A good name is worth more than the finest perfume, and the day you die is better than the day you were born. In the same way, it is better to go to a funeral than a celebration. Why? Because death is the end of life’s journey, and the living should always take that to heart. Sorrow beats foolish laughter; embracing sadness somehow gladdens our hearts. A wise heart is well acquainted with grief, but a foolish heart seeks only pleasure’s company. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 VOICE)
Here are the comparisons in this passage of Scripture.
1. A good name is better than expensive perfume
2. The day we die is better than the day we are born
3. Attending a funeral is better than attending a happy party
4. Death will be the end of our existence as we perceive it – we in the living should remember this
5. Sorrow is better than being silly
6. A thoughtful person understands grief – a foolish person only understands selfishness
These few verses from Ecclesiastes are packed with admonitions that are offered as guidance to those who will listen and learn from them. They are rich like buttery icing, deep like an ocean, high like the stars in the sky, beautiful like a sunrise over the Grand Canyon, and meaningful like the words from an exceedingly wise counselor. While the Teacher in Ecclesiastes might seem a bit eccentric and we may view Ecclesiastes as being an odd-ball piece of writing in the biblical canon, perhaps we should spend more time trying to understand what the Teacher has to say and appreciate more the ideas presented in the volume.
Yesterday was Easter. It was harder than I thought it would be for me. I was glad to have been with family and friends on Easter. Sadly, though, I did something that I regret and that I have not ever done. What came out of me completely surprised me. I apologized a few minutes later to the one who I believed that I had hurt. I hope he accepted my apology.We were finishing up our Easter church assembly. People were generally positive and happy and were preparing to get on with their afternoons with family and friends. A dear friend of mine – we had been together most of the morning – said something to me like, “It will be good to be with family all afternoon, right?” And I came unglued. I snarlingly went back at him, “There are too many memories around here. Everywhere I go and everything I see reminds me of why I hurt. No, I’m not happy.” To which he replied, “You are always so…” I interrupted and raised my voice, “You don’t know what it’s like. I’m alone now.” He was flabbergasted. He wasn’t being mean in any way, shape, or fashion. He was trying to encourage and help me get through the day. He’s always been understanding and patient with me. In seconds, I felt absolutely horrible. What had I done? And what had I admitted to him and to all the other people standing around who heard my defensive tone? One lady even took me aside and asked if I was ok. Another came over and gave me a big and long hug. These are the kind of people I was with – loving and understanding. But I was feeling really horrible. And I had acted like a jerk. I was not only hurting but now I had possibly hurt someone who has stood by me all along. I was so sad, humiliated, and ashamed.
You may think that I write about grief because you think I think that I am now an expert at grief management. That I have it all together. That I have somehow come to some semblance of balance and understanding in my grief. That I am over the hard part and it is all smooth sailing from here. Well, you would be wrong. I received an email a few days ago from a family member who had lost her husband a few years back. She wrote, among other things, that “I know you are plodding along through this mess called grief.” Yes, plodding along. I responded and told her that she had explained it perfectly – I’m plodding. I can’t come up with a better way to explain what I am doing. Just plodding.
When I read Scripture and attempt to apply it to my situation, it isn’t some academic or theological exercise. Rather, it is my way of trying to numb my pain and better understand the ways of God. I’m confident that God has ways that will probably not remove the pain but will help me cope with the pain. As I plod, I hungrily read, think, and pray about what I see in Scripture. Along with all the biblical words of encouragement and hope, I am also drawn to the very earthy, practical, and reasonable words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. He communicates with me. He makes sense. And he offers me incredible amounts of hope.
We’ll talk more in days to follow about the comparisons I presented above. I desperately want to know how my grief can be perceived as being a better thing than silly happiness, goofy parties, and earthly existence. The vistas beyond the horizons that might come into sight from this knowledge and wisdom, for me, makes me want to climb harder, run faster, and work harder at understanding what the Teacher has to say to me.
I’m doing this for me. If you want to come along, that is fine. But I am wanting to be very open to the words of the Teacher and God when they present, for me, new ways to observe grief. It seems like it may rock my world. It may turn it upside down. And I hope that if I can ever get even a small handle on it, I will never again lash out and hurt friends and family who so much want to help me on my journey. On Easter weekends when we talk about the hope that we can find in resurrection, I think we can and should also work toward a better understanding of the bridge called grief that exists between this life and the next.
God, reveal to me the wisdom that comes from knowing that being able to bear grief brings with it great inner and spiritual strength. Amen.