Weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
It's a verse that promises hope and comfort. For generations, believers have been strengthened by the certainty of that coming joy. In just a few simple words, we are reminded that weeping does not last forever and that the next part of the story will be better than the part we're living right now.
At the same time, the verse presents us with a few difficult questions.
How long will this night last?
Where am I in this night: is this the beginning of the night or is this near the end?
And is there any guarantee that I will even make it to the morning?
Those are some serious questions!
And while the Bible is utterly committed to the certainty of a coming hope, it is just as committed to telling the truth about the pain of the suffering that precedes the promised joy of the morning. In fact, the Bible is brutally honest about both parts of the story. Both grief and joy are major players in this life.
What's more, grief and joy don't always show up in the same order. Sometimes (as we see in Psalm 30:5) the joy follows the grief. At other times, joy gives way to grief.
While it seems that the normal pattern is grief giving way to joy, verses like Proverbs 14:13 teach us that sometimes laughter leads to heartbreak. Life doesn't always flow in the same direction. It's back and forth, up and down. Sometimes it seems like we're headed for a season of joy . . . and we end up in a time of grief. At other times, it feels like we're at the bottom . . . only to be suddenly surprised by joy.
And then sometimes . . . the joy and the grief are all jumbled up together.
Actually, that's how life feels to me right now: all jumbled up. Every moment, it seems, is the right moment for both grief and joy.
It dawns on me that if I am not grieving and lamenting these days, then I am not paying attention to what is happening in our world.
And even while I grieve, there are plenty of reasons all around to find joy.
Ultimately, of course, joy wins out. We can be quite sure that eventually there will come a time when God will wipe every tear from our eyes, a time when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
But that day is not today.
For today, we wonder how long this night will last.
For today, we wonder if the morning will ever arrive.
For today, we awkwardly juggle the weeping and the joy . . . while we wait for another day.
I continue to marvel at the fact that the entire world is dealing with this coronavirus!
Normally, our disasters and crises are more localized. A hurricane hits New Orleans. A fire rages in California. A plane crashes in Indonesia. Bali is overwhelmed by a tsunami. That sort of thing.
We are accustomed to dealing with small-scale brokenness. And our hearts break when that happens.
But in this moment, the entire world is dealing with the same thing. Of course, the struggle is not exactly the same in each place. Still, the struggle is universal. And, frankly, it is hard even to make sense of how expansive this terrible event is.
Within that reality, though, there are some blessings. And one of those blessings is that followers of Jesus all around the world can offer encouragement and hope and comfort to one another.
So today, here is a word from our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. We probably haven't heard much from them lately. And we probably haven't thought much of them lately. But these dear friends have a good word for us today.
Listen and be encouraged!
As far as losses go, this one is probably small. But it sure doesn't feel small today. For months, we have known that "some day soon" we would be saying good-bye to our beloved Shadow. And that day happened to be . . . today.
Poet extraordinaire (and passionate dog-lover) Mary Oliver says much of what I'm feeling now:
Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased.
It is no small gift.
It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love
the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street,
and all the dogs not yet born.
What would the world be like without music
or rivers or the green and tender grass?
What would the world be like without dogs?
I'm not sure what the world would be like without dogs. But I am about to find out what my world will be like without this dog.
At the beginning, Shadow was to be Eric's dog. And he was for a time. When Eric wasn't home quite as much, Shadow became Julie's dog. At that time, she was home most of the time. Even later, when Julie began working full-time, Shadow became my dog. For years now, I've been able to work at home quite a bit, so Shadow and I became great friends.
He earned the name that he was given, and was usually close enough to be my literal shadow. We walked miles together, exploring our little corner of the world. He was the model of courage when suspicious delivery trucks came down the driveway, and a doorbell would send Shadow into a frenzy.
It was because of Shadow that we got to know quite a few representatives of the animal kingdom. He had a special affection for skunks, and he was completely fascinated by porcupines (which did not often lead to a good outcome). He knew exactly where the property line was and he was diligent in making certain that the deer stayed on their side of the fence. He refused to cower before raccoons or coyotes. In fact, the only time I saw Shadow afraid was when he was being chased by our rather ill-tempered rooster.
Often, Shadow would sit at my feet while I worked. Oddly, he grew especially calm when I rehearsed my sermons, and he seemed to give special attention when I was reading Scripture out loud. He was likely the most biblically literate dog in northern Michigan.
