I walk with tears in my eyes down to my favorite viewpoint, and I pray. “God, it’s been a year and a half. I should be over this by now. I shouldn’t still be weeping about it.” But I am. I’m just tired, I tell myself. And that is true. Or maybe I’m PMSing. That may be true, too. But both of these statements serve only to minimize my tears and the feelings that are prompting them. I know better. But I still do it.
As I walk along the sidewalk with tears falling, a quiet voice stirs inside my mind. You’re weeping less often than you used to. Yes, that is true. Grief takes time. I expel a breath of frustration. I’m tired of grieving. I’m tired of being tired. And I’m tired of learning the same old lessons over and over again. I want to be done with it all already. I want to have arrived. Instead, literally and metaphorically, I’m walking the same old ground to the same old viewpoint.
When I get there, I plop down on a bench and look out over the Sound. The water is calm today. The sun seems to be playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. I stare out over the steely gray water and breathe, deeply. This view never fails to restore me, to calm me, to reorient me.
A falcon flies overhead, its huge wings flapping slowly, rhythmically. Later, a hummingbird darts into view, soars up into the sky, and disappears only to pop up again a few moments later beside a holly tree growing out of the hillside. I watch him soar, disappear, reappear half a dozen times, a smile tugging at my lips.
Nothing has changed, not externally. But I am calmer now. I still feel sad, but I am able to see that I feel happy, too. This has been one of my deepening convictions these past five years: that you can feel more than one emotion at a time. For years I had thought in terms of either/or: either you’re happy or you’re sad. Either you’re grieving or you’re rejoicing. Either you’re sorrowing or you’re celebrating. Now I know otherwise.
It is Easter, the Great Fifty Days in which we remember Resurrection. Jesus is risen, and He has trampled death underfoot, and we can, should, and must celebrate that reality. But it is a proleptic reality: it is already and also not yet. We still live this side of death, and so long as we do, we live in the shadowlands, where there is still mourning and crying and pain. Easter promises that it will not always be so, that indeed for those on the other side of death, it is no longer so, and that in a very real way the life of joy is ours right here, right now.
But—and this is a big but—it is not fully here. We live in the land of not-yet, and in this land there is trouble. There is grief and loss. There is pain and suffering. There is sorrow and injustice. In this as in so many things, Christian belief rests on paradox, and we must hold both these truths together: we are already living our eternal life of salvation and joy in Christ, and we are not yet living it fully.
Because Christianity is so chock full of paradoxes, of course we will live in the tension between these poles of reality, between the already fullness of joy and the not-yet experience of sorrow. So it makes perfect sense that we can feel sad and happy at the same time, that we can be grateful and grieve at the same time, that we can know the goodness of our lives and still long for more at the same time.
We like neat, tidy boxes where everything fits perfectly. But life is messy. Life is constantly breaking out of the boxes of our little categories. I am grateful for my life, as grateful as I have ever been. And I am still grieving the loss of my little house and that I am no longer the mother of young children. Those life stages are behind me, and I can never go back to them, not in this life anyway. And while there are days I am grateful I will never have to relive, there are so many other days that press an ache of longing against my chest, days I would love to relive—snuggles on the sofa, all the picture books we shared on that sofa we no longer own, walks to the park where I pushed my kids on the merry-go-round or the swings, picnics on the living room floor, a small child asleep in my arms or holding up trusting arms for a hug.
I grieve that these things are lost except to memory. I grieve that the house in which they took place is no longer mine. At the same time I rejoice that my babies are growing into lovely children. And I am grateful for this new house with more space for my growing children. It’s both. For some of us, it’s always both. Grief and joy, gladness and sorrow.
I think it’s important that we be hospitable to our whole selves. We ignore or suppress our grief or pain at our peril. It’s still there, and it will come out sometime or other, and not always in ways we can control. This is why confession is so important. It’s not simply confessing our sins (though that’s essential, too). It’s also confessing the truth about who and how we are. “Lord, I am struggling with anxiety.” Or, “I feel angry right now.” Or, “I am still grieving the loss of that friendship.” Or whatever it is that rises in us at times, choking us with unshed tears or unfelt feelings. Those things aren’t sins, and we needn’t feel any shame or guilt about them. But sometimes we do, so we shove them away. Or maybe they’re just too painful to look at, so we shove them away. Unacknowledged they fester and can hinder our relationship with God and with others.
If we acknowledge our pain, in whatever form it takes, and turn it over to God (a thousand times a day if we have to), we honor that pain, and ourselves. We say to our pain, “I see you, I know you are a part of me, and however much I want you to go away, I know you can be a means of grace.” And we say to ourselves, “I cannot control this feeling, but I know what I can do with it. I can give it to God.”
There is incredible power in this practice of acknowledging and surrendering. It integrates us. It allows us to be whole people—ones who grieve and give thanks, who rejoice and sorrow, who trust God with all that we are.
Back on the bench looking over the Sound, I take my own medicine. I give my grief and frustration to God, again. I give my longing and desire to God, again. I give thanks for the falcon and the hummingbird and the hide-and-seek sun. I know I will come here again, and do this all over again. I am a slow learner apparently. But God is patient and kind, abounding in steadfast love, and both He and this view of the Sound that I love will be here when I come again.