Grief is a Gift

Someone I went to college with died of Covid last week. It was a sobering day as we are still relatively “young.” Simultaneously, several of my friends and family members are navigating painful relationships and I’m hurting for each of them as they grieve the broken dreams of “what could have been.” And then there are the atrocities happening in Afghanistan lately, disturbing to us all.

I don’t know what particular pain you’re facing in this season, but we don’t have to look far to experience it. Heartache is all around us. It’s hard not to become discouraged and disillusioned under the weight of brokenness. Our spirits bend towards bitterness in the perpetual wind of suffering. Yet the day after my friend died, I reached for God’s Word and found this somewhat unexpected outlook from the world’s wisest man, Solomon:

It’s better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclessiastes 7:2-4).

Why would going to a funeral (“house of mourning”) be better than going to a wedding or big celebration (“house of feasting”)? It feels like the opposite is true! I’ve been pondering it a bit, and here’s what I’ve come up with as it relates to grief and suffering:

It RESETS our eternal PERSPECTIVE. Death is a wake-up call. Even sickness, injury and pain are often reality checks (“Oh man! I thought I was invincible. Maybe not…”). We are mere mortals. Death is 100% guaranteed. As Solomon says, “This is the end of mankind.” We’re headed for the ground. The only separating factor at that point is where we’ll spend eternity—with or without Jesus. And that all depends on whether I’ve trusted Him alone for my salvation (John 3:16, 14:6). Solomon tells us later that, “no one knows the future…and no one has power over the time of their death” (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8). A lot of times we’d rather bury our head in the sand and live in denial, but these realities are meant to affect us. Will we “lay it to heart?” as Solomon says? We can pray with the Psalmist, “Lord, teach me to number my days that I will gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

It causes us to RECKON with our PURPOSE. What does wisdom call us to do, in light of suffering and our impending death? Despair and wallow in depression? Because just to be honest, sometimes that’s exactly what brokenness makes me want to do! Once again, Solomon says something unexpected: “For by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” WHAT?!? This does not make sense! It sounds like an oxymoron, in fact. But like so many kingdom truths, what appears to be down is actually up (we must humble ourselves to be exalted, die to live, and lose ourselves to find ourselves). God’s kingdom is upside down. So, as we allow ourselves to fully and genuinely enter into pain over sin, suffering and death (often a process that takes more time than we allow), God eventually dries our tears, clears our vision and renews our minds. Through grief (and sometimes not until the other side) He more clearly reveals the reasons behind our existence: that we would know Him personally and intimately, and that out of our this very real relationship, we begin to reflect Him well and lead others into relationship with Him (Phil. 3:8; Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 10:31). That’s my purpose and yours. That’s the reason we’re here, and it all culminates in glory and praise to God! What a joy to discover, and rediscover, this profound, yet simple mission for life. Sometimes it’s only after life’s shaking events that our feet return once again to the solid Rock that is Christ. He is the one true foundation and only what’s done for Him and through Him has lasting value! 

It REMINDS us of our PRIORITIES. Once we know our clear purpose, we can establish (or re-establish) our specific priorities. For me this looks like spending time with God every day, pouring into relationships with my family and friends, serving my church body, working at my daily tasks as unto the Lord and pressing outward in my community towards those who don’t know Jesus. Your priorities will look different from mine because you are uniquely wired and in a different season. And yet, there will be overlap as believers because our purpose is the same. While we often know what our priorities are, we tend to get distracted and drift away from them. Comfort, busyness, laziness and apathy pull us away from what matters most. But grief comes as the alarm to wake us up! It has potential to redirect us into effective, fervent, whole-hearted living.

Solomon says, “the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Lord God, keep me from the trivial! May I not “numb out” or shift into autopilot. I don’t want to waste hours of my day on stuff that doesn’t last. Thank you for the way grief and suffering act as such poignant invitations into a life of significance. Grant me the grace and courage to move out of mediocrity and into a life of vivid intentionality, knowing life is short but each day counts. And that though “I have sorrow now, I will see you again and my heart will rejoice, and no one will take my joy from me” (John 16:22).