In the past couple weeks, my family and friends have been through difficult times. There’s been pain, confusion, and sadness. I’ve felt helpless to do anything other than pray for peace, understanding, and comfort.
The thing that has emerged in my heart and mind is the deep connection between sorrow and thanksgiving, between grief and love. As I’ve talked with dear friends about their losses, one of the first things I’ve found myself saying is, “Aren’t you holding your kids closer through this?” It’s what I’ve done and continue to do when facing challenges, losses, and pain.
Our families and friends are precious gifts from God. Holding on tighter, in thanksgiving for these miraculous gifts, seems like a fitting way to express gratitude for what we have. Losing something dear makes us appreciate the frailty of life and cherish the blessings of our loved ones.
Between the births of Sienna and Mateo, I had a miscarriage. During an ultrasound at six weeks, my doctor announced to Dennis and me that he wasn’t seeing what he should see. There wasn’t a heartbeat. It was awful. We cried and mourned the life that we’d hoped to know. Amidst the tears, the moment that stands out clearly in my memory was telling Dennis, “We’ll look back in five years and know that we had the children God meant us to have.” Within the pain, there was hope. And when Mateo was born, there was an enriched appreciation for the miracle of his birth. I also clung to my precious daughter during those months of sadness.
Even in little ways, being a parent means we’re always holding grief and love together in a delicate balance. Loving these children means we experience a degree of pain and loss when they transition through stages of life. Having a seven-year-old daughter means I no longer have a two-year-old little girl. That stage is in the past and (though we don’t spend much time dwelling on it), there’s a loss there.
Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone
Just the idea of something happening to your child is painful. People who have lost children experience a grief that they never recover from. That’s the price of love. You can’t experience the depth of love without exposing yourself to potential (and actual) pain.
This balance of grief and joy was beautifully expressed in another article by Tish Harrison Warren:
When we lose our ability to lament, we aren’t left with unadulterated joy, but instead with stoicism and cynicism… Mourning and thanksgiving are not only not opposed to each other but often grow together, so intricately entwined that we can’t stifle one without killing the other.
In my experience this is very true. There’s a rawness and vulnerability to life that means we cling to God, our family, and dear friends for comfort and support. Personally, when I lose my ability to lament (through controlling my feelings and relying on myself instead of God), I also stifle joy, thanksgiving, and connection with others.
God knows this about humanity. His perfect plan did not mean we’d experience endless joy on Earth. As Tish also wrote:
Our central practice in worship allows us as Christians to fully embrace the complexities of joy and grief together. The communion meal is, in many ways, a meal of sorrow. It reminds us of the crucifixion. It’s a broken body and blood of an innocent man. The scriptural words that introduce the Eucharistic liturgy begin, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed . . .” We start the meal with a reminder of our Lord getting stabbed in the back by one of his best friends.
And yet, the word Eucharist, which is the historic term for the Lord’s supper or communion, means “Thanksgiving.” It’s the Thanksgiving supper of the people of God, rejoicing in our salvation and redemption through Christ. Each Sunday when we take this meal, we hold together sorrow and joy and gratitude and lament. Our Christian worship invites us to wade into this complexity and let it be, belittling neither the brokenness or the beauty in our lives. Because that’s where we encounter Jesus, who is as inseparable from our worship as gratitude and sorrow, as bread and wine.
This perspective was profound for me. Letting this complexity be, without having to dissect and try to understand it. Belittling neither the brokenness or the beauty in our lives. Feeling the pain, crying with a friend, letting it be. Holding our children close, sharing and connecting with friends in need, loving one another. Rejoicing in Jesus and the beauty he bestows on our lives.
In the end, my heart breaking for someone simply means I love them.