This morning I feel the full weight of sorrow. Through the still of the night last night I tearfully sat awake in our living room gazing at six carefully hung stockings gently illuminated by the light of the Christmas tree. I was awake remembering December 20th, 1999, all the December 20ths since, and a myriad of memories in between.
Today is Sarah Lauren Harmening’s birthday. If she were here she would be 20 years old, but she’s not here. For a variety of reasons I don’t believe earthly birthdays matter to those in heaven, so I don’t envision her celebrating her birthday today. Those thoughts combined leave me sitting here sort of dreading hearing “happy birthday” spoken of her today.
The reality is today is not a happy birthday. A happy birthday would be me wrapping her birthday gifts and seeing her slightly furrowed brow of disapproval if I failed to wrap her gifts in something other than Christmas wrap. I would be busily fixing some of her favorite foods for a big family dinner tonight. Her chosen menu would likely consist of taco soup and sausage dip, although spaghetti and Texas Toast would certainly be an option. We would have to have Dr. Pepper to drink, but no ice for her. And for dessert, most definitely a homemade fudge cake and Blue Bell ice cream.
We would sing to her and watch her blow out all twenty flaming candles, and we would be filled with anticipation of what her twenty first year would hold. As I imagine her beaming after blowing out those candles I am suddenly jarred from the pleasantries of my imagining as I realize I am not seeing twenty year old Sarah in my mind’s eye, I am seeing seventeen year old Sarah. I will never see twenty year old Sarah, and my mind is incapable of fabricating any other Sarah than the Sarah I intimately know and love.
Sarah is not here for her birthday today, so for me today is a sorrowful birthday. I feel the full weight of sorrow today. Though our culture, particularly religious culture, pressures me to believe feeling sorrowful today is wrong, I am thankful for confidence in the knowledge that it is not wrong. It is never Biblically wrong to feel the ramifications and weight of sorrow and death in this world. It is absolutely okay to feel sorrowful at the absence of our loved ones and the brokenness of this world.
sor·row·ful /ˈsôrəfəl/ – adjective: feeling or showing grief.
Deep sorrow is actually a powerful impetus for properly fixed hope. The ever present painful sting of Sarah’s absence is a continual reminder that all my hope must be fixed completely on the promised and certain Hope of Christ’s return. All other points of hope will eventually disappoint and fail, but the Hope fixed on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ will never disappoint or fail.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 [NASB]
Our adversary is masterfully scheming to lull all humanity into complacency and damnation. To do so he must prevent us from thinking about suffering, sorrow, death and the brevity of this life. Such things strip away all false hope leaving only Jesus Christ and the eternal Hope He is freely offering. Sorrow shaming is yet another scheme of our deceitful foe intent on devouring souls.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1Peter 5:8 [NIV]
I am not thankful for the source of my sorrow, Sarah’s death. However, I am exceedingly thankful for how God is redemptively using my sorrow daily. My sorrow ultimately keeps me Hopeful. Although, today is not a happy birthday for me, it is very much a hopeful birthday. Being Hopeful is of far greater value and worth than being happy. Happy comes and goes with happenstance, but Hope fixed on Jesus Christ creates unquenchable inner joy that perseveres even in the midst of the flames of deepest sorrow.
With an aching in my heart and glistening trails of tears on my cheeks, I don’t feel happy this morning. But, praise God, by His grace I am Hopeful and joyful. This aching heart is firmly anchored by and to the Hope of Him who holds eternity. Though on this side of eternity tears will continue to flow today and countless other days yet to come, they are and always will be in the sweet company of His everlasting Hope.
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:17-20 [NIV]
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22-25 [NIV]