If you have ever listened to our recorded Bible studies on our church website, you have heard Shadow in the background either snoring, barking, or whining. He was a valued member of our small group.
Until this week, he was at the door every single time we arrived home. We knew exactly what he was thinking: "Where have you guys been?" But over the past few weeks things began to change dramatically. And we knew that something was terribly wrong when he stopped meeting us at the door. After some pretty tough health struggles over the past few years, Shadow let us know this week that he was ready to bring things to a close.
I know. He was "just a dog."
But he was also a great friend, a loyal companion, and a precious gift from God.
Today we said good-bye to our Shadow. If you have ever done something like that, you know exactly how we feel.
Watching eagles soaring high above never gets old.
It doesn't happen every day, of course. But with surprising frequency I can stand in my yard and watch eagles circling in the sky. In those moments, words fail. All I can do is marvel at these regal creatures.
Invariably, I also think of these words from the prophet Isaiah:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
I was part of the cross country team when I was in high school. We were proud to be the Eastern High School Eagles. Predictably, the church kids on the team latched on to the image found in Isaiah 40:28-31, and we took great joy in the possibility of soaring on wings like eagles and running without getting weary. I'm not sure that keeping Isaiah's words in mind helped us run faster, but simply carrying around that image of soaring eagles was a huge encouragement to us.
Frankly, I'm not doing much soaring these days. Instead, I'm surviving, hanging in there, muddling through, taking baby steps, barely making it to the next day. But not much soaring is happening right now in my life.
Even so, every once in a while, that image of eagles seizes my imagination. And I am lifted up to a new and different place. Suddenly, hope appears. In that moment, I realize that I am meant to fly.
If you wonder what exactly that means, take a few minutes and listen to this.
And consider the possibility . . . that you were created to fly!
We tend to love theological truths that can be packaged in small doses, statements that contain enough truth to sound good, and convictions that line up with everything else we believe about the world.
If the theological truth is really outstanding, it will fit on a bumper sticker.
Here's a case in point:
God will never give you more than you can handle.
Though I have seen this actual statement only rarely on a bumper sticker, I have heard the words a thousand times.
The statement sounds like it should be true. It seems to celebrate both God's grace in limiting what would come our way and, at the same time, the importance of our perseverance and fortitude. If the statement is true, it is my job simply to survive and press on. If the statement is true, it's clear that, because of God's grace, nothing would come my way that I won't be able to handle. And, according to the statement, God is the one who will provide the guarantee for that. It all sounds pretty good.
But like many of our theological views, this one turns out to be . . . completely false.
In fact, it turns out that God allows many things to come into our lives that we cannot handle.
But God will never give us more than God can handle.
To claim that we can deal with anything that comes our way dangerously elevates our sense of self-sufficiency. And while we are trained to believe that we can do just about anything in this life, the truth of the matter is . . . that we can't.
Some things are too hard for us. Some things are too painful for us. Some things are too difficult for us. Some things are too big for us.
But nothing is too hard, too painful, too difficult, too big for God! And, yes, God can and will give us strength and wisdom and grace to endure. But God will also do what only God can do.
In Scripture, we are instructed to cast our cares on God (1 Peter 5:7). We are instructed to be still so that we might know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). We are invited to come to Jesus to find rest for our weary souls (Matthew 11:28). We are told that God is able (Daniel 3:17). We are taught that God is powerful (Psalm 147:5). The repeated invitation of God's Word is for us to trust him and rely on him (Proverbs 3:5).
We are wise to pay attention to the focus of all of those good words (and so many others). The focus is on God and on what God can do.
It is wonderful to know that God can handle anything that happens. But that is a claim we cannot make for ourselves. In fact, there are plenty of things that come our way that we simply cannot handle. And we are not expected to!
It is quite possible that many of us are learning this lesson right about now. These are hard days. Some of us might even be realizing that we are not quite up to the task. But that's no reason for despair. We walk with a God who is able and aware and at work, a God who is never surprised, a God who can handle anything and everything that happens.
If you're planning on putting a bumper sticker on your car, at least choose one that tells the truth.
Life is filled with things that we cannot handle.
But handling impossible things is not our responsibility. That is something only God can do.