As part of my personal observation of Lent, in preparation for Easter, I decided to read some selected books that focus specifically on issues associated with Lent. The books range on topics of sin, mourning, grace, frailty, and of course Jesus. I must admit that I haven't been able to read as quickly as I hoped to, but Lent isn't over, so I still have some time. My first selection, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing by Henri Nouwen, is a book I recently picked up at a discounted bookstore. I love finding cheap books! There is something about claiming a great book at a great price that lifts your spirit.
Nouwen says in the Introduction, "Suffering becomes a way into deeper fulfillment." Further into the book Nouwen offers these two thoughts that guide the rest of the book. "While Jesus brought great comfort and came with kind words and a healing touch, he did not come to take all our pains away. The way from Palm Sunday to Easter is the patient way, the suffering way."
The Psalmist writes, "You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing" (Psalm 30:11). Over the course of the last six years I have wrestled with losing people who are close and dear to me. Fathers, friends, relatives, each of them impacting my life in different ways. As I worked through my grief and loss especially with my fathers (my father and my wife's father) I realized that few people know how to grieve well with someone else. Most people, though well intentioned, offer some condolence and kind word, that stays with us long enough for spit to dry. I found even as a minister, not knowing how to console people until I experienced these loses and tried to make some sense of them in my own life. As I worked through my mourning, I found that joyful dancing did return, even if only in spurts at first. I also realized that what I most needed, and my hunch is that most people who mourn feel this way, was for someone to crawl inside the hole of sorrow with me and sit. I wanted, I needed the presence of friends who didn't try to fix my sadness, which was overwhelming. I needed someone to crawl in my hole and perhaps by their very presence remind me that God is present even in my mourning. "To live with compassion means to enter others' dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer." I found Nouwen's words to be true, "at the center of our grief we find the grace of God."
At the center of my experience with grief I found God's grace in deeper, richer tones than I ever had before. Nouwen's book is a excellent reminder of the overwhelming nature of sorrow and grief, which finds new meaning and purpose in light of the gospel.