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Joy in the Mourning
Written By Sheila Schuller Coleman
Today, we’re continuing our new Message series, “Be a New Attitude!” And the likelihood of you remembering what I have to say tomorrow and the next day and the next day is that you might remember a few things I say, but you’re more likely to remember what’s set to music. So, once again, here’s our theme song to remind us that when we’re hit this week by anything negative, or when w need a pick me up, we’ll remember this theme song:
(WORSHIP TEAM SINGS: I’m feeling good from my head to my shoes. Know where I’m going and I know what to do. I tidied up my point of view. I got a new attitude. I’m feeling good from my head to my shoes. Know where I’m going and I know what to do. I tidied up my point of view. I got a new attitude. I got a new attitude. I got a new attitude. I got a new attitude. I got a new attitude. I got a new attitude!)
This week when something bad happens - you open a negative e-mail, or a letter arrives with bad news, or your loved one forgets to say “I love you” - you’re going to do this:. Instead of weeping and wailing and moaning and groaning, you’re going to go, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, I got a new attitude!” Because attitude is everything.
Our message series is called “Be a New Attitude” because your attitude determines how you will be, how you will behave. The life you will have. It’s all centered and starts with your attitude.
So what attitude? How are you going to live your life? What are you going to base it on? Well, the only attitudes that I know I want to base my life on are the ones that Jesus Christ gave us in the Beatitudes. His Beatitudes are new attitudes this year - a new year for a new you and a new beginning. Every day, a new attitude from the Beatitudes of Jesus.
Last week we talked about the new attitude number one: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” We discovered right away that these Beatitudes look like they’re contradictions, like paradoxes. They seem to be counterintuitive. Jesus said that, if you’re poor in spirit, you can be blessed because, if you’re poor in spirit, you’re going to have the wealth of the kingdom of heaven. The attitude and the result seem to be polar opposites of each other. That’s attitude number one.
Today, our attitude number two is, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Can you be happy while you’re crying? Can you have joy when your heart is broken? How can this be? Again, it looks like a paradox. It looks like a contradiction. But we know that Jesus says you can have joy even in the midst of your grief because you will be comforted.
Remember, we talked about how happiness and joy are not synonymous. And that some of us live a life of “if only” thinking. “If only I didn’t have this debt.” “If only I had a person in my life who loved me.” “If only I wasn’t lonely.” If only, if only, if only. And if you base your happiness, if you wait to be happy until you have all your perfect circumstances, and if you wait until all your “if only’s” come true, don’t be surprised if happiness eludes you your entire life. Because happiness depends on happenchance, but joy and blessedness is knowing that you have a state of wellbeing, no matter what.
So who here today has a broken heart? Anybody cry yourself to sleep last night? Anybody couldn’t sleep last night? Anybody suffer a loss this week, this past year? Any of you feel broken and you’re mourning? Anybody here, today, mourning? Jesus says the new attitude for you is you can be blessed. You can find comfort. Yes, you can.
You know, there are times when I’ve cried myself to sleep and the pillow gets so wet I have to turn it over. And the closer I get to nighttime, the darker it becomes outside, the later it gets at night, the more grievous my feelings become. Sometimes I check my calendar, though I know that I shouldn’t do that, and all of a sudden I think: Oh, I don’t want that meeting tomorrow. I don’t want to have face that tomorrow. Then I start to stew about it, and I start to fret about it, and I start to awaken all those negative thoughts.
It says in the Bible that we’re supposed to capture those negative thoughts and make them obedient to Jesus Christ. Because those negative thoughts, when I allow them to, start carrying me away into a feeling of sadness and dread and then I just cry and cry. Anybody know what I’m talking about? I’ll bet I’m not alone.
Sometimes when I do that, my husband, Jim, will come to me and he’ll say, “Sheila, things always look their worst at night. Tomorrow morning it’ll be okay, you’ll see. There will be joy in the morning, Sheila, you’ll see.” And he’s always been right.
That doesn’t mean that it’s easier said than done, I can tell you that, but there hasn’t been a single time when I’ve cried myself to sleep, when I’ve lost a whole night of sleep, that I can even remember why. I’m standing up here today and I can’t remember why I did all that. I can’t remember why I shed all those tears. I can’t remember why I lost all that sleep because God took care of it the next morning. I can’t remember it because He brings comfort. He brings joy in the morning. He promises that.
