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)
Funny how translators come up with what they come up with. The translation above is alright but here is a more literal translation:
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning [lamentation]; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth [glee]. (Ecclesiastes 7:4 CWS)
I suppose these two translations get the idea across though in slightly different ways. Basically, there can be two kinds of people who consciously and intentionally look at life in different ways. There are some who attain an increased level of life-wisdom because they have seen or experienced grief and they allow themselves to be shaped positively by the grief. And then there are the others (the Teacher calls them ‘fools’ – idiots, jerks, stupids, chumps, jesters) who do not allow themselves to learn from their grief or from the grief that is around them. These people become obsessed with avoiding grief and trying to band-aid the grief they see and experience. They cover it with denial, a good time, and escape living. In so doing, these people will not experience any increase in their life-wisdom. Dealing with grief by not dealing with grief leads to nothing good.
Learning to deal with grief is important for many good reasons but there is another reason that maybe we should consider when wanting or needing to deal with grief in positive ways. The Teacher describes one who is “well acquainted with grief”. A person is acquainted with grief if she has knowledge of grief from personal experience. Being acquainted with something suggests a personal, intimate, and close relationship.
The prophet Isaiah talks about a person who was acquainted with grief. He speaks of Jesus:
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3 NASB)
We aren’t alone when it comes to being intimate with grief. Jesus was up front and personal with grief. He didn’t run from it, make fun of it, or try to avoid it. He experienced grief and loss during his life and then he himself became the object of grief and loss. We often associate Jesus with good works, miracles, and helping people out. And he did all of these things. But Jesus was also, according to Isaiah, an acquaintance of grief. He was familiar, comfortable, and very much associated with grief. I wonder why?
Here is the thing about grief that I think is important for us to understand and remember. Grief is probably the greatest reminder that we will ever have that we are not in charge of anything in and on this earth. We may kid ourselves into thinking that we can contain and manage all of the little cycles and happenstances of life that happen around us all of the time, but this simply and truly is not the case. Perhaps the reason we don’t like grief is because it compels us to fall to our knees in front of God. There is nothing we can do to make grief feel better. It’s like listening to a crying baby – there isn’t anything happy or good about a baby crying from pain or hunger. Grief can’t be shaped into anything good except by throwing ourselves into the arms of God. And for many of us, this is something we simply can’t do. Why?
I will share some of my personal experience with grief. Grief came, as expected, but in waves and ways that I had never expected. It came harder, more violently, and with such emotion that I was completely unprepared. Tremors still rumble through now and then though not as hard as several months ago. Anyway, my tsunami of grief made me face some questions.
1. Will I be big enough to deal with this or am I going to end it somehow?
2. Why do I feel so weak, incapable, and lost?
3. Who or what can I turn to for support and understanding?
4. Will there be a tomorrow?
5. How can I do this alone?
6. Will the pain ever go away?
I am acquainted with grief. And though I’ve seen grief all of my life, I have avoided dealing with it. I figured that it would take care of itself. And besides, it was never close enough to me to really matter. How immature and foolish I was. I was almost completely unprepared for when it hit as close to me as it could have possibly hit. No longer could I avoid it, band-aid it, run from it, or turn away to make it go away. Grief embraced me – there was nothing for me to breathe except the heavy air of loss and pain. There was no escape.
Except that a few of you kept rooting for me. And I found the inner strength to read Scripture and many books on grief. I prayed desperately. I somehow dragged myself out to engage with others who were also walking the path of intimate grief. I still, to this day, don’t know how I found the strength to get out and be with complete strangers to learn and talk about grief.
Am I attaining some wisdom? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that grief will not get me down. I could not have said that even just several months ago. But today, there is too much yet to be done, too many places to visit, too many people to take care of, too much to learn, and too much to experience in this life. I fully appreciate that my days are numbered but that is absolutely no reason to not live fully and with intention.
I would love to sit and share a coffee with the Teacher. I would like to hear him speak about his own grief and how he dealt with it. I would hope that he would share where he found his faith, his wisdom, and his desire to live well. I’d like to take a few friends, too, to hear the Teacher talk about why life is precious, why it is special, and why there is nothing to be glum or sad about. Rather, I think the Teacher would explain, life is to be experienced and enjoyed. After all, God made it and God doesn’t make bad stuff. I’d like the Teacher to tell my friends that God is good and that God loves them and that life is a place and time where we can love and care for others because God loves us.
Wise or foolish? Grief will make or break you.