I didn't understand her grief--so deep, so unrelenting-- and always the center point of her thoughts. She couldn't appreciate all the good and the beauty of what she had, because she obsessed over what was now gone. I think I understand her better now. My mother died eleven years after my dad passed; yet, she never really was living during those years.
Dad was always there. Then, after he died, his death was always there, creating a silence; as if silence could be created. We understand silence as an absence of sound or the activity that produces it. But I observed that silence can scream louder than audible sound. You hear it from within and it's so loud inside you that you can't hear the audible sounds trying to reach you from without.
Where is Dad? I want to talk to him. Not so that he can hear me, but so that I can hear him. Because in hearing him, I can better understand what I am hearing within me.
He had a practical wisdom that came from enduring sad and difficult times. Despite the struggles, he could smile, make jokes, and find possibilities in the midst of obstacles. Even as he was dying from pulmonary fibrosis, struggling to breathe just to eat or to talk, he could make light of it. On one voicemail message to me he said he and Mom had been out dancing and that's why they missed my call. He panted as he chuckled. Death from this disease would be (and was) hard; the frightening experience of suffocating when the lungs finally stopped receiving oxygen. How did he not let it steal his joy?
I need to know because on some days far lesser things attempt to steal mine.
Certainly you've been there. We usually console ourselves with the rather cruel thought that "there's always someone worse off than me". Wouldn't it be really awful if you were the one people were referring to, thankful that you're worse off than they are? Bad for you, but good for them.
Mom thought she was the worst off of anyone. Not because other people out there weren't struggling through tougher circumstances; but because she wouldn't see past her own. It's like starving to death because you won't look inside the fully stocked refrigerator; or worse, you forget that you have one.
Observing this depth of grief during those eleven years, I would think of the Apostle Paul and his experience in a Roman prison. No heat, no three hots and a cot, no cable, and no basic comforts, which you can imagine on your own. He had lost so much, yet he perceived those losses as gain toward a greater good.
To the church in Philippi, he wrote a rather upbeat letter: He said:
(as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message) "Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let your petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:4-7)
I have found this to be true. Talk to God, through reading His word; and listen more than you speak. God has perfect peace and contentment, which He freely gives if we come to Him. The better I get to know Him, the more deeply I grasp that.
Paul goes on to say:
"Summing it up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious--the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse..."
"Actually, I don't have a sense of needing anything personally. I've learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." (Philippians 4:8-13, The Message).
Whatever is happening, you don't have to let it steal your joy.