Honoring God with Joy-Laced Mourning
In November 2015, I went back to Mississippi to bury my father. Surrounding me were familiar reminders of my southern roots – smells of fried shrimp and collard greens wafting about through the sticky, hot air clinging to my skin.
But, this visit was not like at times past.
His chair sat empty. And, the antique clock kept ticking heartbeats, as if to mock me to tears.
A little over a year after daddy’s funeral, I sat down with knees to chest on the freshly mopped floor of my emptied apartment. Plane ticket and keys in hand, I felt voiceless and invisible. My confidence shattered, I had been holding my breath too long for comfort, waiting for the ground to crumble. In a search for rest, I left my job and my home and set out hoping to find a place of relief.
The last three years of my life have been a time of ache entangled with opportunities to love and serve through weakness. These experiences have shifted the way I view myself, God and others. For that, I am grateful, as I am learning to embrace the seasons of pain that come, allowing myself to more fully feel my emotions and to make time to mourn.
In the midst of mourning personal losses, God has more widely opened my eyes to the hurts of the neighbors around me.
Have you looked around lately?
There are so many ways in which our communities ignore God’s calling to love in truth and courage. The result of our disobedience has been widespread death – in relationships, in nature, physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are surrounded by death.
In the summer of 2016, as the shootings bled across my screen, I felt heavily the weight of this death. I wept for hours across days. I wept for the people who share my skin. For the ways in which we do not see each other. For the bombs that drop and the families that run. For the girls taken. For imprisoned men. And, for the mothers who wail while their children watch in silence and fear.
I asked God, where is the hope in this? In the midst of overwhelming fear, how are we to still live with joy?
I have come to understand that grieving is a spiritual discipline, an act of worship, an acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty even in times of woundedness.
God has shown me that mourning and joy are linked.
When we humble ourselves in grief, spiritual rebirth happens. God reveals to us the vastness of our many sins. And, for those of us who surrender to His lordship, we gradually receive the salvation of our souls, an unearned forgiveness.
God raises us in fullness of life and hope. (James 4:9-10)
He strengthens feeble bones and straightens crooked steps. We find a sense of wholeness in the midst of darkness and an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) develops through our faith in Christ. Through his grace, He lifts us up to true freedom.
How blessed are those whose strength is in Him.
As we walk through valleys of weeping, we transform them into places of blessing (Psalm 84:5-7). This is the promise. God comforts us and uses us to comfort others, even as we grapple with our own fragility (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
God teaches us to live fully awake in His strength.
And, the source of this strength is the joy made available to us through walking in communion with the Spirit, in whom all fullness of life dwells, even in the midst of shadows (Nehemiah 8:10).
We must make time to stop and reflect, to grieve what we have done to each other and to ask for God’s forgiveness. God has already begun mending what is shattered. And, as we in fierceness of faith choose to trust in the justice and wholeness that is being reborn in the world through Christ, may we discover our mourning is laced with joy.
For we know that one day every tear will be wiped away from the eyes of those who believe.
Tiona is a native Floridian who is learning to love the rainy days and cozy coffee shops of her new Oregon home. Tiona is passionate about exploring the intersections of faith, race and identity. She finds purpose in learning more about God from those of other cultures and intentionally seeks ways to more fully live out respect and community with those who have been marginalized. Tiona holds a master’s degree in social work and currently serves as the associate director of master’s programs at Portland Seminary.