“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions” That was Claudius in Hamlet. And there are times when we all shout “Spot on, Claudius!”
There’s a mighty battalion of sorrows around this little town just now – a lovely young man died suddenly and shockingly two days ago, two sweet mothers are leaving behind their young children, another parent – this time a young father – is dying, and everywhere we look, prayers are needed. Prayers and thoughts and concern, not forgetting (James, we listen!) practical help. But all this sadness…. what are we to make of it?
Are we to be like the small child stamping her feet and demanding “More! More!” of the parents who have already given her everything? Or are we to thank our God for the days that he’s freely given us, the days those young people have already lived? It’s our choice. I learned quite soon after my husband died that it was a choice. I could choose to be angry because he (and me) didn’t have ‘More! More!’, or I could choose to remember with thanks all that we did have. It wasn’t an easy lesson and one day, as I caught my reflection in a supermarket, I was deeply shaken by the anger and bitterness in the face looking back at me. My wake-up call. From that day I began to consciously remember the good times, slowly and haltingly I tried to thank God for George, for every waking and every sleeping, for the friends he had made, the laughter we both shared, for the food on our table, and yes, for the troubles we had, for all that George learned and all he loved. I thanked God for his life and as I did that I learned, much more recently, to thank God for his death too.
Does that seem odd? I do thank God that we don’t go on in this physical world for ever. I’m so glad we have a beginning and an end, and that it’s all in His will, not ours. Can you imagine the mess, the chaos, the suffering and rage there would be if we, selfish and greedy, could decide how long we would live? There’s a beauty to the rhythm of life, the beginning and the ending, the first cry and the last breath, the day that darkens to night.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, (Psalm 103)
Yesterday we had a Summer festival in a local field, inviting anyone and everyone to join us, for free activities and refreshments, and one of the local churches had made up some small gifts to give out. The day was glorious, really hot, and the crowds came but I was feeling down and ready to be defeated, sorrowing for the man who died the day before. Plus (in hasty self-justification) I have a stubborn middle ear infection at the moment which makes me quite dizzy and so I fled early ( wimp!) giving my remaining little gift to a visitor, Lynne, in the car park. She looked inside the tiny wallet and found a copy of the Lord’s Prayer and said she used to pray but when her Mum died she packed it in. Sensing her bitterness, I asked how old she was when her Mum died…. 37. I confess, chicklets, I would have found it easier to talk to someone who had, like me, lost a parent in early childhood. I don’t mean that her grief was less, but it was certainly different. She mourns for someone she knew and valued, while I mourn for someone I can’t remember at all. Mine is the lesser loss.
Just then a couple of women with a small brood of tiny children walked past and all the children were happily opening little bags of sweets, except for one little toddler who was screaming with rage. I don’t know why, what injustice she was protesting about, but she was making herself sick with her fury, hiccuping and retching and screaming in turn. Lynne, a mother herself, rolled her eyes in rueful sympathy with the screamer’s mum. We sat on a low wall, in the shade for a few minutes, and I asked Lynne to tell me about her mother, what sort of woman was she, what did she like, what did she do, hoping that she would for a moment forget her bitterness and maybe even thank God. I don’t know if it worked for her, but as we sat there it worked for me! The picture she painted was of a funny, lively, resilient, loving woman. And God had made her! I wanted to say to this grieving daughter “And God gave you this wonderful Mum for all those years. For years and years and years, till you were grown. What a fabulous gift that was!” But I didn’t.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; (Ecclesiastes)
I felt for Lynne, a grown-up version of that screaming, furious little tantrum-thrower so busy being angry with God that she couldn’t enjoy His sunshine.
Media vita in morte sumus…. but oh, what a miracle every day is, what a wonder every human thought is, what a precious gift we are to each other, and how compassionate and loving is our God.
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
(Habakkuk, chapter 3: 18&19)