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What "Time" Is It For You?


By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv



Members of church congregations that used the Revised Common Lectionary as a source for scripture readings for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day worship read the following words as they transitioned into 2016:

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
. . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance . . .   (Ecclesiastes 4:1,4)

Time, as described here, does not have to do with clock time, or calendar time--time that can be measured chronologically in minutes, hours or days.  It refers rather to an occasion—a moment in time or a series of moments in time or an indefinite period of time (season)—in which a certain response (in this case, grief) is, well, “timely.”

In our growing understanding of the grief process it has become clear that grief rarely fits into a neat chronological time frame.  Grief, for most people, does not suddenly dissipate a few weeks or months after a loss.  And although it will often reassert itself on the anniversaries associated with a loss, feelings of grief can surprise us at other times when we least expect them.

But the writer of Ecclesiastes, in his or her wisdom, reminds us that there are and always will be, for each one of us, times when we will and must feel the pain of loss anew and when it is again time for us to mourn, silently or openly, in whatever way is right for us.

The writer also infers, I believe, that when we experience those times we probably need to “take the time” to give ourselves to the feelings of grief that are welling up inside of us, even if our mourning is prompted by a loss that happened many years before.   This may mean excusing ourselves from certain calendar commitments without taking on the burden of a guilty conscience, so that we can give ourselves over to the work of grief, whose time has come around again.

When we do this, I believe also that, conversely, we will also be freed to take the time to “dance” when we are so prompted, starting (sometimes) when the grief is fresh but also increasing as subsequent years go by, following a severe loss.

Some of you have found, as have I, that even during the course of a memorial service for a partner or dear friend, you have experienced both the time to mourn and the time to dance, the time to weep and the time to laugh—all on the same day! 

It should not be surprising then that even years later there will be times when you will think of the loved one you have lost and weep, and other time when you think of that same loved one and laugh out loud, or perhaps dance inside you grieving heart!  So cherish those times and nurture them whenever you can.

There is indeed a time for sadness and a time for joy.  If you are paying attention, you will know when it is time for you personally to embrace the one or the other!