“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20 NIV). What a powerful affirmation for us to take into the New Year. As most of us have experienced over the past few days and weeks, for those of us who grieve while the world rejoices, surviving the holidays largely intact is an emotional and spiritual victory we’ve every right to claim.
As the New Year approaches, we realize that life presses on whether we like it or not. Time does not stand still for those who grieve - not for you and not for me. As the end of the year in which my husband died neared, I struggled with a very real sense of anxiety about being forced into a New Year. Emotionally I didn’t want to leave the year in which he died. I felt that a New Year would somehow be yet one more degree of separation between us. I’d like to say I dismissed this notion quickly or easily but, in all honesty, the calendar effect of his death was tenacious. It took a long time for me to find the courage and spiritual resolve to release my self-imposed duty of counting every hour, day, month, and year without him.
When we grieve we’re not suddenly “over it” just because December 31 turns into January 1. Our grief may be too new and raw and fresh to even care much for the promise of a New Year. No mere turn of the calendar can dictate that we suddenly move from ‘why did this happen,’ to ‘how will I go on’ - from disbelief and shock, to the reality of life without our loved one. Grief is not a straight line experience - it defies the rhythmic structure of ordinary time. Rather, grief creates its own calendar, the days and weeks of our pain and sorrow etched forever in our heart by every breath and act of remembrance that honors the life of the one we now grieve.
Those around us may be full of energy and New Year’s resolutions amid our challenge to simply survive the loss of one we love, one day at a time. And yet there are a few simple things we can do to help ourselves across the threshold of a New Year. For the moment forget about those extra five pounds and whatever else is on your mental list of "shoulds".
- Let’s pause and think about new ways to pray – for ourselves and for others. Pray for renewal and personal transformation, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (Romans 12:12 NIV).
- Let’s be truly thankful for who we are, for our God-given gifts and graces that are ours alone to share with the world around us. It's a sacred responsibility of grief to be thankful for the gift of life, "Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life..." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NIV).
- Let’s resolve to complain less, especially about what can never be changed. Read for grief understanding and spiritual enrichment. Or write in a journal to see what's in your inmost heart. Often our very own words show us best where we've been and give us direction for the future.
- Let’s find our smile. Let’s laugh out loud - the relief and release are surprising.
- Let's stay connected to the world - the world is not waiting on us or for us.
- Let’s relax a little because when we do, we see that we’re fully equipped spiritually to survive the devastation of our grief.
- Let's reach out to others to relieve our isolation and loneliness. Sometimes we need a spiritual or social support community to move forward in our grief. We stretch our heart and mind and grow toward God when we share our story with others in a safe environment of care and compassion. If we're not ready for a group, perhaps all we need is a confidential grief friend who will listen to us with kindness and empathy.
Grief turns to joy when life blossoms in unexpected ways that bring hope for the future. Grief turns to joy with the birth of a child or grandchild. Grief turns to joy in moments that celebrate love. Grief will turn to joy when at last we are reunited with the one we grieve in life and in death.
As we greet the New Year, we give thanks for the unfailing, steadfast love and faithfulness of God. We hope. We trust that God has a perfect plan for our future. And when “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NRSV), we dare to contemplate the endless possibilities of life when one day our grief turns to joy.
So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16:22 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the hope of your joy. Amen.