A few weeks ago as a follow-up to a few posts I’d written on being grateful, I asked my friends on Instagram which circumstance was the hardest for them to be grateful in. Unsurprisingly, most said seasons of suffering and/or loss, of which this year has had no shortage. We’ve lost opportunities, jobs, and in some cases, joy, peace, and our sense of normalcy.
Several people I know have lost loved ones too–dads, grandparents, mentors. Losses of tremendous, inexplainable magnitude. If this is you, first, let me say that I’m terribly sorry. My heart breaks for those who weren’t able to be with their loved ones as they slowly slipped out of this world, who were isolated from them for months before, for those who had already been through so much and just can’t seem to catch a break. And secondly, although I’m discussing loss in a variety of areas, your loss does not compare with the loss of a job or a house or a car. That may be obvious, but I don’t want to leave anything unsaid.
“Kiss the Wave”
So the question of the hour is: how can we find gratitude in seasons of loss? My opinion may not be popular, but this Charles Spurgeon quote sums up what I want to be true of how I view loss:
I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.
This wall art is a rendering of the work of Hokusai, a famous Japanese artist, and for me it’s symbolic for two different reasons. When my friend Ayano and her family gave this to me, I knew it’d be special because every time I’d see it hanging on my wall in Mississippi, I’d remember the day we spent in Shizuoka–laying eyes on Mount Fuji for the first (and only) time, eating delicious handmade Ramen, having my breath taken away by an unexpected hydrangea-lined path, and enjoying an inside glimpse of my friend’s family-life. What I didn’t know was that over time, this image would begin to remind me of that perspective-shifting quote, which has been the perfect subtle reminder to wake up to these last eleven months.
If we didn’t know before 2020, we’re well aware now that trials come. Most of the hard things about this past year haven’t been consequences of our actions; they’ve been way beyond our control, and I think that’s what frustrates us the most. We see suffering and loss, and we can’t fix it. But honestly, that’s part of life on earth: being finite humans, unable to control the world around us. The key isn’t figuring out how to control our surroundings; it’s in our response.
It’s right to grieve our losses. It’s right to be sad when our expectations aren’t met. Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (my paraphrase). Jesus models this when he weeps alongside Mary after Lazarus’s death. Spoiler alert: He brings Lazarus back from the dead. And when He weeps, He knows He’ll resurrect him. Yet, even while knowing of the restoration to come, Jesus weeps. He still grieves the loss and still shows Mary great compassion. So it’s more than ok to let ourselves be sad. It’s healthy to mourn. Grief can actually be good; it’s what we do alongside our sorrow that’s most important.
Trust & Gratitude
In times of suffering and loss, two responses are quite common: be mad at God but pretend everything’s fine, or be mad at God and turn away from Him. I’m suggesting neither. If the goal is to achieve Spurgeon’s perspective, we’ve got to have a different response: trust God and be thankful. And before you leave this post immediately, hear me out.
The fact that Spurgeon describes the wave as one “that throws [him] against the Rock of Ages” is an assumption that it will do just that. The reality is, a lot of time it doesn’t. Sometimes we let “the wave” cause us to be angry with God. We let it be a reason to accuse Him of doing the wrong thing. If we’re not careful, this anger can turn into bitterness, which makes it really hard to trust God and keep the lines of communication open (Isaiah 66:18-20).
Like I’ve said in previous posts, God wants you to be honest with Him. He’s big enough to take it. So if you’re shaking your fists at the heavens today, let Him know. But can I challenge you to ask Him to help you work through that? It may not happen overnight–after all, being grateful when bad things happen isn’t a natural human response–but He can begin working in you to start a journey out of bitterness & towards trust and gratitude today.
Make the Choice
Honestly, I don’t usually want to thank God for allowing something to be taken from me in the moment. Looking back it’s 50/50. But even if we don’t feel like thanking God in all circumstances, we can make the choice to be thankful that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and use it for good. What He did for Joseph, he can do for us too.
It takes a lot of faith to trust a God who would allow tragedies to happen in our lives. I can’t explain why God has allowed so much devastation in these past months, nor can I offer a way He might redeem it. But I do know that He can. I know that He’s good, and that there’s no darkness in Him at all. I know that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours and that if we love Him, He is able to work everything out for our good. The story isn’t over yet.
Cultivating an Eternal Perspective
What exactly do we do in the midst of this unfinished story, though? “Trusting God” and “being grateful” sound nice, but putting them into practice is a different story. It’s really all a matter of perspective. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, [works] for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Romans 8:18 echos this:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
These past eleven months have dragged on for many of us. But in the whole scheme of eternity, it’s been the blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean our lives on earth haven’t been forever changed because of this past year. In comparison to our eternal lives, though, our life on earth is “but a mist.” Don’t take this the wrong way–this is not to say our lives don’t matter because quite the opposite is true: our lives are incredibly valuable. But our lives on earth, in comparison to eternity, are also incredibly short, which actually may be good news.
Crown of Life
The good news is that we won’t live in a fallen world forever. One day, “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Until then, I have a promise and an challenge for us:
The promise is that while we’re here on earth, God sees our tears and even holds them for us, according to Psalm 56:8.
The challenge is twofold—not to fear suffering and never to give up:
Fear none of those things which [you] shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that [you] may be tried; and [you] shall have tribulation ten days: be [you] faithful unto death, and I will give [you] a crown of life.Revelation 2:10
I don’t think many people want to end up in prison or as martyrs, but even if we did, even if the worst, unimaginable things happen to us, we’re promised if we stay faithful, we’ll receive a crown of life. In other words, it’ll be worth it, no matter what.
I can’t help but think of Corrie ten Boom when I think about someone who endured immense suffering and never lost faith, so I’ll end with a poem she quoted in some of her books:
“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”
― Grant Colfax Tullar
In the midst of our trials, we can remember that the “dark threads” are as necessary as the ones of gold and silver. Even if we can’t see it at the time, we can trust and thank the One who does.
Grateful and free,