If you watch much television and find entertainment value in the programs that focus on renovation and restoration of older homes, perhaps you’re fascinated, as I am, with the entire process. Having remodeled a condo last year (I did none of the actual work except wielding my trusty screwdriver a time or two), I especially appreciate the work involved in first deconstructing then rebuilding a property.
On the shows there always seems to be a moment of triumph when the homeowner or builder hefts a sledge hammer for the first stroke of demolition. After that the giant pile of rubble grows into a small mountain and there’s an enormous mess to clean up before the project finally turns toward restoration. The picture of total destruction is a kind of visual analogy for our grief – if we’re honest, this is what our life feels like for a while, isn’t it?
When we grieve often we call to mind the familiar words of Psalm 23. In only six short verses this beautiful psalm eloquently describes our journey through grief. The first half lifts up God’s promises, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 NRSV).
And then, from first-hand experience, the psalmist assures us of God’s comfort, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NRSV). We cling tenaciously to the power of this imagery as we go through what may well be the hardest time of our lives as we journey through the “darkest valley”. God is with us as we grieve. God cares for us personally and individually. We’re comforted by God’s constant presence and unfailing protection.
Finally, we share in the blessing of God’s grace, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (Psalm 23:5-6 NRSV). We’re blessed by God’s goodness and mercy. We are together, at one with God, all the days of our lives - our whole life long - forever.
God promises to “keep us alive” (CEB) and “restore our soul” (NRSV). So, what is God’s work of restoration really all about?
- God restores us to wonder for the goodness of life.
- God restores us to gratitude for the one we now grieve in death.
- God restores us to profound thanksgiving for the gift of our own life.
- God restores us to emotional happiness and spiritual joy.
- God restores us to newness of life – a birth, a marriage, a relationship never imagined or dreamed of.
- God restores us to a faith that’s richer, deeper, more attuned to God’s voice because we have been tried and tested by the death of one we love.
- God restores our heart with peace.
- God restores our spirit with light.
- God restores our soul with the steadfast love and perfect faithfulness that comes only from God.
And when the careful restoration of our life is at last complete, our grief becomes a precious part of the infrastructure of who we are. We’ll never forget where we’ve been or who we now grieve. Ever. Yet the pieces of our lives have been put back in order, and though not in exactly the same place as before, we're whole again. And so we start fresh, restored from without and within, through the infinite grace of a loving, caring God.
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old.
Lamentations 5:21 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the renewal of your goodness. Amen.