August 9: Grief

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee who passing through the valley of weeping, make it a well.” Psalm 84:5-6

Comfort does not come to the light-hearted and merry. We must go down into “depths” if we would experience this most precious of God’s gifts—comfort, and thus be prepared to be co-workers together with Him.

When night—needful night—gathers over the garden of our souls, when the leaves close up, and the flowers no longer hold any sunlight within their folded petals, there shall never be wanting, even in the thickest darkness, drops of heavenly dew—dew which falls only when the sun has gone. (Streams in the Desert)

“Grief” is from the Latin words gravare meaning “make heavy,” and gravis meaning “weighty.” It assumed the contemporary meaning of “mental pain, sorrow” from c. 1300. My own first encounter with grief that I remember came through the death of Grandma Richey. My mother’s mother was a quiet but steady stream of loving influence, even though she was no stranger to calamity. A child of poverty, she was placed in a convent to keep her from starving. Katie somehow later ended up married to a barber, but tragedy followed hard times. Her husband died in an automobile accident on the way home from a hunting trip, leaving Katie to raise five children through the Great Depression—three sons and two daughters, one of whom suffered from such emotional disturbance that she took her own life. To my knowledge, Grandma Richey never spoke about the deprivation she knew all-too-well; instead, she managed to instill in me a curiosity and appreciation of nature, as well as love for the Creator. She gave me my first Bible. Hers was my first funeral to officiate as a preacher-boy on my first college Christmas holiday. Forty years later I still grieve her loss.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, grief holds potential for good. The curious phrase “good grief” first appeared in print in 1900, but it became especially popular since the late 1950s from its frequent use by Charlie Brown, one of the characters in Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip, Peanuts. Charlie wielded the expression as one of dismay and exasperation, but the truth remains that grief may be good if it deepens our understanding of God’s mercy and faithfulness. When I balk at descending the dungeon of self-pity, I discover depths of divine love never before imagined.

Although deprived of eyesight in his youth, George Matheson graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1862, and became a parish minister in Edinburgh. In addition to his parish ministry, Dr. Matheson wrote several hymns, one of which is found in many hymnals to this day. He wrote the hymn one summer evening in 1882, and later stated: “It was composed with extreme rapidity; it seemed to me that its construction occupied only a few minutes, and I felt myself rather in the position of one who was being dictated to than of an original artist. I was suffering from extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain.”

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,

I yield my flickering torch to thee;

My heart restores its borrowed ray,

That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day

May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

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