Arthur Hughes (English, 1830-1915)
I flew out on a cool November morning. The sun rose as I cried in the terminal, but darkened again as the passengers shut their airplane windows against its brightness.
I was going to a place that is as home to me as the house of my youth. The loved ones there had learned of my sudden grief, and they heard in my voice the sound of a breaking heart.
So they took me in. They loved me. They allowed me to be quiet, to think, to talk, to try to understand the sudden change that had hit me. They gave me the gift of rest. They watched as I gained strength through work– scrubbing floors and washing dishes — and they saw me struggle through those initial days of shock when I wandered the borders of the hedges and collected fistfulls of grasses and twigs and autumn leaves that I set everywhere about the house. They gave me the gift of home, a place to be safe in my grief.
Grief will bring out the true nature of ourselves and those around us– and often the sweetest expressions of love and friendship will be given through the seasons of struggle and pain.
Why does our Father allow sorrow, anyway? Why must we so often be pierced with the sword of pain, and feel so keenly the loss of our dreams, our plans, our desires, our loved ones? Why do the things we so longed for– good things, things that are worth the wanting– so often get taken away?
I cannot fully answer that question. I know that God has His reasons for everything He does. I know He loves us , His children, and that He does all things for our good– but I still do not always understand why He chooses to show us His love through pain so often. I’m glad that I am not required to understand.
Grief if not a logical thing. And yet, in all of its pain and suffering and ugliness, it is strangely beautiful. There is sanctity when a girl is on her knees before the Lord, weeping tears that cannot be put into words. He hears those tears just as well as he hears a prayer. He will answer her, and he will change her into His image.
That is one of the main purposes of grief in our lives. To change us into the image of Christ.
When you are faced with a trial– a door closing, a long cherished ambition being cut off, a loved one becoming lost to you– what is your response? Do you cling to your own will, refusing to let God take from you what you wanted, or do you ask Him to do what He wills , only that it will make you more like His Son? Can you earnestly fall to the ground in tears, pleading ‘not my way, Lord, don’t let me have my way– I want Your way, no matter what the cost, for my will leads to death, and Yours is perfect. Whatever it takes, make me like Jesus.”
We cannot be like Him on our own strength. He lets us come to the end of our strength– when we cry out with all our hearts “I cannot go on”- – so that we will see our need of Him, and flee to Him for grace and strength. He loves to hear our cries and give rest to our souls. He loves us. He died for us. He does not hold our mistakes and our sins against us.
Sorrow adds to us a certain beauty, both physical and inward, when we take it to the Lord. When we surrender to His will and quietly bow to His providence in our lives, saying “Lord, do what You will to make me like Christ– if it means tremendous pain, even if it means You taking from me this thing I love and desire the most– then do not spare the rod, only hold me up and create me into the image of Your Son.” Through the trials, He will confer on us a grave sweetness, a deep seated joy, and a quiet peace and trust that will sustain us through the hardest of sorrows. When you meet people like this, you know. You see the tiredness on their face, the pain and sorrows that have run lines in their cheeks and put a depth in their eyes, but you also see a tender softness about their lips and a warm, steady glow in their gaze. It is the mysterious, transfiguring beauty of a soul surrendered to God.
James Carroll “The Letter”
“She is not the girl she was in those light-hearted days when the two used to walk and talk together while love’s dreams were so bright. It is not long since; but in the little time she has learned strange lessons— lessons which have gone deep into her soul. All life has been changed for her, and in her, too. She is a woman now, set apart by the baptism of sorrow. The light still shines in her face; but it is not morning light now, it is the serious light of the mid-day. She has a new joy now– joy which is sorrow transfigured, glorified. God’s comfort is in her heart, and a holy peace is in her eyes. She has experienced sore loss, but she never was so rich as she is now.”
-J.R. Miller, “Young People’s Problems” on the topic of grief and disrupted plans
James says that we must not only accept God’s will in giving us trials, but that we must rejoice when they come. I am beginning to see why. If we want to be like Christ, then we will be willing to go through whatever it takes to form us into His image. When we are tried, James tells us, and if we bear it in the strength of God, we will become patient (Christ is patient), and over time patience will become a deep quality of our lives, much different from the common idea of patience which is ‘bearing with the current situation until it goes back to how I like it’. Paul also tells us that we should rejoice in our troubles, knowing that they give us patience, and patience will give us experience (experience brings wisdom when considered in the light of Scriptures), and experience will give us hope (God is always faithful).
“Perhaps some few misunderstood the patient, unselfish way in which this bereavement was met, and thought the brave heart that endured such a sorrow with no clamor, was made of steel. But those who really knew this bereaved mother, knew the whole story. The life-long habit of Gospel love to the neighbor, and of faith in God as One who could not by any possibility make a mistake, came to her rescue. It was right because He did it. And what if she was sorely wounded, was she the only one lying mangled on the battle-field?” -Elizabeth Prentiss, “The Home At Greylock”
Grief and pain is like a chisel which our Father uses to work in beautiful details in the sculpture of our lives. He is tapping and cutting and hewing, and sometimes his chisel goes oh, so deep, and the pain is terrible; but we can be still knowing that these things are necessary for us to become shaped into the likeness of our perfect Savior and Lord.