Saturday, November 15, 2008

Regretting and Rejoicing

A time to mourn and a time to dance…

                        Ecclesiastes 3.4

Lost Love

Separation and sadness are traveling companions. When people we love leave us, the void left by their absence fills with melancholy and regret. The joy, peace, and contentment they provided are replaced by sorrow, anxiety, and insecurity. The best memories—the moments we cherish—give rise to remorse for not making more of them or fully appreciating those we had. The starkest example, obviously, is the death of a beloved partner, relative, or friend. But separations come in all shapes and sizes—break-ups, relocations, temporary leaves, and even goodbyes after an hour spent with someone we love. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Juliet told Romeo. It’s the most compactly comprehensive description we have of what grieving lost love feels like.

Preventable Sorrow

The only feeling worse than mourning is sensing we could have prevented it. John 11 finds Jesus in this situation. Mary and Martha, sisters of His friend, Lazarus, send word he’s dying. Instead of rushing to Lazarus’s bedside, Jesus stays put for two days. He tells the disciples that Lazarus is dead, but He plans to restore His life. When He finally arrives, Mary says, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Her grief, and that of Lazarus’s friends, troubles Him. Verse 35 simply states, “Jesus wept.”

It’s a poignant, emotionally raw moment for Jesus, yet its personal intensity doesn’t spare Him scrutiny. Some are impressed by the love His tears convey. But others criticize Him, saying, “If He can heal the blind, why couldn’t He prevent Lazarus’s death?” It’s an unfortunate situation, making us wonder why Jesus weeps. It isn’t for Lazarus, because He knows His friend will live again. The best reason seems to be regret over not having come sooner, for not having prevented the sorrow of Lazarus’s loss.

Dancing Fools

Most everyone knows the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who defined the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Solomon goes beyond “acceptance” to remind us mourning gives way to dancing. Or, as his father, David (who was quite a dancer; see below) wrote: “Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5) Regretting lost loves and preventable sorrow has its time and purpose. But as we experience grief, we remember it’s a process not meant to become a preoccupation. We’re created for rejoicing, to celebrate God’s love and acceptance. On the dance floor, we may epitomize left-footed oxen. But in our hearts, we’re dancing fools born to show the world we’re light on our feet, eager to move past times of sorrow and experience times of joy.

The Bible says while leading a procession of the Ark of the Covenant, “David danced before the LORD with all his might.” (2 Samuel 6.14) He was one dancing fool. (And I can’t resist mentioning this drawing looks a whole lot to me like a Pentecostal service in full swing!)

(Tomorrow: Sitting Around, Going Nowhere)

Postscript: The Epistle

A big thank-you goes out to Glenn, a Straight-Friendly reader who directed us to The Epistle, “a Web magazine of encouragement & inspiration Christian gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender people.” Its editor and primary contributor, Edrick, has created a handsomely designed site crammed with articles, links, and other material that live up to its mission statement. I highly recommend it for everyone, gay or straight, as a worthy addition to your bookmarks. In style and spirit, it’s completely simpatico with what we do here. I have every confidence you’ll enjoy it immensely and be all the richer, stronger, and more inspired for having opened The Epistle.

The Epistle 


Anonymous said...

Nice reflection. I read in my travels today of a recommendation that churches hold "blue Christmas" services to help those who are suffering from loss during the holidays. Nothing can be worse than the first thanksgiving or christmas without a loved one or when a loved one died during holidays. I think it worth exploring. Thanks for the link, I'll check it out!

Tim said...

Excellent point, Sherry. I can personally attest to the wonderful things that can grow out of extending ourselves to those who mourn during this season.

When Walt and I started living together 15 years ago, my family wasn't crazy about the idea of us joining their holiday celebrations as a couple. I could have forced the issue and they would have relented, but things would have tense--no fun for anyone. My family didn't anticipate that not having Walt around their table meant I wouldn't be there, either. (His family are Jehovah's Witnesses who don't celebrate holidays.)

Sandwiches we picked up at the 7-11 comprised our first Thanksgiving dinner and our first Christmas was just us in an undecorated living room. We didn't complain or, to my knowledge, even mention it to anyone. And while there was something precious about it, it was also sad in very profound ways.

Thankfully, the next year, some terrific friends invited us to share their holidays with them. They were also a gay couple and although their families welcomed them open-arms, they chose to open their home to a group of people--straight and gay--who, for various reasons, couldn't be with their families for the holidays. This little group came to be known as "The Widows and Orphans."

After they moved out of town, Walt and I assumed the hosting responsibilities and holidays have become the most wonderful times in our lives. The size of our "Widows and Orphans" family has continued to grow and change over the years. Our table is decorated with foreigners, gay folks, straight folks, and some actual widows and orphans.

Thanks to the compassion and generosity of our friends Dennis and Dan, a tradition was born that continues to this day. And what should be times of mourning for us have become days of unbridled joy.

Let me wrap this up by reminding us that the world is full of people who, without losing loved ones in death, have lost those they love through rejection and intolerance. This is especially true for GLBT people whose families want nothing to do with them. I encourage all of us to look around and see if there are people we know who will mourn over the holidays because no one's invited them to the table. If we know them, we should do our best to change their sadness into rejoicing by welcoming them to join our festivities.

Thanks again, Sherry, for pointing this out and reminding us that we have a great opportunity to model God's love and acceptance of everyone during this season. That's what we're most thankful for. That's why Jesus was born.


Cuboid Master said...

The Widows and Orphans is a great idea. No one should have to endure a Christmas alone, especially not someone rejected by family. You and Walt are so dear! My son and I are visiting my daughter and her family in New Mexico for Christmas, and I will be sure to invite one of my "Widowed and Orphaned" friends in Albuquerque. Thank you!

Tim said...

Hi, Cube! From what we've learned with our Widows and Orphans holidays, I promise you'll experience even greater joy this season by opening your hearts to someone who would otherwise be alone or among strangers. We've learned that the holidays mean more to us when we give time together, rather than spend it together.

The more I think about this, the more strongly I feel it deserves a post--look for it very soon!

Thanks for stopping by; it's always wonderful to see you. And, just to be sure I don't fail to say this between now and then, have a great time with your daughter and her family!