Comfort is a repetitive experience of grief – there’s no one-time, one-size-fits-all comfort that can fix our grief and send us on our way in life. What we discern when we grieve is that God is persistent in comforting us – again and again and again. The psalmist assures us, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (Psalm 71:20-21 NIV).
It’s an absolute certainty that there will be some trouble in our lives. There’s no escaping it – we all know what it feels like to have trouble, to be in the middle of trouble, maybe even to be in trouble. The death of one we love is perhaps the very definition of trouble –when we grieve we are troubled in mind, body, soul, and spirit. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). When we take heart despite our trouble God restores our life again.
The psalmist paints another picture to sell us on God’s comfort, “from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” In modern vocabulary we would say we’re “in the pits”. For a while, that’s what grief feels like, doesn’t it? But God doesn’t let us stay there. God holds our hand and pulls us up and away from the depths of our grief. And when we fall back from time to time, we’re promised that God will bring us up again.
In this life we receive comfort again and again in small experiences of love and grace. Comfort is cumulative – over time it adds up to peace. Comfort enfolds us when we hold a baby in our arms and feel our heart respond to the sweet smell of innocence with pure, overflowing love. Comfort surrounds us when we play with a small child, energized by the life-giving joy of being carefree, even if just for a moment. We’re comforted yet again when we receive the wordless, warm embrace of those who've experienced the same grief we now know. When the silent hug that says “I understand, I love you, I care” is offered by those who know how to comfort us because they themselves have been comforted by God, they are agents of God's again.
In a sermon on “Grief and Death” my husband Leighton said, “I can commend to you a God who loves you, who cares about you, and who will hold you in his arms if you will let Him.” Could there be a better description of comfort? As he spoke, he poured his power and passion into the word cares. At the time, he could not have imagined that his words of grace would be meant for me. I am comforted again and again and again by the power of our transcendent love.
When the psalmist affirms that God will “increase our honor”, what exactly does that mean? It means that God makes us better people, even through the experience of grief. What we discover as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death is that grief never leaves us where it finds us. Grief may leave us fearful and disillusioned, or it may enrich and enlarge our faith. When at last we move beyond our grief, we see that we're refined by our experience of loss - we have greater compassion for the suffering of others. Our character is transformed by grace because we are strengthened by God’s comfort – again, and again, and again.
For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
Isaiah 49:13 NIV
Keep me this day, O God, in the grace of your comfort.