I’ve noticed several articles scroll across my screen lately dealing with the subject of grief and lament. Coronavirus has wreaked its havoc on every continent of the globe and into the very nooks and crannies of our small lives. Graduations have been modified, weddings canceled or reimagined, kids whose school days were cut short with no closure for the year, businesses have floundered, people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and most tragically, thousands of people have died from this cursed disease.
Encouragement for people to make space for grief and lament is necessary, because humans often push them over to the side so they can just move forward and focus on the next thing. I’ve had a wonky relationship with grief myself. I don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing, because I don’t like crying in front of other people. I cry a lot anyway; I’m really sensitive, and when you add grief to my already sensitive posture, it’s not pretty. I’ve noticed more tears lately as I contemplate our own lives overseas, already rife with global transition. We’ve grieved as fellow expats are stranded in other countries unable to return home to the country where they’ve built their lives next to ours.
I’ve lived grief on many levels–grandparents dying, miscarriage, moving from city to city or country to country, but now, I’m experiencing something different. In so many other situations in my life, I’ve known it was coming. But this–this epidemic–I didn’t expect it. I thought it would be like SARS and stay localized. I never thought it would rock the entire world. I never imagined I would have lived the entire semester without most of our homeschool community, friends, and activities. It’s been a long four months, y’all. And to top it off, every other family we’re connected to who are still currently here in our city, are leaving in June and July. We’re finding ourselves left with a view of loneliness emerging on the horizon like the solitary moon ascending at twilight. Who will be our community? Who will encourage us to keep going in this hard season?
I feel sucker-punched.
I keep doing the healthy things. I spend time daily in prayer, solitude, and Bible reading. I eat well. I go to the gym; it all helps. Exercise=podcast time for me. Yesterday, I turned on my headphones and walked down the crowded street toward our neighborhood gym. I’m listening to James Bryan Smith chatting with Dave Mullins about three of Rich’s songs on the Things Above Podcast. I arrive, check in, and get on the elliptical. He starts talking about the lyrics to “The Color Green,” which is one my favorite Rich songs due to its poetic quality and incredible turns of phrase.
“And the wrens have returned, and they’re nesting
In the hollow of that oak, where his heart once had been.
And he lifts up his arms in a blessing for being born again.
And the streams are all swollen with winter,
Winter unfrozen, and free to run away now.
And I’m amazed when I remember,
Who it was who built this house
And with the rocks, I cry out,
Be praised for all Your tenderness
By these works of Your hands
Songs that rise and rains that thunder-blast
And bring to life Your land.
Look down upon this winter wheat,
And be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky
And the color green
That fills these fields with praise!”RICH MULLINS, THE COLOR GREEN
My heart-rate is climbing as I listen to the music, the lyrics wakening my soul. My eyes start to fill like a cartoon character’s until they reach the top of my eyelids and have no escape except to fall on the footholds of the machine. Like Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, I echo, “Beauty does that to me.” I grab my towel and wipe my face, hoping no one sees. I don’t know how locals would react to a foreigner crying at the gym. This is not normal. The tears keep coming, and I grab for the towel, again and again. Then, Jim has the audacity to play “Hold Me, Jesus.” I am losing it, people.
“Well, sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all.
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me, Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t you be my Prince of Peace?”RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME JESUS”
Dave, Rich’s brother, went on to talk about how Rich wrote these lines one night in a hotel in Amsterdam, where he was really trying not to go out the motel door and sin like it was his job. It’s a song about temptation. I knew this. I’ve read Smith’s biography of Rich; I grew up on Rich’s music. Rich was human, and he struggled. My greatest temptation in this time of sorrow and sadness has been to despair, to lose hope, and to live under the shadow of depression. To say goodbye, over and over, and sometimes not even getting the chance to say it, that’s what’s so hard. It’s so hard to hang on when others let go. The tears keep coming, and I keep wiping them away under the guise of perspiration.
“Surrender don’t come natural to me.
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need.
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees.”RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME JESUS”
I sometimes convince myself that what I really want is to run away from here. To go to where my people are and start over again. Plant roots. There’s a temptation to think that these things will satisfy and make it all better. But what I really want is Him. Always Him. More of Jesus. I fall down, right there in my soul. I’m on my metaphorical knees begging Him for a way out of this temptation to forget Him and all He’s done.
“And this Salvation Army band is playin’ this hymn
And your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin.”RICH MULLINS, “HOLD ME, JESUS”
King David said, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13, NASB). I wondered if he wrote those words remembering that time all his men were ready to stone him because their families were taken captive. 1 Samuel 30:6 (ESV) says, “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” How did David strengthen himself in the Lord? Maybe he sang. Maybe he remembered what God had already done: how Samuel had anointed him as king, how God had delivered him from a lion, a bear, and from the Philistine giant, Goliath. His grace has a way of strengthening us to withstand that temptation to despair.
Jim closed out the show with a third song, “Creed,” which is essentially The Apostle’s Creed set to bright hammer dulcimer strings, interspersed with bass drums, violins, and of course, his piano. Rich added in his own lines for a chorus, and while the Creed itself is familiar to Christians worldwide, this little interjection of Rich’s faith says that it’s not the having of the Creed itself, it’s being transformed by the truth in which we believe which finds its source in God Himself.
“And I believe what I believe.
It’s what makes me what I am.
I did not make it,
No, it is making me.
It is the very truth of God
And not the invention of any man.”RICH MULLINS, “CREED”
And isn’t that really it? This truth about Jesus, who He is, and who I am because of Him is transforming. It is “making” me. No matter what shakes us, be it death, financial ruin, a virus, or any other tragedy that befalls humankind, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). It is death in my body–death to self and sin–and it is life in my body, renewing me and conforming me to His image. God redeems our griefs by using them to sanctify us. In all the sorrow, all the lament, all the suffering, all the grief, I pray, “Hold Me, Jesus.”