An Offering Of Tears In A Season Of Joy

How do you handle it when everyone around you is happy and you’re not? How do you cope during a time when the rest of the world celebrates, and you often want to cry?

I found myself in that place last year in the spring after my mother died. She died a month before Easter, two months before Mother’s Day and the birth of my 4th grandchild (her 11th great grandchild). The world was celebrating these holidays, and my heart was trying to find joy in them while grieving my loss. The paradoxes of the situation and the need to pay attention to the demands of the situations caused me to push my grief aside and not deal with it. It was only recently, when hit with another unhappy life event in yet another joyful time, that I finally began to process the griefs properly.

I wondered about this when I was listening to a sermon about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was this young woman, a teenager really if you look at the culture of the time (perhaps as young as 14), engaged to be married to a (likely older) man. In our culture, it’s often the happiest time of a young woman’s life, and even in her arranged marriage culture, it likely was for her, too. She likely knew Joseph and knew her parents wouldn’t have picked out someone inappropriate for her. They might even have been friends or acquaintances, with the slight possibility they already loved one another. The wedding is being planned, the guests invited, the preparations made, the household goods for their new home arranged and everything is all new and exciting for her. It’s a time of great joy for Mary, Joseph and their families.

In Luke 1: 26 – 38, into the scene enters the angel, speaking to Mary, telling her of the coming Savior. The angel says she is the chosen one, the virgin spoken of by Isaiah the prophet so many centuries prior,

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

This news was as startling and upsetting as it was joyful. The Jews had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah, yearning and hoping. But no one expected the Messiah to come as a baby, to be born to a young woman who would be viewed as an unwed mother, who could be quite literally stoned to death for her perceived crime of becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage. They never expected Him to arrive at that place in Nazareth, or that poor and insignificant family instead of to a wealthy or influential one. 

In what should have been her season of joy, Mary had good reasons for tears! But she kept things to herself, and went to her cousin, whom the angel had said was pregnant in her old age. And when Mary found Elizabeth, everything changed.

In Luke 1: 39 – 45, we read how Elizabeth encouraged Mary. Even John the Baptist, who Elizabeth was pregnant with, leaped in her womb at the very voice of the one pregnant with the Messiah. Elizabeth’s response was just what Mary needed to hear. In Luke 1: 46 – 55, we read Mary’s lovely response in the antiphonic poem called the Magnificat.

Mary’s praise glorifies God. Through her fears, in spite of her tears, Mary chooses to see the greatness of God instead of the smallness and harshness of her situation. She deliberately chooses to be joyful, not just happy, but to downright rejoice and celebrate over God and His love for her. Mary’s poem is called the Magnificat because she magnifies God, and makes Him larger in her eyes than the problems she also sees before her.

Sometimes, like Mary, we find ourselves grieving when the rest of the world is rejoicing. As I write this, it’s less than a week before Christmas 2015. I have friends who are dealing with some tough, stressful and unhappy situations in their lives right now. While the rest of the world celebrates, they feel like the only offering they have to bring is that of their tears.

And you know what? If the only offering you have to bring is tears, it’s okay. God knows we walk through valleys sometimes. In fact, He walks through them with us! In Psalm 23, David wrote,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

The rod of a shepherd is meant for their protection. The shepherd defends them from enemies using it, and also uses it to count them and make sure they are all healthy. The shepherd’s staff is used for guiding the sheep into positions of intimacy, either with each other or himself. Thus, to be comforted by God’s rod and staff is to fall under His protection and to be brought by Him into a place of great intimacy with both Him and others of His choosing. This is a place of great comfort indeed when we walk through valleys!

Another thing to remember as we walk through valleys is that hurting people often hurt people. It’s a great temptation when we’re wounded to strike out, so we can protect ourselves and not be hurt more. But the more we lean into God, the greater we seek the protection of His rod and the comfort of His staff, the smaller the temptations become to use our own pain as an excuse to hurt others. 

As we go through our seasons of walking on mountain tops or through valleys together, it is good for us all to remember no one else is at the same point of their journey at the same time as we are, even when we travel together. May you have a blessed holiday season, and a joyful Christmas and find joy in your journey, even when your only offerings are tears.

 

Come To The Feast!

Have you ever been on a cruise ship? How about one of those all inclusive vacation packages? Have you ever attended a fancy banquet?

Bob and I have been on 2 cruises. The first was for our honeymoon, 35 1/2 years ago. We went for a week in early June out of New York City to Nassau in the Bahamas on the classic liner Rotterdam.

Our second cruise was many years later (about 10 years ago), in mid-November with a group totaling 12 business friends and partners. We went out of Miami and for 5 days to Key West and Cozumel in Mexico on a newer ship, the Fascination.

Both cruises were incredible! The food was delicious, cooked to order, the service was impeccable, the staff on both vessels catered to our every need and reasonable desire and, for the most part, the weather was lovely the whole time. The second cruise in November, the weather part was particularly appreciated, especially when we called our then-older-teenagers at home from Key West and found out it had been cold and rainy since we left!

A “foodie” myself, I cannot say enough about the food. They really went all out, especially for the late night buffets! And on the second cruise, I was daily charmed and delighted by the antics of our room cleaning staff as they transformed our towels into an increasingly complex series of animals, culminating on the final night with 4 of them all together! (We always used the ones they hung in the bathroom and never took apart the animals to use their towels. We took photos of them, instead.)

I got to thinking about these things recently when I read Song of Solomon 2:4, which reads:

He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon is an allegorical picture of marriage, and also of our relationship as believers with God. God brings us into His banqueting house and spreads His banner of love over us. He covers our faults, failings and imperfections with His perfect love while we bask in His perfect fellowship and in a place of deeply perfect intimacy.

But just suppose we had gone on our cruises and not known our meals were covered? I read a story once of a lady who had booked a transatlantic passage to the U.S., bringing non-perishable foods with her for her journey to eat in her room. All this because she never realized until the very end of her voyage her meals were covered by her fare! Suppose we had done something like that? How foolish we would have been!

And yet, how foolish we all are, even me, dear readers! We are invited into the banqueting house of the Most High God, the supper table of the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, Hope of Nations, the One who has paid the full and entire price for everything we’ve ever done, thought of doing, could do or might not ever do. We’re invited in and given Robes of His Righteousness to cover our imperfections. We’re graciously given access to a feast more abundant than any cruise ship or all-inclusive vacation package or master chef can ever dream about.

How are we so foolish? We might come to the feast without our Robes. We could come and bring what we think our Heavenly Host should share, and treat his banqueting table as a potluck. Or worst of all, we may stay outside like the woman on that transatlantic ship, ignorant of His feast or believing it’s for someone else when God freely offers it to everyone by faith in Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will come into God’s banqueting house, accept the Robe of Righteousness Jesus freely offers you and sit at the feast of the Lord. Doing so has brought me immense joy in my journey, and I pray it will be the same in yours, also.