Contrary to all the television ads, summer is the wrong time to visit Disney World in Orlando. In summer, the weather is miserably hot and humid. You can get soaked (or zapped by lightning) in one of Florida’s afternoon monsoons. The place is jammed with tourists, and you’re sure to spend a lot of time standing in lines.
But when Jack, our thirteen-year-old nephew and the youngest of Kelly’s four kids, came to see us, none of that seemed to matter.
Our mid-afternoon decision to take an ice cream break just happened to coincide with Disney’s daily Main Street parade. We sat with our ice cream cones at a café table off to the side from all the commotion, while Main Street erupted with a virtual Who’s Who of Disney characters scampering and dancing about, singing jubilantly: “Just believe and your dreams will come true!”
I felt a bit disoriented listening to the music, sitting there between my husband and my nephew who carry around with them an unseen ache and broken dreams that no amount of wishing on a star can fix.
In some ways it all seems backwards. I mean, shouldn’t Christians be the ones singing and dancing in the street? Shouldn’t we be the ones whose dreams are coming true, who are on top of the world? After all, we belong to God. We are His children—loved and pursued by Him. We have His promises. When trouble strikes, we know where to go for help. Yet here we sit on the sidelines with melting ice cream and broken hearts, missing Kelly, while others are dancing.
When Paul said, “we sorrow not as others,” he was reassuring us that the sorrow we experience in this world is mingled with the solid hope that sorrow won’t have the last word. Somewhere along the line, however, his words have also come to mean, in some sense, we sorrow less than others. Somehow, because of hope, we’re supposed to rise above our losses. We should have the strength not to fall apart or burst into loud sobs at the funeral. We should smile bravely, hold our heads up high, and show the world the difference faith makes at a time like this.
But when the loss is so personal, I wonder if the difference between how we and the world sorrow means that at some level we sorrow more, not less.
The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows.” We see the man of sorrows when He weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus didn’t weep because He was helpless to prevent Lazarus’ death or because He didn’t know what to do now that his friend was dead.
At one level, Jesus’ weeping reassures us that God doesn’t keep Himself at a safe emotional distance from the sorrows we experience. His heart is bound up with us. He is moved with compassion. He knows how the story will ultimately end. But He enters into our sorrows now and He weeps with us.
But is there a sense in which we, in our sorrows, enter into His greater sorrow? When God created the world, he didn’t allocate space for cemeteries, hospitals, counseling centers, or legal courts. He created a perfect world. And we have spoiled/are spoiling it. According to His original plan, Kelly at 48, Ruth Bell Graham at 87, the stillborn child, the young soldier returning home in a flag draped coffin are all cut short. And so, although God knows exactly what to do about it and has launched a global rescue operation to make sure His world is eventually put right, that joyful prospect doesn’t negate the enormity of His sorrow now.
We grieve individual losses, estrangements, prodigals, broken down lives, the shattered dream. He grieves a world of losses, a world of shattered dreams. We suffer the blinding ache of a parent over a prodigal child. He feels the same ache for a prodigal planet. His is the distress of a master craftsman over a masterpiece destroyed—for the way things are is not the way He meant for things to be.
And so for the moment, we sorrow more. We sorrow for our losses, for our corner of His fallen world. And in our sorrowing, we enter into His grief. We sorrow, but not as others who have no hope. Our hope is sure. And that means one day we’ll be dancing in the streets, even if we don’t feel like dancing now.