- Overcoming Sorrow
- John 11:32-44 & Psalm 116:1-9
- Lyndol Loyd August 18, 2019
There is one hard reality that we all face in life – sorrow. The holidays might intensify these feelings, but sorrow can hit us at any time of the year. More than just the loss of a loved one, sorrow can strike over a broken friendship, health problems, dropping a child off at college, an uncertain future, and losing a job are just a few of the possible sources of sorrow.
Whenever loss comes our way, often we wish we could take a month or two off from life and find a quiet place to heal. The reality is, most of us still have to press on with our daily life. We have to get up in the morning, put our clothes on, go to work, eat meals, relate to people, care for those we love, and find a way to fall asleep at the end of the day. Then we have to get back up and do it again the next day as well.
Thankfully, God has given us some tools for living with sorrow and walking through it in His power, and not just our own. There is hope in Christ for overcoming sorrow in life.
But first, hear the story of a boy named Johnny. When Johnny was five years old, his dog suddenly dies. Johnny is stunned and cries for hours. The dog had been his constant companion, had slept at the foot of his bed, and now he is dead. Johnny’s parents are caught off guard by Johnny’s deeply emotional response, and they scramble for ways to relieve Johnny’s pain. Finally, his Dad says, “Don’t feel bad Johnny. Saturday we will get you a new dog.”
A few years later, Johnny’s bike is stolen. Again his Dad says, “Shake it off, Buddy; we will get you a new one.” Later on, when Johnny is in high school, he falls in love with a freshman. The world has never looked brighter until she dumps him unceremoniously. All of a sudden, a curtain covers the sun. Johnny is heartbroken. This time it is not just a puppy or a ten-speed bike that can be replaced at the local store. Mom comes to the rescue and says, with great sensitivity, “Don’t feel bad, Johnny, there are other fish in the sea.”
Some years later, Johnny’s grandfather dies. He and Johnny had fished together every summer and were very close. Johnny found out about his grandfather’s death when someone slipped him a note in math class. He read the words on the paper and started getting misty-eyed. Then without warning, he began to sob uncontrollably at his desk. It was a rather awkward situation, so the teacher dismissed him from his desk and sent him to the school office where he could be alone.
When his father picked him up and brought him home, he saw his mother weeping in the living room, and he wanted to run and embrace her, but his Dad said, “Don’t disturb her. She needs to be alone. She will be all right in a little while.” So Johnny goes to his room and cries alone. He feels a deeper sense of loneliness than he has ever known.
In an effort to “be strong,” Johnny buries his feelings and replaces his sense of loss with a host of activities at school and in the neighborhood. Even with all his effort to forget and move on, Johnny still finds himself thinking about his grandfather constantly.
His mind keeps going back to fishing trips, Christmas Eves, birthday parties, and other special moments. The preoccupation continues for months until he finally tells his dad about it. His father says, “Just give it some more time, and everything will be fine.”
Johnny gives it time, lots of time, but his sorrow does not seem to go away. What makes matters worse is that, as he remembers the details of his relationship with his grandfather, Johnny realizes he had never really thanked him for the fishing trips, the sack lunches, the afternoon swims, and all the fun times they enjoyed together.
In fact, he realizes that he had never even told his grandfather that he loved him. He had left so many things unsaid; and now it is too late. He comes to the conclusion that he would have to live with regret for the rest of his life.
With all of this inner turmoil that Johnny is facing, he says to himself, “Forget this. Close relationships are just too painful. I am going to back off from any deep involvement in other relationships.” Johnny decides that he will protect himself from future sorrow by building a wall around his heart and life. He will wise up, toughen up, and avoid future sorrow. He has gotten his diploma from the “School of Hard Knocks” and he has learned his lesson well.
Johnny learned some interesting lessons about sorrow along his journey through life. He learned what we might call “Conventional Wisdom.”
- Bury your feelings.
- Replace your loss as soon as possible.
- Grieve alone.
- Allow time to heal all things.
- Expect to Live with regret
- Don’t get too close to people or you will get burned again.
Maybe you received some of these same messages throughout your life? Perhaps you’ve been passing on some of these messages to others around you?
Perhaps the most helpful thing we could do this morning would be to look to the Bible and a scene straight out of the life of Jesus where He Himself comes face to face with sorrow. We find it in John 11:32-44.
