Feeling joyful or hopeful when one is in the midst of grief can be difficult, if not impossible. I am going to write about a few examples of how grief can yield joy, or how the two may be mixed together, like combining light with shadow. Today I will focus on one example in particular: repentance.
It is appropriate and sometimes necessary to lament our sinful state. We make mistakes, get blinded by emotions, become biased, burn out and hurt others. Lament helps us to truly acknowledge our wicked ways without defenses or excuses. Heartbreak and painfully honest confession are important parts of our Christian living. They can guide us on the road toward repentance.
Sometimes our sin hurts others. In this circumstance, private lament and repentance are not cure-alls in our relationships: they do not magically restore people’s trust in us, nor do they get us out of gaol free. Healing with others may require confession, restitution and a process of reconciliation. True lament and repentance primarily puts us right with God. The Bible promises that if we are broken-hearted over the state of our sin and we reach out to God, then we are forgiven.
Ps 51:16-17: “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (MSG)
It is a strange thing indeed to be forgiven. To become totally aware of one’s sinful state, to come to grips with the magnitude of one’s sins, to grasp the fullness of the hurt that your mistakes have inflicted on others – this can be overwhelming. In this place, one may become acutely aware of one’s inadequacies and undeservedness before God. This is often known in Christian circles as conviction. It is a widely-held belief that Holy Spirit helps us to feel conviction in order to be compelled toward repentance.
Even though the Bible promises that God gives grace and fully forgives our sins following our genuine repentance, we don’t always feel forgiven. I remember there were times when I was a child where I had done something wrong and my parents would ground me. Sometimes this was for a night and at other times it lasted a week. Let me tell you, a week is a long time in the life of a child. It feels like eternity. But I had to live through the week of disgrace, even though I had said sorry. Being grounded was a fair consequence of my mistake.
It can feel that way with God. Even Christians who have known God all their lives can struggle with accepting forgiveness. We can feel like even though we have apologised, we are still in disgrace. Even though we know in our rational minds that God has forgiven us – because the Bible says so – we might still feel the acute sense of shame and the weight of guilt. This could be related to the unforgiveness of others or from ourselves. Maybe it just takes a while for us to get used to the idea of all our sins being removed from us quickly and simply by an all-powerful Saviour.
Here we come face-to-face with joyful grief. This is the knowledge that we are forgiven coupled with the fact that we still feel dreadful. It can take some time to recover from the effects of sin. In this place, I have often remembered the nature of God, things like His constancy, His unfailing love and His vast affection. There are times when as I remember God’s faithfulness to me, a glimmer of hope sidles up beside me and quietly sits down. It brings me a brief taste of joy and a promise of wholeness, even in the midst of grief.
I pray we will know those moments of His joy in the middle of our sorrows, His light shining on our shadows. May we continue to grow in the knowledge of His love, which is big enough to cover a multitude of sins.
For more ideas about joyful grief, keep an eye open for next weeks’ blog.