“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”—John 16:20-22
Sometimes, when I’m not sure what to write about for this article, I take a walk. There’s a lot more inspiration outdoors than under the fluorescent lights of the office. It’s a short walk to the steps of the old courthouse, or beyond that to the even older Susanville cemetery. Sometimes I sit on the steps, or wander around the cemetery, for ten or 15 minutes and I’m still unsure what to say.
But today was different. Today I was inspired the moment I stepped out the door, because it is 77 degrees outside. The sky is blue, with only the slightest breeze in the air. The birds are singing, and the squirrels are squirreling up and down the tree trunks. It is an absolutely perfect spring day, the kind that makes it feel like a complete waste to spend any time indoors at all.
Which got me thinking about how recently the days were not so perfect. Because this is Lassen County, just last week we were bringing our plants inside to protect them from a spring freeze. The temperature didn’t climb out of the 40s for several days in a row. On Mother’s Day, it snowed sideways off and on throughout the day. Everyone was complaining and shaking their heads about this ridiculous place we live.
But not today. Today all of that is forgotten. When the sun forces you to remove your jacket, and you find yourself thinking about barbecues and wondering what it’s like up at the lake, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to be cold. And you don’t want to. Why dwell on the suffering of winter when you can focus on the promise of spring?
On the night before He was crucified, Jesus comforted His disciples about the fact that He would soon be leaving them. But He didn’t do this by telling them that everything would be fine. He told them that for a little while things would be horrible, and then they would be great. He didn’t shy away from telling them that they would suffer; in fact, He promised them that they would weep and mourn and grieve. Then He said these beautiful words: “but your grief will turn to joy.” He said that their suffering would be temporary, and that afterward their lives would be so full of joy that they would forget all about the bad times.
To help them picture this, he compared it to a woman delivering a baby. While she is in labor, she suffers. It’s painful, miserable. Jesus describes the experience as “anguish.” But then, the baby is born, and “she forgets her anguish.” The beautiful gift of new life and the love it brings into her world makes the suffering fade into the background. She could remember it if she wanted to, but it’s easy to put it behind her and focus on God’s goodness and kindness to her. The experience of joy eclipses the experience of grief.
And then Jesus says, “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Right now in our church, we have people whose health is failing them. We have their family members, who mourn as their loved ones move closer and closer to the end of life. We have people who are going through the heartache of divorce. We have people who live with physical pain, people whose finances are a constant source of anxiety, people whose children are making poor decisions, and people who are experiencing several of these things and more all at the same time. Truly, now is our time of grief.
But it is all temporary. One day our labor will end. One day God will deliver us. One day we will receive such an incredible gift of new life that we will have trouble remembering what all the crying was about. One day our hearts will be so filled with love that it will be hard to imagine that they were ever full of pain. The suffering of this life will seem as distant as last week’s bitter cold. All we will know is that now, today, and for every day after, the sun is shining.
If your heart is breaking today, remember that a broken heart is a common experience for followers of Jesus. It’s what the disciples felt on Friday and Saturday. But then Sunday morning came, and their grief turned to joy. Jesus promises us the same thing He promised them: We will see Him again, and rejoice. It’s all temporary. The sun will rise on a clear blue sky, and the time of grief will be forgotten. Until then, He is with us on the journey through this world. May you be blessed with an awareness of His presence in your life this week, whether the sun shines on you or not.