32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
Jesus was fully human and fully divine at the same time. The only One to live without sin. With this in mind, we see Him express a depth of care and the freedom to express his sorrow. He did not bottle up his pain. He did not live by the lies, “Real men don’t cry,” or “Handle your pain in private.”
He wept openly and invited others into his sorrow. What an example for those of us who want to be more like Jesus, who want to take on the character of Christ.
Let’s explore scripture even further. Let’s look to the Old Testament in Psalm 116:1-9. The Psalmist is in the midst of sorrow and struggle when he writes:
1 I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.
2 Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!
3 Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me.
I saw only trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord, “Please, Lord, save me!”
5 How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!
6 The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
7 Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me.
8 He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
9 And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth!”
The Psalmist did a number of things in the midst of his sorrow:
- He cried out to God. Instead of blaming God or running away. He cried out to the One who could help him
- He realized that God heard him
- He praised God and deeply reflected on God’s character. He knew that the character of God does not change
- He declared that God was the One who delivers. In the darkness of his grief, He discovered that salvation comes only from God.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t allow themselves to grieve the way that Jesus or the psalmists grieved. They deal with their sorrow using the kind of conventional wisdom similar to what Johnny received, and it comes back to bite them.
Sadly, they often end up in ditches of alcoholism, drug abuse, workaholism, broken relationships, and compulsive eating and spending habits. They attempt to self-medicate, to numb their pain. All of this is driven by an inability to recover and rebuild their lives after incurring a devastating loss.
The message for all of us should be loud and clear at this point. If you grieve appropriately, you can live normally afterward; if you grieve wrong, all bets are off.
Now let’s look back at Johnny’s experience with sorrow. It is an incredible contrast to that of Jesus and the Psalmist. Let’s take a moment and break down the “conventional wisdom” that can actually do more harm than good, and let’s contrast it against God’s wisdom for sorrow management.
If you are hurting, stuff it down. Be sure you don’t complicate things and make your relationships messy with your sorrow and emotional stuff. Act strong.
We grieve as those who have hope that can never be taken away. We have hope in Christ and the promise of heaven. Jesus openly showed His sorrow; we should learn from that example.
You can choose to deal with your sorrow now or later, but you will deal with it at some point. Grief can come upon you at the most unlikely times, and when it does, it is best if you acknowledge it, rather than trying to suppress it.
Don’t try to replace your loss immediately; instead, reflect deeply and allow yourself to feel the fullness of loss. You can get a new bike, a new dog or enter into a new relationship, but when you opt to simply replace, it is like denying a piece of your life ever existed. Finding a quick replacement is like choosing to put on a mask.
There is value in taking time to reflect upon your loss and learn from your experiences, even if there is some pain or sadness attached. Reviewing your loss and learning will help you to live as a healthy, whole person in the future.
God’s plan was never for us to go through times of sorrow alone. We need to be in community and draw from the love and strength of others.
The natural tendency is to isolate, run, and be by ourselves, but that is one of the worst things we can do. It is in community that we can find strength.
It isn’t that we are looking to others to provide answers for our sorrow. It is that often times there is strength and encouragement in simply being fully present with someone, or in someone listening.
God, by His Spirit, is our comforter and counselor. We need to seek Him in the healing process. It is entirely possible that, over time, we can end up moving from sorrow to bitterness. We have to invite God to be at work in our lives through the power of His Holy Spirit to comfort us, strengthen us, and encourage us.
God can lift the load of regret and guilt. He is the God of new beginnings.
Scripture teaches us that God will not simply allow the pain of our lives to be wasted. Scripture teaches us that God can and will work all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purposes.
Although this life can deal us some harsh blows, Jesus Christ is our ultimate treasure. Nothing can take Him away. With this in mind, we are able to keep from becoming cynical and hard-hearted.
Often, when I’m conducting a funeral service, there is a prayer that I will lead a family and those gathered in as we gather at a gravesite or columbarium. It reads,
“O God, you have ordered this wonderful world and know all things on earth and in heaven. Give us such faith that by day and by night, at all times and in all places, we may, without fear, commit ourselves and those dear to us to Your never-failing love, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.”
I like the prayer because it acknowledges who God is, and expresses our need as we grieve. It asks God to give us the strength we need to trust Him with our lives and with the lives of those we love, both here and now in this moment and in the life to come.
As a response to God’s word this morning, I’d like to invite you to join me in praying this prayer together.