live in friendship with this same Triune God who loves us so “that our joy may also be complete.” The disciples are our witnesses to this amazing God who says to us if you would just “follow” me, I will bring you joy in this life and the next. They are witness to the joy that can come from following Jesus, even in the midst of trials. So, too, we must be witnesses to those we come in contact with everyday! How? We do it the way Jesus did it. Its seems so simple to say, yet, so challenging to do. We do it by putting our trust in a Father who has only our best interest at heart. We put our trust in a Father that loves us more than anyone will ever love us. He didn’t create us to torture us with sorrowful lives, but, He also never said His way would be easy. We have to know this about life. We also need the testimony of those who walked through trials with His Son for real.   And, we need to experience His unconditional love for ourselves. St. John is telling us that they have experienced it. They have experienced the mercy, the healing, the peace that comes from following Jesus. God created us out of love to live a life that follows a path to happiness, not the world’s path, but His path, even unto death. In Jesus’ case, this meant death on a cross.  Our grief, to be sure, is part of our cross.  For so many of us, we have tried it the world’s way to avoid grief and suffering and have been disappointed. Do we have anything to lose to try to walk with our Creator through our grief?

The Gospel today (John 20:1a and 2-8) is usually one that we hear around Easter, but, today we only get the first part of the story–the empty tomb. Today the Gospel ends at the tomb where “the other disciple who Jesus loved…saw and believed.” I can’t help but think that today God is trying to make a point to all of us whom He loves. How often do we run to the tombs in our life? How often do we see the garments of Jesus at our feet in the midst of our trials and grief, yet, we still don’t believe that He is really with us? I know I do. How often in our grief do we think that Jesus has just been taken from our sight to be found no more? This is a lie. Our great joy comes from knowing that whatever we are walking through, He walks with us, He weeps with us, and we are never alone.

Today God has spoken to us through St. John to tell us that He is with us in the trials and grief. He wants us to get to know Him like a trusted friend, like a trusted lover. He, alone, will bring us to a place of eternal joy. He will see us through all of our trials. And, when He does, let us tell everyone we meet of the wondrous work He has done in our lives!

During this Octave of Christmas, let us share, with joy, our faith in a Father who love us beyond measure that He brought us a baby in swaddling clothes to be our Savior! And, I would say, there is no grief in that.