In late February the father of a dear friend died, not unexpectedly. The memorial service was in a small town in northeast Texas at a lovely old church a few blocks from the town square. Before going inside, I spotted a cornerstone tucked neatly into an exterior architectural support. I paused for a moment and thought of the vision and sacrifice that built the church, the energy and industry that sustained it through its agricultural heyday, and the challenge, as with many churches today, to find its urgent mission and carry on in the world.
The day was warm and bright, the sun streamed through the historic stained-glass windows, each with a story all its own to tell. Before the service the family stood at the front of the sanctuary to greet those who had come from far and wide to honor the life and memory of a simple, godly man. My friend shared with me that his father lived a good life and died a good death. I asked him what he was feeling in his heart and with tears in his eyes he said, “I am overwhelmed by the sweetness of life.”
What I took away with me that day were those powerful words - the sweetness of life. Grief words, death words, life words. Immediate words that remind us of the gift of life, the value of life, the importance of living our lives even as we grieve because we are assured that our grief will not last forever, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20 NIV).
The leisurely drive home was a rare time of peace and quiet as I reflected on life and death in a kind of spiritual reverie. I passed by acre after acre of freshly disked, shiny farmland and thought about how we tend the soil of our own lives to cultivate the sweetness of life - for ourselves and for those who reap the rich harvest of that which we sow and nurture in this life that is ours today.
When we grieve, life may seem for a while more bitter than sweet. We taste the bitterness of our sorrow, the loneliness of our loss. And when at last the journey of grief directs us toward acceptance, unexpectedly we may encounter a few bittersweet memories oddly intertwined with our hope for the future, even as we struggle to rebalance the darkness of grief with the sweet light of new life, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7 NRSV).
As we near the other side of grief we feel more self-confident. When we are again present to ourselves, we respond spontaneously, almost intuitively to our emotional readiness to engage and venture forth. We want to rejoin life in all its complicated, glorious fullness, to be part of the mainstream that surges around us with life-affirming hope and energy. We thirst for joy, we want to be filled again with the goodness of life, to taste again its sweetness, to rediscover our spiritual, emotional, and physical vitality after our long and arduous journey through grief.
O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8 RSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the sweetness of life.