Grief as Investment

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Grief as Investment


By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv



May those who sow in tears
          reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
          bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy
          carrying their sheaves.
                             --Psalm 126:5-6

The poet who wrote the above words could easily be dismissed as a naive optimist by those who have experienced the extreme pain of loss, except for the reminder that he, and most likely his whole family, had experienced a long season of grief.  In fact if you read the opening verses of Psalm 126, the author suggests that grief had become such a normal part of his family’s experience of being forcibly exiled from their homeland for about sixty years that they were surprised when their grief was suddenly overcome by joy:

When GOD restored the fortunes of Zion,
          We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter
          And our tongue with shouts of joy;
                             --Psalm 126:1-2

His wish then, expressed in the closing verses of the psalm, quoted first above, is that all should come to experience grief, not merely as unfortunate travail, but as a prelude to joy.

Of course, you and I could always wish that we might never have to experience grief again.  But such a wish would itself be naïve.  Grief happens.  It is inescapable.  It is an inevitable part of life.  Better then to discover the positive implications and outcomes of grief, as has the writer of this psalm.

In fact, following the insight of the psalmist, it is not unreasonable to think of grief (inevitable as it is) as an investment in the future joy, and even a present joy, that comes to us as God’s gracious accompaniment to grief!

Pat and I experienced this wonderful dynamic just this week when we attended a spontaneous gathering of more than 200 persons in a local park.  They had assembled, on less than 24-hour notice via social media, to mark the sudden and unexpected death of a middle aged attorney who had a reputation for donating many hours of pro bono legal services to social activists engaged in conscientious civil disobedience.

Most of those who gathered were people we had never met.  The only thing we all had in common was that we had all benefited in some way from his generous help when we had to appear before a judge.

As scores of shocked friends and clients took advantage of the open mike, to share the stories of their connection with this man so suddenly taken from us, the grief was substantial.  But the joy too was unmistakable, and for some, I think surprising under the circumstances.  And it was a joy much deeper than the pleasant feelings we might have felt had we been gathering for his retirement party rather than to mourn his sudden death.

The difference, it would seem, was that the joy felt by those present could only have been possible in the context of a deep, shared grief.  In other words, grief was our investment; joy was our return on our investment.  Or, to use the rich metaphor of the psalmist, we scattered seeds of sorrow together, and reaped a harvest of joy.

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