I still remember that painful image. When I recall it, tears still flood my eyes and the sheer mention of his name causes me to choke back many emotions. Yet, that day is one I remember well: the look on her face, the hunched shoulders, and my husband’s grandparents’ hands upon her as we each wept for a life lived, a life of love and complete joy. And I should remember! This life that I am remembering even now is one of the reasons I took on this challenge to learn how to celebrate every day.
If there was one thing about Eric that I pray I could emulate, it would be his joy. He made life enjoyable. Even in his final month of cancer, there was still a bit of joy that even the evil cancer monster couldn’t snuff out. You see, what I learned from Eric and his wife Lucinda was what it looked like to celebrate in suffering. Every day that God has given us breath in our lungs matters, and it matters big. There is much to celebrate. Even in tears, bad timings, rejection, and indescribable pain, we can celebrate a rich life given to us by a Creator that says, “One day, I will make all things new”.
Some days we feel a bit like Eeyore, slumping around in our own pity so much so that we ignore those things around us that are worth celebrating. I don’t deny grief as a healthy emotion, and I certainly encourage times of grief. But, I also see grief as an opportunity to celebrate, to declare that “God is good.” In Eric’s final days here on Earth, there was a verse in Scripture that our family used to describe how we felt going into this impending season of grief: Daniel 3:18 “And if not, he is still good”. I believe that this verse is the exact response we are to have in order to celebrate in grief.
Celebrating When Life Doesn’t Turn Out the Way We Thought It Would.
As I look to Jesus’s last meal with his disciples, his death on the cross, and the walk to Emmaus, I see anew that there could be rejoicing even in the midst of darkness. But, that rejoicing can only happen when we choose to allow it. When all seems cloudy, there is still sunshine sneaking its way through.
On the night when Jesus shared his final meal (the Passover meal) with his disciples, there was a sense of gratitude and hope. Jesus knew full well the impending suffering awaiting him, but he clung to promises of what God had already done and would do for a people he loves. This promise was also the reason for the Israelites’ first celebration of the Passover meal mentioned in Exodus 12.
The disciples’ vision may have been clouded by their own ignorance of what was actually happening at the Last Supper, but were able to recall God’s promise revealed through Jesus during that meal when they looked back on it after Jesus’s death on the cross. Even so, in the moment when Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross and put into a tomb, Jesus’s followers were left in shock and left to ask “now what?” to a God they were so sure would save them through Jesus. In Luke 24:13-35, we see two men walking on the road to Emmaus who were so stuck in their own grief that they were unable to see the joy before them. Isn’t that always how it happens? It’s easier to be like Eeyore than Olaf (If you’ve somehow missed Disney’s recent movie, Frozen, Olaf is a snowman who sings about enjoying summer – talk about optimism).
Sometimes, we can be so clouded by our grief or suffering that we forget the promises of Jesus. We allow one moment of “this isn’t how I wanted it to go” to tell us that our God doesn’t want us to be happy in our time on Earth, let alone joyful. However, joy isn’t an emotion; it is a posture. It is a learned action that says “I trust you because you alone are worthy.” We can celebrate in grief because our God is faithful, and he will fulfill all his promises to us!
Celebration, Feasting & Suffering Together
Attending any after-funeral gathering will tell you that there is a deep connection between grief and food. During times of sadness and loss, our greatest inclination for creating comfort and showing care is by providing food for the family in mourning. The reason for this is not only biblical, but divine. As I have mentioned throughout this series, there is a deliberate relationship between celebrating life with one another and food. As I was processing through these several passages, I began to see a pattern emerge; they included nourishment of some kind, most commonly in the form of bread (i.e. the body of Jesus broken for us, as well as the actual food product) and community. Our times of suffering are meant to be shared with one another and a great space for that is through shared meals celebrating the “no,” “not yet,” and “see you later” times of life.
It is incredibly difficult when things don’t end up how we imagined they would (or should!). I’ve spent most of my life stuck on that hamster wheel. We tell ourselves, “I thought I would have more time with that person, I thought we’d be living here instead of there, I thought we would have a child of our own, I thought that my parents would never get divorced after 28 years of marriage,” and the list goes on and on.
We can grip so tightly to our own version of the story that when a chapter gets re-written, it’s a cause of mourning rather than celebration. However, that is when celebration is most needed. About a year ago, I was up for a new job position. It was one I thought I would be great at and was so sure I would get. Yet, after weeks of excruciating waiting (where I, of course, planned out all the details of my impending life) and multiple interviews, it turned out I was not offered that job.
Before the decision had been made, my husband and I had decided that regardless of the outcome, we would celebrate by going out to a place of my choosing. The reason we chose to celebrate no matter the outcome was because we would be ecstatic if I got the job, but if I didn’t get it, we were committed to saying, “God, thank you for that no, because I know you are working on something else.” You see, God is always at work in our seasons of questions and our seasons of answers, so let’s celebrate both.
Image attribution: Michael Blann / Thinkstock