A time to mourn and a time to dance…
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 ones 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 following their first tryst. It’s the most compactly comprehensive description we have of what grieving lost love feels like.
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 from the scrutiny of Mary and Martha’s neighbors. 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.
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, 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 after times of sorrow pass.
Mourning times aren’t made to last. Dancing times are.
(Tomorrow: Giving and Gathering)