This is our ragged, fleshly life: tragedy and grief in the middle of our existence, bookended at both sides by delightful joy and felicity. We encounter the deepest delight, followed by profound heartbreak, and then later, if we have adequately leaned into the grief, we might discover God’s divinely appointed hope.
Perhaps without the depth of pain surrounding the magnitude of a trial, we could never experience the most glorious elated joy. And we balance upon a great divide, never far from either spectrum of emotion, but within a brief moment we may become the proprietor of grief or joy. If we seek to strip beyond the fleshly hold and rattle our emotions down to the core, perhaps we can withhold sentiment; yet as Jesus encountered tremendous pain and joy in His life, He appropriately lived and celebrated those currents of emotions. At times, He was brave for the fearful, the faithful for those living in disbelief. Yet He always offered peace. Likewise, we cannot step beyond the veil, observing the details of life with some kind of objective and stoic effort.
When we lean into grief or celebrate joyfully, we can invite God into that place of emotion, asking Him to provide healing and hope, but ultimately, to bring glory to His name, no matter the situation. Truly, our choice will be whether or not to allow those challenges and blessings to shape our character, refine our vision, and usher us into deeper communion with Christ. A life with such passion means trusting Him, living purposefully, loving others with a clear view of Godly hope, and with a glorious vision for Heaven. An element of suffering surrounds Christmas, a sweeping lament during moments of candid joy and gladness, even as loved ones draw closer and the warmth of friendship lifts the burden. The comfort of memory and togetherness can fuel an evening and provide a respite and a temporary lightening of angst. Such moments are fragile, even as relationships are precarious. These spirited times together are fleeting, even among company with good health and happy lives. Such cheerfulness is sometimes mistaken for real joy, the only joy found in relationship with Jesus.
When I observe my life, I wish away the pain I’ve experienced, yet I know the Lord accompanied me on every painful journey, including the death of my beloved older brother, Tim. Tim had survived the first heart surgery, an emergency that doctors later called a miracle. In the time since, those 7 gifted years, Tim and his wife Jeni had three beautiful babies and actively served the Lord in their church and community. He lived those years well, but I still prayed for a miracle. In the weeks after his second aortic graph surgery, I believed God would heal him. And the Lord did heal Tim, but through death. Yet in the midst of turmoil, Jesus was the Prince of Peace and offered His love and comfort despite the circumstances.
The winter before his death, Tim lost a close friend from church, a wonderful Godly man who was serving the Lord at the time of his death. Tim and I had engaging discussions surrounding why God called Home a young man who loved his family and served the Lord faithfully? We never decided on an answer, and we both realized that although his friend’s death did not make any sense, nor could be reconciled no matter how many people came to the Lord, we could trust God and pray for His goodness and grace to carry his family through the days ahead. Processing his friend’s death helped prepare Tim for surgery and trust God’s plan, and in a way helped prepare me for the myriad of feelings I would experience in grief over my brother just 4 months later. I received the answers to those nagging questions before Tim’s death, a guide for grieving him, the one person who could offer wisdom and perspective along with humor in such a situation.
Tim’s life was joyful one worth emulating, which brings me comfort to mention. Tim stepped into each difficulty—even the death of a friend—with a peace and security in the Lord rarely witnessed from a man of his age. The spiritual depth and study with which he lived was a genuine example, one which I would be wise to follow and seek to emulate. It is possible to survive the unthinkable and move forward with dignity, grace, and passion, to live fulfilling lives after a personal tragedy.
We have the capacity to heal and grow, and the ability to reach out and love others. Our aptitude to give and receive love is limitless, as modeled by God’s love for us. Clarity in this grief provides me the ability to realize the end of Tim’s life here was only the starting point of his real, perfect adventure, of his beginning as one wholly embraced and made complete in Jesus. Not long after Tim’s death, I had a clear, vivid dream that I drove Mom to the airport to pick up Tim from a flight. We were waiting in the arrivals area and I suddenly realized he wouldn’t be coming off the plane for that long-anticipated embrace. In the midst of my dream, I had the epiphany of the 2 years of life since seeing Tim in person. For the first time in a dream, my subconscious recognized that he wouldn’t be coming off any plane, and I yet felt a sense of God’s peace, and true hope. I had the analogy backwards! We’ll be the ones Tim will welcome Home in the Arrivals of Heaven, our true Home. Tim will be cheering us Home!
The peace of Christmas can be our own peace, no matter the time of year. The birth of Christ our Lord ushered in a perfect baby born into the fallen world, who became a man facing the same sorrows and challenges we face. Jesus was our forerunner, a perfect example of how to live and love, and offers us grace and peace for each day. I can reflect on the life of my brother Tim and see the kindness he brought the world, while living in the promise and hope of heaven, alongside the presence of God’s perfect peace today. It’s a chosen emotion of hope in peace as much as a gift which the Lord has bestowed the last several years, reminding me of all Jesus accomplished in his brief life: that no matter the length of a life, the breadth and depth create the impact. Indeed, our
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace brings His hope this Christmas. “God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy. This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us. The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be.
A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone. Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him—whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend—be our companion. — Henri Nouwen For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. — Isaiah 9:6