But for some of you, you’ve been in a nighttime situation for so long. You’ve despaired. So how do you find comfort in your time of mourning while you’re waiting for your joy to break through in the morning? How do you find that comfort when you’re experiencing a dark nighttime of your life?
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no formula. Even the stages of grief that we've all heard about, scholars today disagree as to whether or not those are true. In fact, I think there’s only one thing that scholars agree upon when it comes to grieving and that is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everybody seems to grieve differently than somebody else. Somebody’s grief may look completely different than your grief.
You can’t go up to somebody and say to them, "Snap out of your grief!" That doesn’t help. And if you are walking with somebody who is grieving, don’t be surprised if one day they’re up and the next day they’re sobbing and broken again. Because grief comes in waves and you never know when it’s going to hit you. Frequently it hits you when you least expect it, when it’s most inopportune.
So be patient and understanding if you are walking with somebody who is grieving. Let them grieve in their way. Those tears are okay. The Bible says that God sees every one of your tears. He captures them. He wipes them away. And I know this is true because I’ve experienced it. When you have a good cry, God’s having a good cry with you. I don’t have good cries alone. I go to my Heavenly Father, I wrap my arms around Him, I put my head on His shoulder and I do a big boo hoo, boo hoo, boo hoo, sob, sob, sob. And as His arms are wrapped around me, I feel Him crying and sobbing on my shoulder, too, because He doesn’t want His children hurt this much. He cares about every single tear that you have shed. He cares and He loves you. He’s there for you.
Children, don’t you learn more from them than from just about anyone else? As a former school principal, I remember a student who came up to me and said, “You know, Mrs. Coleman, God gave us tears to wash all that hurt and pain away.” I love that. I love that.
Let those tears flow. Let those tears wash away your hurt and your pain. That’s what God has given you. He said that, if you are mourning, you will be blessed because you will be comforted.
Grief is the result of loss, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the loss of a loved one through death. It can be the loss of a loved one through divorce. It can be the loss of a loved one through rejection, a break-up of a relationship. It’s loss. It can be the loss of self-esteem. It’s the loss of anything that you prize, and the more you prize it, the deeper the grief will be if you lose it. So it’s a loss that causes us to grieve. It’s a loss that causes us to mourn.
Today, I want to give you some tips on how to deal with those thoughts that sometimes keep you stuck in your grief, and sometimes make it worse and not better. For instance, if you’ve lost a loved one, I want you to capture that thought as you think of it as a loss, it’s a loss, it’s a loss. Capture that thought, and start thinking of it as a blessing. Celebrate the life of the one you lost.
For instance, two widows come to mind. One is a woman about my age who lost her husband tragically and much too young, much too soon, much too sudden. I continue to hear from her: "Sheila, today I had a grandchild born. My husband should have been here for this. My husband is missing out on this. I’m missing out without my husband." Yes, she had a right to feel that way, but she was so focused on the loss, she became stuck there. Every time I heard from her, it was the same thing: "Today my son graduated from college. My husband should have been there at his graduation. He wasn’t there."
Yes, I know that’s a loss, but what if, instead of thinking of the loss, you were to celebrate his life. Wow! "I have a son who graduated today because God gave me this wonderful husband and we’re continuing his legacy." Do you see how just changing that thought pattern can help you find comfort when you are mourning?
Conversely, there’s another widow. You know her as Willie Jordan. I’ve introduced you to her. She’s a widow who runs the Fred Jordan Mission. And, as I’ve been blessed to spend time with Willie and her family, they talk about Fred all the time. All the time. "Fred did it this way..." "Fred would have said..." We heard Dad say..." I heard my husband say..." In hearing her talk about her husband, I thought maybe Fred had died a year ago. He's included in so many of their conversations, but not as a loss, even though it was, and even though they lost him suddenly and much too soon. Fred’s been gone for twenty-six years, I found out. And each day, they’re celebrating his life. They’re celebrating his legacy. And that’s how they found comfort in their mourning.
Some of you feel like your mourning is never going to come to an end. That your dark night of loss will never ever come to an end. You think your morning will never arrive, that the sun will never break through.
