It seems that every week this year, our family has to walk through another disappointment or loss. We’ve processed horrific news, canceled camp, missed dances, lost vacations, shut down time with friends, settled for “car parades” rather than fully celebrating birthdays, quarantined ourselves from loved ones, and on, and on, and on. Does this sound familiar to you?
Everyone handles loss and sadness a little differently. Some in our family shrug and just move on, others weep, still others try to pretend the loss isn’t real. We even have the, “But this is actually good” camp! But how should we handle this season that has been so steeped in loss and disappointment?
Scripture is not silent on this. In fact, God’s Word is written for those who are aliens and foreigners, wounded and pressed. Yet, through God’s Spirit, we can remain God’s joyful sufferers and the hopeful hurting. In this post, I hope to offer a meaningful framework for us to engage with Jesus with our households as we wade through the challenges of 2020.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 ESV)
This verse has so much in it. In this Beatitude, Jesus teaches that there are people in the world who will mourn, and when they do they will be comforted. First, let’s just acknowledge that “blessed’ in this context is a simple way of saying truly happy. This is not the temporal happiness that comes with immediate satisfaction, but the genuine happiness that comes from God Himself and brings about deep, soul securing, peace. Wow—I want that. I want that for my family in 2020. But, how do we get it? The promise of Scripture is that peace is given to those who mourn. Theologically speaking, we need to ask, “What do we need to mourn about?” Every one of us has a two-fold need to mourn sin. We need to mourn our own sin, and we need to mourn the effects of sin. If we want our families to be genuinely happy, we need them to see that independence from God and His Word will never make them happy. We need to mourn our efforts at self-fulfillment and lean into Jesus to forgive our sins and give us the peace we could not earn. Still, the other reason for mourning is for the effects of sin. This should be easy to see in 2020. All the things we see in the world now, the violence, the brokenness, and even disease are all realities caused by sin. Since sin and death have entered the world, we are now constantly reminded that paradise has been lost. Bodies are fragile, people are corrupted, and the world is dying.
When you think about it, everyone has so much to mourn. But this is the key! There are people in the world who will not mourn. Their lack of mourning does not come because they have nothing to mourn, but because of their refusal to mourn what they should. Said another way, God is saying if you want comfort, if you want His peace, you SHOULD mourn. When we engage the loss and the pain in the world and cry out to God, we have access to the only source of true comfort and peace in the universe.
So, as you face loss and sadness in 2020:
I am convinced the gift behind all this loss in 2020 is the opportunity for our families to grow in intimacy. Nothing quite creates trust like someone crying with you when you are hurting. Even more, what lesson could be more important for our families to learn than when life gets tough, take it to Jesus. If you are like me, we want to prevent our families from being sad. However, God is using sadness to bring us to Him, so that He Himself can give us comfort.
Jesus, spends the final evening of His life laying His soul bear before God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleads with the Lord to keep Him from further pain when He says,
“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:38-39 ESV)
If we don’t stop and mourn, we hurt our families in two ways. First, each person is already dealing with it, but if we don’t mourn alongside them, they deal with it alone. Second, when we don’t mourn, we remove ourselves from a place to be comforted by God Himself.
Try this: When sadness or loss comes, give the family space to talk about it. Ask everyone to answer, “This makes me feel _________ because _____________.”
This next step is so important, but we must not skip the first. Moving on too quickly from pain and loss can create in us an independent spirit rather than a dependent one. We want to model to our families an honest, vulnerable soul before our Loving God. Our God wants us to bring all of us to Him. Once we and our family are before the throne of grace, we ought to fill ourselves with the comfort of His promises. Not only is our God near to us, but He is working on our behalf!
The Scripture calls us to encourage one another, yet we often forget what the word itself means. To encourage someone means to give someone courage. In the midst of 2020, which of us could not use a little more courage to face the day! Families can be an incredible source of encouragement.
What if rather than contemporary platitudes like “it is what it is,” we said instead, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)?
What if rather than telling each other “get over it,” we inspired one another with the Word of Jesus when He said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV)?
What if instead of a simple “we will figure something out,” we boldly recounted the promise of God to His glorious sons and daughters?
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)
The Scripture is clear, when we know the truth, we are free. We don’t fight the despondency of the world with platitudes, rather we fight for joy with the promises of God.
Try this: Make notecards of some Bible promises or use the Bible App and use the search feature to find verses on the appropriate subject when your family is facing challenges.
This last strategy for fighting for joy in 2020 requires thoughtfulness and imagination. After being vulnerable to each other and to God, and recounting God’s promises to one another, it is crucial to practice faith by looking for signs of grace even in the challenges.
It is a well-known verse, but easily forgotten: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).
We believe this is true as Christians. Even the things that serve as enemies of our immediate joy are actually being used by God to shape us for more joy in the life to come. What a truth! God is not just keeping us from current suffering, but He is using it for His glory and our ultimate good. Paul says it this way:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
Not only this, but Paul talks about the mistreatment he suffered in prison, and yet he saw that the gospel was spreading throughout the prison guard (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV). Do we see the way he saw? Can we see the traces and evidence of God through the challenges we experience? It takes faith, practice, and imagination!
One incredible way to engage in 2020 that honors God and helps our families to flourish is to look carefully at what God is doing even in suffering. God is working through the suffering to produce things in us and through us for His glory.
Help your families practice this. Help them to believe that God is working in 10,000 ways for every one way we can see. Rather than mulling over all the ways we are frustrated, go on a search to see the glories of His grace.
Try this: When challenges arise, ask the family, “How might God be using this to grow us or to use us for His glory?