By John T. Schwiebert, ThM
“ . . .If there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.”
In the above scripture passage there is a lot riding on the little word “if.” I want to suggest that it is an especially important word for those who are grieving because of a deep personal loss.
When Paul uses the word “if” in his letter to the Jesus followers in the Roman city of Philippi, he seems to be allowing that some who read his letter may be in a space where they can think of nothing that is “worthy of praise,” nothing for which to rejoice or give thanks. Most grieving persons know what this is all about because they have been there. Indeed in those dark moments grieving persons can become extremely irritated when friends try to offer cheap comfort by suggesting reasons for gratitude: “Thank God he died quickly without suffering a painful death,” or “Just be grateful that she died in the happiness and innocence of childhood so that she never had to face the pain and frustration of adolescence and adulthood!”
Paul at least does not sugar coat anything. He allows that his readers may not be able, in a moment of distress, to anticipate any reason for rejoicing--ever. Hence the word is “if” rather than the word “when.”
But there is another side to the word “if.” It is open-ended. It allows for a possibility that in a situation of hopelessness and despair there may be at least one thing that is worthy of praise—one thing that spells hope in the midst of a world of hurt and hopelessness and helplessness. And if there is one thing, maybe there are two. Or perhaps even more than two!
I am not even going to suggest what one or more of these surprising praise-worthy experiences might be, for you or anyone else. But I will suggest that “if” a moment of joy should surprise you by intruding on your season of sadness, you might consider nurturing that moment like a tender plant until it grows into something larger and less transient.
Or as Paul suggests, “if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.” (Notice that Paul uses the plural—things--because he suspects that there will always be more than one) Ponder these things. Celebrate them. Feel gratitude for them. And offer thanks for what is beginning to show itself worthy of praise in your life!
Finally, you who are reading this online post, “if” you have already identified something worthy of praise in the midst of your grief and would like to tell about it, I would love for you to share it with me in a brief email. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.