Has a night ever not ended? Has a winter never transitioned into spring? The answer is "no." This loss is not a life sentence. If you’re in a really difficult situation and you don’t see any hope - it doesn’t get any better and maybe it’s been year after year after year - it’s really tempting to think that you have a life sentence of misery...a life sentence of loneliness...a life sentence of grief. Capture that thought and replace it with: "No, this is only a season."
Even if your winter of grief is harsh and long, I can promise you this: It’s in the harshest winters; it’s in the darkest, deepest, longest, most prolonged winters that we get the biggest and the deepest snow packs. Right? In the Sierras, we want a deep snow pack in the winters to sustain us with nourishing and healing water through the summers.
God, in His infinite mercy and wisdom, created these amazing seasons that always eventually change to the next season. We’ve never, ever, ever once had a winter that never ended. And if yours is long, thank God for it. Say, "Thank You, Lord, for the spiritual snow pack that You are building and delivering in my life so I can have this wonderful source of nourishment, a spiritual nourishment in the seasons to come. You know I will need this." It’s a different way of thinking; it’s a different way of looking at everything.
Have you lost your self-esteem through failure? Anybody here feel like you’ve failed? Anybody here feel like you have regrets? Is that your grief? Is that what you mourn? Is that your loss? Well, you can think of it as a checkmark against you. And I confess I have a temptation to do that when something didn’t work out the way I wanted it to in my life. And I’ve had regret. I’ve had a failure. I’ve thought, "Oh my goodness, gracious, this is big black checkmark against me on my resume, my life resume."
What if you captured that negative thought and you replaced it with this thought: "No, I have a certificate of authenticity. People can relate to me. I can understand. I now know what people are walking through. People can truly talk to me. They can trust me because I've been through it. I've been through a difficult time."
Maybe you you've abused alcohol, maybe it's other substance abuse, maybe it was a divorce, maybe it was bankruptcy, maybe it was the loss of a job. Instead of looking at those failures as checkmarks against you, think or them, instead, as your certificates of authenticity because in love's service, only broken hearts can do.
We serve a God who is well acquainted with grief and suffering. I find that thought very comforting because my God knows what I’m going through. If you were God and you were Lord of all the creation, you would have your power, your control, to do anything you wanted to do. You would have your control, your power to have the cushiest, easiest, pain-free life, right? That’s your freedom, if you’re God.
But here is God and God says, "My children, My creation, they’re suffering, they’re hurting, they’re filled with pain, their hearts are broken, they’re crying. I want them to know I’m willing to walk the same walk they’re walking. I want them to know that I love them so much that, that I can come to them from a point of understanding and so I, God, am going to go to earth and I’m going to let people look at Me as if I were a failure. I’m going to let them mock Me and reject Me and hang Me on a cross. I’m going to suffer and go through pain willingly so that when I pick up My hurting child, and I wrap My arms around them, they will know these hands are scarred hands. They will know that I can say, 'I understand, My child. I do. I do.'" This is our God. Our God is a God well acquainted with grief and suffering.
As Jesus was preparing His disciples, because He knew the cross awaited Him, He said to them, "You will weep and you will lament. You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy. I tell you this," said Jesus. “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Here is Jesus trying to reframe for us, again, from the negative into the positive. He says, “It’s to your advantage that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” Jesus, when He died on the cross, when He was risen, and went He went up back to heaven, He did that so that the Holy Spirit could come. Jesus was just a person walking and talking who could only touch and dry the tears or the eyes of this woman who’s crying, and then that man who’s in sorrow; He could only heal and comfort one person at a time. He was limited while He was walking here on earth. And so He went away so that the Holy Spirit could come, because the Holy Spirit could be everywhere at once.
Some Bible versions translate "Holy Spirit" as the "Holy Comforter." So be blessed today if you are in mourning. Be blessed today because the Holy Comforter is here right now. The Holy Comforter is here to wrap His arms around you and to fill you with His comfort. Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Comforter, and comfort Your children today.
Let us pray. Lord God, thank You that You are a God well acquainted with grief and suffering. Thank You that You love us enough to come and give Your life for us. Thank You that You went back to heaven, Jesus, so that the Holy Comforter can come, and right now, oh Lord, I pray that You, the Holy Comforter, will wrap Your arms around Your hurting children. Hold them in Your arms. Wipe away those tears. Bring comfort to Your children who mourn. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.