“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Most of the time when we bear the emotion of mourning or sorrow we don’t automatically experience a sense of blessing – anything but. Mourning is usually associated with some kind of significant loss or pain that leaves us in a place where “normal life” is de-railed for a season or may in fact never be the same again. How can Jesus say we will be blessed or happy when such loss has taken our breath away; when there is a tangible physical, emotional and spiritual emptiness we call a broken heart?
A major construct of the Kingdom of Heaven is that its citizens now have the capacity to look at life in a whole new way. There is a vantage point which allows us to see things unseen; to see our circumstances with a new lens; to see what is painful as a curiously rich blessing. As Tevye once said, “Unheard of … absurd… unthinkable” and yet Jesus insures it to be so. It is part of our inheritance – the promise of God – when I am drowning in sorrow there will come a consolation.
However, there is a common response we must fight when feeling grief – avoidance. None of us would look forward to some major loss in our lives and so we often do whatever it takes to minimize the pain instead of allowing ourselves to walk through it (Psalm 23). In saying that mourning creates a blessing Jesus seems to be telling us that it is okay to embrace the pain because on the other side of it will come peace; peace that comes directly from the hand of God, our Comfortor (John 14; 2 Corinthians 1:3ff; 1 John 2:1ff).
So what triggers mourning? Most of us would commonly experience this emotion at the death of a loved one – a marriage partner, a child, the slow agony of cancer or some sudden “senseless” catastrophe that throws us into an indescribable state of shock and emotional paralysis. Jesus said that even here – in the “valley of the shadow of death” – He will provide a quieting comfort.
Yet there are other losses we are subject to as we go through this life – broken relationships, physical distance from a loved one, layoffs, the vitality of youth, those times when it seems God is far away…. In all these times of loss and confusion God is mysteriously present and doing a work in our hearts that leads us to a new stillness and peace. Let’s expand this promise further.
In Scripture one of the most common times we see the emotion and “practice” of mourning is in a time of fasting or repentance from sin. This leads us to understand that when we sin and break fellowship with God (and one another) it is “normal” and expected that we would experience a sense of grief and loss. In the “healthy believer” there is a pain that should occur when we sin, telling us that something is not right. Compare that to our physical bodies. Ultimately pain is a gift from God giving us understanding that certain actions are not wise or that a part of our body is need of healing. Without pain we would have a hard time taking care of our bodies or getting the help we need to heal…. So it is with our souls when we do things that are spiritually unhealthy for us. The resulting sensation of pain is a good thing intended to help us go forward in facing the process of healing.
Here’s the problem. We do not see pain as an ally and therefore we do whatever we can to avoid it. We minimize or ignore our sin in an effort to avoid the anguish of reconciliation. We don’t mourn so we never really receive comfort. Instead we turn to all kinds of “comfort foods” to fabricate relief while the tumors of our brokenness are left to invade our whole being. This is especially tragic when we as believers try to take short cuts away from repentance. Somehow we unwittingly tell ourselves, “I am saved by grace; Jesus has finished His work in me so I don’t have to pay attention to the pain I feel or create in another.” Or, “I feel bad but I will mask that pain by signing up for one more committee, go to one more church service, mission trip or “old folks home”. Then I will be painless and comforted….
Who do we think we’re fooling?
Paul makes clear referenceto a “godly sorrow” in 2 Corinthians 7:5-13. “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.”
Notice how Paul models for us the facing of pain. He admits to having “no rest” but look how God cared for him in the sending of his good friend Titus. Paul could say with Jesus, “Blessed are the ‘harassed’ for God sees them and will come alongside them.”
Paul also points us to understanding that there is a sorrow that leaves no regret – that will never leave the cancer of sin untreated. Any other attempt to heal ourselves – worldly sorrow – only leads to relapse or a diminished ability to sense pain/hurt. “And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45). It is when we choose not to hide like Adam and Eve or David (or Mark) that we will experience the healing and calm God seeks to provide. Go ahead, let yourself mourn and lament over your inadequacy to live righteously and see if God will not raise you up (James 4:7-10).
So, is there mourning in marriage? Most of you will be nodding your head yes as I ask this question. For most of us it didn’t take long for us to experience broken expectations that we brought into our marriages. On one level this makes sense as the collision of two people coming together as one necessarily forces us to adjust and say goodbye to what we had pictured marriage to be. Usually this is a good thing as many of those hopes were about satisfying some selfish urge within. We soon learned that God loves to use marriage to teach us how to lose our self-preoccupation for the sake of another. We had to say goodbye to some things we thought would be ours in marriage. We had to mourn the old visions to welcome the new and better ones.
But many of us have had to mourn the loss of the good visions and have wakened laying next to someone who has hurt us severely. Instead of a “knight in shining armor” who would be there to protect your honor, he has ridiculed and embarrassed you. Instead of someone who sees your strength, she points to your weakness and her disappointment in you. Instead of being faithful to you and seeing you as beautiful and sexy, he looks elsewhere for a safe yet hidden “love”. You had hoped to do ministry together but she has not grown in faith and still needs “milk not solid food”. You both hoped for a “best friend” but now you just tolerate one another. There is much to mourn over! Some of us lie in a worldly grief scratching and clawing our way from day to day or seem unable to move forward at all. Others of us just get out. Tragically more of us have the same mailing address but live a thousand miles apart. The heartbeat of our marriage is barely traceable.
Really Jesus! If I mourn for my broken marriage You will comfort me? I don’t know. “I believe; help me in my unbelief.” The years of hurt have left me numb, unbelieving that it could ever be different; that she would see me as she did once upon a time; that he would still look at me with passion and tenderness; that together we would look to You in praise and joy. Lord, help me today to bury my old hopes and dreams along with the emptiness I feel at home right now. Let me know the comfort of a new vision that allows me to love her/him as You have loved me. Teach me to fall to my knees and kiss Your feet so as to receive the comfort that leaves no regret. Today I will mourn with you, allowing You to bear this burden I cannot and as I grieve I will believe I am in the perfect place for healing – by Your side.