Comfort is a repetitive experience of grief—there’s no one-time, once and for all comfort that can fix our grief and send us on our way in life. When we grieve, over time what we discern 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 is an absolute certainty that there will be some trouble in our lives. There is simply 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 yet again and again and again.
The psalmist suggests another image to convince us of God’s comfort, “from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” In our modern vocabulary, we would say that we are “in the pits”. For a while, this is what grief feels like, doesn’t it? Yet the psalmist assures us that God has a firm hold on our hand and pulls us up and out of the depths of our grief. When we fall back from time to time, we are promised that God will bring us up yet again.
The miracle of comfort is that it blesses us again and again in small experiences of love and grace. Comfort is cumulative—over time it adds up to peace. When we hold a baby in our arms, comfort enfolds us as we feel our heart respond with pure, overflowing love to the sweet smell of innocence. When we play with a small child, comfort surrounds us as we feel the energy and life-giving joy of being carefree, even if just for a moment. When we receive the wordless, warm embrace of those who have experienced the same grief we now know, we are comforted yet again. Those who embrace us with a silent hug that says “I understand, I love you, I care” know how to comfort us because they themselves have been comforted by the God of all comfort. When we reach out to comfort others, we are agents of God’s “again”.
In a sermon on “Grief and Death” my late 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 God’s love for me and for us all in every circumstance of life, especially when we grieve.
When the psalmist affirms that God will “increase our honor”, what exactly does this mean? It means that God makes us better people, even through the experience of grief, perhaps because of 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 us and enlarge our faith. When at last we move beyond our grief, we discern that we have been refined emotionally and spiritually by our experience of loss because we have greater compassion for the suffering of others. Our heart, our mind, our soul and our spirit are transformed by the grace of 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